We rejoin Lyra as she is being led deeper into Bolvangar. Lyra sees that the facility is heavily guarded by Tartars, fierce soldiers with wolf daemons. She is led into a cafeteria, filled with the missing children; amongst them sits Roger. Pan manages to sneak over to Roger’s daemon and they agree that they should pretend that they do not know each other, as Lyra needs to maintain her cover as Lizzie Brooks. Roger is still alive and with his daemon, however it is apparent that he has been through a lot.
Dr. Cooper then enters the cafeteria and calls for a girl named Bridget. Bridget is led away and we follow her down a menacing corridor. The scene looks like something straight out of a horror film complete with steel walls, flickering lights, and a creepily smiling nurse, Sister Clara. Dr. Cooper walks past Sister Clara and snaps her out of her reverie by snapping her fingers at her.
Welcome to Bolvangar – the b̶e̶s̶t̶ scariest place you could possibly be. #HisDarkMaterials pic.twitter.com/9aVpNB4gxJ
— BBC One (@BBCOne) December 8, 2019
Meanwhile, Lyra has been sent to Dr. Rendal for further measurements, using fancy machinery to photograph her from different angles. Lyra tries to sneak some information from him and asks whether he is looking for dust. When he questions her about how she knows about dust, she attempts to cover up what she knows by telling him that she isn’t dusty, as she washes frequently. However, she still attempts to question him about what happens to the children that are taken away, asking whether they take their daemons and whether the children die. The doctor denies the claims but their session is interrupted by an alarm.
The children put on snowsuits and evacuate the building; some of the children are discussing how the alarm always goes off after someone is taken. Lyra sneaks through the lines of children and manages to stand by Roger. She tells him that the Gyptians are coming to help, but they need to have an escape plan. Lyra wants to sneak away to scout a route. Roger warns her that those who break the rules don’t last long. Lyra doesn’t listen, as usual, and throws a snowball, triggering a snowball fight amongst the children. In the chaos, the two manage to sneak off.
They manage to sneak back into the building and come across a wall of cages. Inside are daemons without children. The pair reach a cage labelled “Billy Costa” and find the inside empty. Lyra has to break the news to Roger that Billy died. They continue down the corridor and find a room with children, with shaved heads and missing their daemons. Some of the children lie catatonic on beds whereas others sit, looking empty. The alarm stops and Lyra and Roger rush back before it is discovered that they were missing. They make a plan that they will both warn the other children about what is going on and make sure that they are ready to escape. Lyra will make sure the alarm is set off and that will be their signal.
We briefly drop in on Will and his mother in the alternate world. Will is watching old interviews of his father whilst his mother sleeps. Outside, there is still a car watching the house. Thomas asks the man in the passenger seat if he is going in, but the man replies that she knows they are watching and that is enough for now. The opportunity will come soon enough.
The next morning, the girls are woken in their dormitory by noise outside; Mrs. Coulter’s airship has arrived. Mrs. Coulter enters the facility and discusses the intercision process with the doctors. Due to improvements in the intercision equipment, five children have now survived the process since she last visited. The children also seem to be becoming more responsive after their treatment. Mrs. Coulter requests to see this in action.
Lyra pleads for the girls’ help to keep her hidden from Mrs. Coulter and admits that she is her daughter. She warns them about her escape plan and they seem skeptical. However, they agree to hide her. The girls line up at the ends of their beds as Mrs. Coulter approaches and Lyra hides under a bed. She must pull herself up and hang from the bottom of the bed when Mrs. Coulter enters the room. Mrs. Coulter chats to the girls whilst her daemon snoops around the room. The girls are convinced that if anything is out of place, then one of them would be taken away. They are relieved that Mrs. Coulter compliments them on having kept themselves perfectly. Mrs. Coulter leaves the room but then provides a moment of tension as she reappears momentarily to say well done to the girls, and Lyra must scramble to pull herself back up under the bed.
Lyra and the girls are in the cafeteria when Dr. Cooper comes in and calls for Lizzie. Lyra is escorted down the corridor and tries to make a break for it. She collapses when Dr. Rendal grabs Pan and squeezes him. Dr. Rendal expresses some doubt over whether what they are doing is right. Both Pan and Lyra are carried towards the intercision machine. Pan is thrown into a cage and locked in, but Pan and Lyra quickly regain consciousness. Pan screams for Lyra as she tries to run again but is tackled by the staff. They carry her into the machine and lock her in. Lyra screams that she is Mrs. Coulter’s daughter, hoping that this may save her. At this, Dr. Rendal thinks that they should hold off, but Dr. Cooper wants to continue. She yells that they need to close the doors, as the machine can be damaged if they are left open. Mrs. Coulter appears to watch the process and immediately shuts the machine down when she hears Lyra screaming for her, calling her mother.
