‘His Dark Materials’ Season 1, Episode 3 Recap: “The Spies”

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Courtesy of HBO.
Courtesy of HBO.

After several big reveals last week, His Dark Materials is moving closer and closer to the North. While there have been deviations from the novels so far, the changes Jack Thorne and the other writers have made have only strengthened the story, expanding the world and the characters within it. This week, Lyra meets some new friends and must decide who to trust in the coming fight with the Gobblers.

At the conclusion of last week’s episode, Lyra was in peril, having been caught in a net and kidnapped by the Gobblers. But at the start of this week’s episode, Lyra is rescued from the van by a gang of Gyptians including Tony Costa. Tony remembers Lyra from Oxford, where she often got into mischief with the younger Gyptian children. They are still looking for his younger brother Billy and the other missing kids (without Ma Costa knowing), and they take Lyra and the Gobbler who kidnapped her back with them to their headquarters.

Courtesy of HBO.

Lyra arrives at the Gyptian’s camp on the Thames. She meets with John Faa, their leader, and he vows to keep her safe despite the danger to the Gyptian community. He is cryptic about why, telling Lyra that she is important to the Gyptians and has been for some time. He asks Lyra for information, but she acts as if she doesn’t know anything, unwilling to risk sharing just yet. She does reveal that she knows Asriel is her father, which is surprising to him and Farder Coram. Lyra also speaks with Farder Coram, whose kindly nature helps her relax. They discuss their daemons and how Lyra is afraid she won’t like Pan’s final form. It’s a lovely scene and James Cosmo does great work as Farder Coram this episode. Ma Costa takes Lyra in, and they change her into Gyptian clothes to help her blend in.

Courtesy of HBO.

Meanwhile, an angry and increasingly unhinged Mrs. Coulter has arrived at Jordan College to find the missing Lyra. She tells the Magisterium police with her to find contraband in order to pressure The Master to reveal Lyra’s location. They find books about the alethiometer, which is banned knowledge according to the Magisterium. The Master, under pressure, admits that Lyra has one of the devices and that it came with her as a baby. Furious, Mrs. Coulter turns Jordan upside down searching, then returns to her apartment and tears apart Lyra’s room looking for any clues (and to take out her destructive rage).

In a continuation from the previous episode, we follow Lord Boreal as he searches between worlds for Stanislaus Grumman. He arrives in our world and experiences one inconvenience of life in this dimension when he gets a boot placed on his car. He visits Thomas, who reveals that Grumman is actually Colonel John Parry (fans of Andrew Scott will be pleased to know that Parry will turn up more in season 2). Parry was born in our world but traveled to Lyra’s thirteen years ago, leaving behind his wife with mental health issues and his child (who for now remains nameless) and gaining a daemon in the process. Boreal reveals that he had a mercenary watch the family to detect anything unusual. This storyline doesn’t appear until the second novel, so I am interested to see how it plays out during this season.

Courtesy of HBO.

The Magisterium police arrive on a tip that Lyra may be with the Gyptians. She narrowly avoids capture by hiding under a sink. After this, Ma Costa reveals that Lyra’s mother is Mrs. Coulter. She explains that Marisa married Edward Coulter, but shortly after fell in love with Asriel and became pregnant with Lyra. When Coulter realized that Lyra wasn’t his baby, he tried to kill her to get revenge. Asriel rescued baby Lyra and hid her with Ma Costa for her protection before killing Edward in self defense. Marisa was ostracized from society and Asriel lost his money as punishment. He was also barred from seeing Lyra, which is why he pretended to be her uncle and secretly visited her at Jordan. Mrs. Coulter was later able to force her way back to society, explaining her ruthless nature and showing just how far she is willing to go to get her daughter back.

John Faa calls a meeting to discuss whether to go North and whether to rescue non-Gyptian children while they are there.  At first, some of the Gyptians only want to rescue Gyptian children as a horrified Ma Costa argues that they need to rescue all of the children. Lyra addresses them, insisting that fighting back is the only way to send a message and get the missing children back. John Faa joins her, rousing the Gyptians and confirming they will go North to rescue all the children.

Tony and Benjamin secretly break into Mrs. Coulter’s apartment to try to find more information about her connection to the General Oblation Board and the gobblers since Lyra told them she saw papers in her office about it. They are caught by the golden monkey, and while Tony is able to escape with some documents, Benjamin is shot by Mrs. Coulter and caught. She tries to get information out of him, but rather than reveal where he came from and who sent him, Benjamin throws himself down the elevator shaft and dies. His daemon disappears in a cloud, which adds to the sadness of the moment.

Courtesy of HBO.

Back with the Gyptians, Ma Costa has noticed that Tony is gone, and in the ensuing search Lyra asks Farder Coram if the alethiometer can help. He knows how to operate it, but tells Lyra that it takes years of study to master. Lyra practices making her mind go blank and to her surprise, the alethiometer starts to react. It points to an hourglass and a skull symbol, and Lyra believes that this means that Benjamin is dead.

Mrs. Coulter, not one to be defeated, releases two mechanical insects with Lyra’s scent to find her. They find Lyra’s boat when she goes above deck and Lyra attempts to destroy them. She and Farder Coram only successfully ground one of them as the other flies back to Mrs. Coulter. Ma Costa notes that these devices are banned by the Magisterium; Mrs. Coulter must be desperate to find her daughter. Lyra shares her prediction about Benjamin, which proves to be true when Tony arrives back with the stolen information from Mrs. Coulter’s office. He has the names of all the stolen children, including Billy. The Gyptians, knowing that now it is only a matter of time before Mrs. Coulter tracks them down, immediately prepare to head to the North to escape her clutches. Since Lyra’s prediction is proven to be true, Farder Coram tells John Faa that Lyra’s instinctive talent with the alethiometer is valuable to the Gyptians and should be encouraged. John Faa allows Lyra to travel North with them on the basis of her newfound abilities.

As the episode ends, Boreal discusses the events with Mrs. Coulter. He wants to know what the Gyptians want with her, but she is tight lipped. Just then, the mechanical spy from earlier arrives and lands in Mrs. Coulter’s hand. Boreal is stunned by the illegal device, but Mrs. Coulter is satisfied. She’s one step closer to finding her daughter, and Lyra and the Gyptians don’t have much time now.

Overall, this episode moves the story forward in interesting ways, fully fleshing out the Gyptians as a people and revealing more depth to characters like Mrs. Coulter (played brilliantly by the always wonderful Ruth Wilson). Next week, fans can look forward to the arrival of two favorite characters in Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and the armored bear Iorek Byrnison. I for one can’t wait!

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know in the comments!

His Dark Materials airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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By Jules
I am a nurse and dedicated nerd from Boston, MA. When I'm not at work, I'm rewatching old favorites like Supernatural or discovering my new obsessions (too many to count!). When not fangirling, I can be found reading, writing, or listening to a true crime podcast. You can find me on Twitter @juleswritesblog for more nerdy nonsense.
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