‘His Dark Materials’ Season 1, Episode 4 Recap: “Armour”
The first scene this week introduces us to a new character, Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda). In true Lin-Manuel style, his introduction is him crooning out a country-style song on board a balloon in a duet with his hare daemon, Hester. From this moment alone, Hester is already my favorite daemon. Lee is excited about heading North and discusses with Hester how he is searching for an armoured bear called Iorek. Rumors are that Iorek has been tricked out of his armor but Lee wants to help as Iorek once saved his life. He looks below and sees a ship also heading to Trollesund (the gateway port to the North), which we know to be Lyra and the Gyptians.
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We then join Lee as he wanders the docks and is waylaid by Officer Sysselman. Sysselman is unfriendly and suspicious of both sets of new arrivals. Lee fishes for information about Iorek but is given nothing useful.
Meanwhile the Gyptians are unpacking their ship. John Faa and Farder Coram discuss how they need the help of the witches quickly as the spy fly will have already returned to Mrs Coulter, giving her their location. Farder Coram mentions that it has been years since he has seen the witch Serafina Pekkala and that she may not like what she sees. He mentions that he is going to take Lyra when he goes to see the witches consul as he has a feeling he will need her. The witches consul, Dr. Lenselius, is the intermediary between the witches and the human world and will decide whether to pass on their message.
Farder Coram asks for Dr. Lenselius to get a message to Serafina that the Gyptians need help to find their missing children. Dr. Lenselius argues that it is not their fight and that the relationship between the witches and the Magisterium are cordial and it is his job to keep them that way. However, he gives them information that the children don’t remain in the port for long as they are taken further inland for the ‘intercision’ or ‘Maystadt process’. He tells them the rumors about what occurs are disturbing and that the town has its own missing children. The consul agrees to contact Serafina if he can have a demonstration of how Lyra uses the alethiometer. He takes them both to the basement where there are hundreds of glass jars on shelves. He can use sprigs of cloud pine to contact the witches but each sprig is individual to a witch. He asks Lyra to use the alethiometer to pick out Serafina’s sprig. He is impressed when she succeeds and gives Lyra a spray containing some of Serafina’s sprig and tells her that she should spray it if she is in need and Serafina will come. Lyra asks him what question they should be asking him that they are not. He says that though they have heart, they are weak. The Magisterium have muscle and the Gyptians need help to succeed in their quest. He tells them that they should be asking where they can obtain the services of an armored bear. He tells them of Iorek, who has been exiled for shaming his people, and so may help them for a price. However, Iorek’s skills in metalwork are valuable to the town and so the townspeople are hostile to those enquiring about him.
Farder Coram and Lyra go looking for Iorek and find him in a poor state; without his armor and with scars all over his face. They ask for his help in the inevitable battle to return the children. Iorek declines their offer as he is already employed. Lyra provokes him by yelling that he could be living free and asks whether he is a coward like the rest of the townspeople. Iorek roars and claims that he knows who they seek, disturbingly referring to them as ‘child cutters’ but says that he is not for sale.
Back at the Magisterium, Mrs. Coulter arrives to see the Cardinal. She meets Father MacPhail first and he chastises her for her invasion and disturbance of the scholastic sanctuary of Jordan College. The Cardinal arrives and tries to make niceties with Mrs. Coulter but she pushes him to get to her punishment. He tells her that the project has become too noisy so she will be stripped of her duties and MacPhail will be taking over leadership of the Oblation Board. Mrs. Coulter turns the tables on them though. She has control of armored bears who are keeping Lord Asriel imprisoned and she will give him to the Cardinal as an act of service providing she is allowed to continue her project. She also demands that she is allowed to ask one question of Fra Pavel and his alethiometer.
Back on the Gyptians ship, Farder Coram and Lyra have a heart-to-heart. He admits that when he was a younger man, he had a relationship with Serafina. They had a son together but that he died during an epidemic. Serafina wanted to rip the world apart whereas he wanted to mourn in peace. The two have not seen each other since.
Lee enters the local bar, antagonizes the locals and then, subtle as ever, he asks where he can find the armored bear but the locals remain silent. He tells them that they are either being ignorant or wilfully obstructive and gets a punch for his trouble. More of the locals attack him and his daemon Hester secures her place as my favorite daemon with her hilarious commentary of the fight, providing minimal help to Lee. He gets thrown out of the bar but has managed to pickpocket the locals during the fight.
During their meeting, Fra Pavel warns Mrs. Coulter that it could take him weeks to ask a question and decipher the alethiometer’s answer using his books. This really drives home how skilful Lyra really is as she can just ‘feel’ how to use the alethiometer. Mrs. Coulter’s question is: ‘Who is Lyra Belacqua?’, serving to confuse both the audience and Fra Pavel as she should surely know, since she is her mother.