Mrs. Coulter brings Lyra to her room and gives her a drink containing an infusion of chamomile, a drink her own mother used to give her. She expresses surprise that Lyra knows that she is her mother and tries to explain that she didn’t keep her because it wouldn’t have been good for either of them, and Asriel had his own plans for what should happen. She promises that no one will hurt her. Mrs. Coulter tries to explain that her work is important, because they want to save the children from a life of sin, guilt, and regret. Once a child’s daemon settles, they become infected with dust and they believe that this causes sin. Lyra argues that if the process was so good, then why has she promised that Lyra wouldn’t undergo it? Mrs. Coulter explains that they are still in the experimenting stage. The equipment isn’t fully safe yet and other children are being sacrificed to help improve it. Mrs. Coulter asks about the alethiometer, as she doesn’t want it to get to Asriel, and tells Lyra that she must choose a side. Lyra gives her the tin that was soldered shut containing the spy fly, saying that the alethiometer is inside. When Mrs. Coulter cuts it open, the spy fly surprises her by bursting out. Lyra takes the opportunity to rush out of the door, smashing the electric lock, leaving Mrs. Coulter trapped in her room.
Lyra breaks the fire alarm, signaling to the children that it is time to escape. Lyra asks Roger to free the daemon-less children whilst she causes chaos. She runs off to find her old clothes but is found by Sister Clara. Sister Clara spouts some propaganda about Bolvangar being the “best place,” but Lyra asks what her daemons name had been. She suddenly remembers her daemon, Nicholas, and her smile drops and she stares blankly ahead, lost in thought about what she has lost and how she has been controlled. Whilst she is distracted, Lyra runs past her.
Roger attempts to free the daemon-less children but many of them are still catatonic and just seem to stare through him. He tries to rile them up, stating that they can make the staff pay for what they have done to them and that they need to stop it happening to other children.
Lyra immediately runs to the intercision machine and remembers that if the doors are left open, then the machine will be damaged. She presses every button until the machine starts and then watches as the floors begin cracking, the ceiling crumbles, and the machine begins falling apart. She runs out of the room, closing the solid metal door behind her. She manages to get around the corner of the big concrete wall just in time. The metal door is blasted off its hinges as the machine explodes.
The girls are trying to escape the facility when they are corned by Dr. Rendal and two Tartars with guns. However, they are attacked by Gyptians who arrive just in time. Ma Costa attacks Dr. Rendal, asking if he remembered Billy and kills him when he tries to say that it wasn’t his fault. Another Tartar tries to attack the Gyptians from behind but is taken down when Lee shoots him.
During the ensuing fight sequence, we cut between the many characters involved. We see Mrs. Coulter climbing out of the air vents to escape her locked room, a brief funny conversation between Iorek and Lyra when he saves her from some Tartars, and Lee valiantly fighting off more Tartars. Dr. Cooper orders a Tartar to grab Lyra, but he is stopped when Serafina enters the battle. She appears like smoke, efficiently killing the Tartars that the Gyptians were fighting. She also stabs Dr. Cooper in front of Lyra before disappearing as quickly as she appeared.
Roger appears, leading the daemon-less children wrapped in blankets. In an emotional moment, the children are wrapped in hugs by the Gyptians, whether they are their own children or not. Mrs. Coulter watches from a hidden spot behind a door and cries at the scene before retreating.
Lyra, however, needs to continue her journey to rescue her father and is encouraged to do so by Ma Costa. She is leaving in Lee’s balloon accompanied by Lee, Iorek, and Roger. They wave goodbye to the Gyptians and the children as they fly off into the sunrise.
Serafina appears on the balloon to have a discussion with Lee and to tell him that the polar star will lead him to Asriel. She emphasizes that Lyra is destined to both create and resolve conflict and that the fate of more than one world rests on her. Although Lee’s contract with the Gyptians technically finished in Bolvangar, Serafina says that Lyra will need him, and he will need her. In a touching moment, he says that he has been blindsided with love for Lyra. He clearly feels like a father figure to Lyra; she is responsible for the fate of the world and he is responsible for her.
Meanwhile, the Gyptians are leading the children into the woods and are taking the caged daemons with them, although the daemons are now unable to talk. John Faa worries that the children’s parents won’t take them in when they return. Ma Costa assures him that those who find themselves without a home will be embraced by the Gyptians. Although Billy won’t be the last child that is hurt by the Oblation Board, they have made it much harder for them to hurt more children, and Billy would be proud of them.
The epic final scene of the episode begins with everyone asleep on the balloon. Lee wakes to strange sounds and becomes suspicious, drawing his gun. The balloon is attacked by creatures known as cliff-ghasts and Lee manages to shoot a few of them. However, more attack and during the fight, the balloon tips and Lyra falls against the hatch in the side of the balloon. The hatch swings open and Lyra manages to cling to the side but is left swinging precariously off the side of the balloon, high above the mountains. Lee yells for Lyra to grab his hand, but her grip on the handle slips and she falls, screaming, as the episode ends.
I loved this action-packed episode. It really moved the plot along and the epic fight scenes honestly felt like this could easily have been the season finale. If this was just a regular episode, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the season finale.