His Dark Materials season 3, episodes 1 & 2 recap – how does Will break the knife?

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: December 6, 2022 (Last updated: January 26, 2024)
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His Dark Materials season 3, episodes 1 & 2 recap - how does Will break the knife?


A languid two-part premiere doesn’t exactly live up to the two-year wait, but His Dark Materials remains a well-crafted show that can still potentially do its source material justice.

This recap of His Dark Materials season 3, episodes 1 & 2, “The Enchanted Sleeper” and “The Break”, contains spoilers.

His Dark Materials is one of those big, ambitious, complex stories that require a bit of detective work when you return to it after a while. And it has certainly been a while, almost two years since the second season finale, a delay that can be attributed to – you guessed it – the pandemic. I, for one, was a bit lost as the smushed-together two-part premiere just began unfolding as if no time had elapsed since we last saw Lyra and Will. “The Enchanted Sleeper” and “The Break”, each an hour, move between worlds, cycle through concepts, introduce new characters and reintroduce old ones, all with the expectation that Philip Pullman’s fantasy series is intimately familiar to us.

His Dark Materials season 3, episodes 1 & 2 recap

So, be wary of that, obviously. The broad strokes are that Lyra has been kidnapped by her mother, Mrs Coulter, and is being kept in a drug-induced stupor in an effort to shield her from the Magisterium, which at this point we’re to understand is one of many manifestations of the Authority, or God himself,  who is worried about Lyra because she’s prophesized “Eve”, or “Mother of All Sin”. There are lots of worlds and lots of equivalents of the Magisterium, but the basic idea remains pretty fixed – God is in charge and would like to remain so indefinitely, thanks very much.

Of course, Lord Asriel is very much in opposition to that, so has amassed – and is continuing to amass – a diverse army from various worlds, including witches and literal angels, two of whom, Baruch and Balthamos, catch up with Will as he’s cutting his way through dimensions with the Subtle Knife in search of Lyra. Mrs Coulter is holding Lyra in a small house built into some seaside cliffs, where a young mute girl named Ama is tending to both and becoming a bit suspicious about the arrangement. The angels are able to pinpoint Lyra’s location for Will, and Balthamos accompanies him there, and they very randomly run into Iorek Byrnison along the way, while Baruch returns to Asriel.

Asriel spends the first half of the premiere busying himself travelling in a craft that seems to be controlled via his emotional state and recruiting Ogunwe (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to lead his army, but eventually he, too, makes his way to Mrs Coulter’s house, because Baruch reveals – in his death throes, as he’s attacked by one of the Authority’s angels, whom Asriel captures and interrogates – that Will won’t join up until Lyra has been rescued, but Asriel needs the Subtle Knife to kill the Authority, so Will has to be on-side. Asriel sets off, as does Father Gomez on behalf of the Authority, but they’re all beaten there by Will.

Will tries to finesse an escape using the knife, but Mrs Coulter distracts him so much that he ends up breaking it, which is really bad news, but he and Lyra are eventually able to get away. Mrs Coulter knocks out Gomez, but then one of Asriel’s tiny, winged spies knocks Mrs Coulter on, so by the time Asriel himself finally arrives he finds only his ex-missus there, unconscious.

If there’s really a great takeaway from these first two episodes, it’s that they manage to make some truly out-there concepts feel a little… dare I say mundane? The whole thing moves with a lethargy that doesn’t suit the end of a big multi-versal epic, and after nearly two years off, it’s easy to wish that His Dark Materials felt a little more worth the wait. Still, it remains a very visually impressive show, full of charismatic actors who seem to be taking the material very seriously. The big question is how the show will handle all the craziness that’s coming – hopefully with a bit more energy than this.

His Dark Materials season 3, episodes 1 & 2, “The Enchanted Sleeper” and “The Break”, are available on HBO and the BBC.

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