A Glimpse of What Might Have Been in ‘His Dark Materials’ Season 2, Episode 5: “The Scholar”

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Image courtesy HBO.

This week, we get a glimpse into the life Mrs. Coulter might have led if she was born in a more understanding world, and Lyra prepares to do battle with her mother. Boreal struggles to keep a hold on both the knife and the alethiometer, and Mary Malone comes face to face with her destiny for the first time. Read on to find out what happened in “The Scholar.”

Image courtesy HBO.

We begin in Will’s world, where Boreal is showing Mrs. Coulter the many differences between their old world and this one. He complains about the modernity and lack of morality, in his view, but Mrs. Coulter is intrigued. Boreal tells her he plans to trade the knife for the alethiometer, but what Lyra doesn’t know is that he will then hand her over to Mrs. Coulter. He also tells her about Dr. Mary Malone, who immediately gets Mrs. Coulter’s full attention since women can’t be scholars in her world. She wonders what Mary might have told Lyra. Meanwhile, Will and Lyra strategize about how to get the alethiometer back using the knife. Will fears he can’t open another portal, but both realize their best chance is to try to open a portal right into Boreal’s house, sneak in, and steal the alethiometer back.

Image courtesy HBO.

Mrs. Coulter wants to meet Mary, and again demonstrating her terrifying ability to exist without her daemon, heads to Mary’s office and pretends to be another professor. This scene is the best in the episode, with Mrs. Coulter realizing how much she was robbed of an education due to the sexist limitations in her world. Her talents were wasted, and seeing her match wits with Mary proves how she could have been so much more with equal opportunity. Mrs. Coulter does tell the truth in one regard – she tells Mary she is Lyra’s mother. Oblivious to the actual dynamic between the two, Mary gushes about how proud she must be of Lyra since she can read the alethiometer and is so bright. Mary goes to pour them some coffee and Mrs. Coulter leaves. When Mary tries to Google her later, she finds nothing, raising her suspicions. The cave speaks to Mary and tells her she will “play the serpent” with Will and Lyra, so she spends her evening reading the Bible to figure out what it wants her to do.

Image courtesy HBO.

Lyra and Will are discussing their plans when they hear screaming. The two investigate, only to discover Angelica and Paola crying over Tullio’s body. When Angelica sees the knife, she realizes Will and Lyra were involved in his death. Screaming, she tells them she will get them eventually. Mrs. Coulter discusses her newfound anger about what she was cheated out of with Boreal, who is unsurprisingly not sympathetic. Boreal says he found Mary arrogant, and Mrs. Coulter asks if he thinks the same of her. Still thinking he has half a chance with her romantically, he attempts to soothe her by saying he had hoped they would share a life together. Mrs. Coulter tells him she knows he sees her as something to add to his collection before coldly saying “My dear Carlo, if you actually got me, you wouldn’t know what to do with me.” Ruth Wilson again delivers a knockout performance, and despite all the horrible things Mrs. Coulter has done, you find yourself agreeing with her.

Just then, Will and Lyra’s plan is set in motion. Lyra knocks at the front door to distract Boreal as Will looks for the alethiometer. It all goes wrong almost instantly when Mrs. Coulter’s daemon spots Will. Mrs. Coulter and Lyra are both shocked to see each other, and while Boreal and Will fight, the mother and daughter tensely face off. Mrs. Coulter offers Lyra the alethiometer, saying there’s so much more she can teach her about its abilities. Mrs. Coulter says she thinks Lyra is a lot like her when she was younger, and Lyra tersely replies she’s nothing like Marisa. Pan attacks Mrs. Coulter’s daemon in an attempt to hurt her, and in a disturbing moment we see Mrs. Coulter separate from her soul to avoid the pain as Lyra realizes just how broken her mother is. Boreal makes a tactical error by bringing up Will’s mother, and Will shatters a glass decoration over his head. Grabbing the alethiometer, he cuts a portal back to Cittágazze and pulls Lyra with him just in time. Mrs. Coulter screams in frustration.

Image courtesy HBO.

Safe, Lyra and Will take stock of the situation. Lyra says she wishes her parents were people like Ma Costa or Lee Scoresby, but even so, she felt badly hurting her mother. She tells Will that now that they have the alethiometer, they will find his father. Boreal and Mrs. Coulter also talk, with her angered that Boreal failed to tell her that the knife could cut portals between worlds. Boreal tells her about the spectres and how dangerous they are to adults, but Mrs. Coulter just coolly says it’s about mastering Dust, confident she can get them to avoid her. Meanwhile, Mary has figured out what the cave was trying to tell her. She goes to Boreal’s portal and pretends to be Mrs. Coulter. Brushing past the guard, she finds herself in Cittágazze.

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

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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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