Lyra comes across Lee shouting for someone to tell him where the bear is. She asks him if Iorek will want to see him and asks what is keeping Iorek trapped in this town. Lyra gets no answers and refuses to tell Lee where he is since she’s afraid Lee will take him away.
Farder Coram and John Faa are discussing whether Lyra is the child foretold in a prophecy when Serafina’s daemon, Kaisa, appears. Kaisa comes with a message from Serafina as witches have the ability to send their daemons away from them. Kaisa asks whether they have come to make war and tells them that not all witches will help as some are helping the Oblation Board. He tells them that the children are taken four days North-East to a place called ‘The Station’ that the witches call ‘Bolvangar’ (translated meaning ‘fields of evil’). Serafina will support them on their quest.
Lee manages to find Iorek and tells him that he wants to help. Lee reminds him that he is in Iorek’s debt and demands to know who has his armor but Iorek refuses to tell him and wants him to leave. However, Lee refuses to let the subject go. He goes to visit Officer Sysselman and tells him that he owns the armor as Iorek lost it to him in a game of cards. It has been confiscated by the Magisterium to pay off a blood debt but Lee breaks out legal jargon to convince the officer that it should be returned to him. When that doesn’t work, Lee attempts to bribe him and this also fails. Sysselman is terrified of the Magisterium that have managed to take hold in the North, where they never have before.
The Gyptians are packing to travel further North to rescue their children. Lyra wants to wait to convince Iorek to join them. However, John Faa says that he doesn’t want him as he made enquiries about Iorek’s punishment. Iorek is being punished for being drunk, fighting and wrecking the town. Lyra immediately breaks out the alethiometer and tells John Faa that the townspeople got Iorek drunk and he was tricked. John Faa puts his foot down and refuses to fight alongside Iorek.
At the Magisterium, Lord Boreal wants to know what Mrs. Coulter asked of the alethiometer. He threatens to expose Fra Pavel’s ‘filthy predilections’ unless he tells him. He then uses his blackmail to ask his own question of the alethiometer. He wishes to know how he can find what Grumman (the missing Northern explorer believed dead) discovered.
Lee is staying at the bar where he was attacked, mainly for it’s bacon, where he is ambushed by Lyra during his breakfast. Lyra claims to be representing John Faa and says that the Gyptians want to hire him. Lee claims that they cannot afford him and that he knows what they are fighting and knows they will lose. They discuss how to get Iorek to leave and Lee says that Iorek will not leave without his armor. Armor is like a daemon to an armored bear, his soul is metaphorically within those pieces of metal. The Magisterium will have hidden the armor well. Lyra takes this information and runs off, taking Lee’s bacon with her.
Lyra approaches Iorek and says that she can use the alethiometer to discover where his armor is. He says that he has a right to take vengeance and they negotiate that he will only hurt those who try to stop him reclaiming his armor. Lyra uses the alethiometer and tell him that his armor is being kept in the cellar of the oratory and Iorek takes off in a rampage. He rushes into the building as the Magisterium line up in the courtyard outside with guns, preparing to stop him. He throws a Magisterium man out of the oratory window and then emerges fully armored. The guards open fire but the bullets ricochet off his armor. He knocks over several officers, incapacitating them, and then attacks Sysselman. He seems like he is about to kill him when Lyra begs him to stop as Iorek owes her a debt. Lee appears and helps convince him that they should both leave and help the Gyptians.
Lyra approaches John Faa with both Iorek and Lee in tow. Lee tries to make a sales pitch to John Faa, believing Lyra’s bluff earlier that John Faa had wanted to hire him. He is pulled up short when he learns that John Faa has no idea who he is, however he manages to sell himself, with Lyra’s help, due to his ability as an aeronaut with his own balloon. John Faa finally agrees after Lee says they won’t have any trouble as long as both he and Iorek are paid.
Meanwhile, we see that Mrs. Coulter’s blimp has landed in the North. Inside a cave, she is secretly meeting the armored bear Iofur who is keeping Lord Asriel captive. They talk of the exchange they have made as she helped him get rid of Iorek and he captured Asriel for her. However, he now states that he will do with Asriel as he wishes. Mrs. Coulter offers Iofur a baptism and acceptance into the Magisterium, the first and last for any armored bear, in exchange for her overseeing the treatment of Asriel. Iofur can keep Asriel captive but she wants to ensure that his lab and all of his research into dust is destroyed. Iofur wants to know how quickly this can happen and Mrs. Coulter claims that the wheels are already in motion.
The final scene of the episode shows us the Gyptians, laiden down with packs, heading dramatically along rocky roads by foot. Lyra, Iorek, Lee and the Gyptians are heading North to ‘The Station’ and I eagerly look forward to next week to see what they find and hopefully discover what the ‘intercision’ process is. This episode was full of exposition, particularly into the backstories of Iorek, Lee and Serafina. Whilst I enjoyed this episode, I hope there is a little more action in the next episode as the trailer seems to tease.
His Dark Materials airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.