His Dark Materials has returned for a second season. Based on the second novel of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, the second season expands the story beyond Lyra’s World.
Lyra (Dafne Keen) and Will (Amir Wilson) have traveled through portals in their respective worlds and find themselves in a city only inhabited by children. The young pair agree to help each other with their respective quests: to find out what Dust is and find Will’s father. In Lyra’s world, Asriel’s actions have started a chain reaction that leads to The Magisterium and The Witches preparing for war. Whilst in Will’s World, physicist Mary Malone (Simone Kirby) has been researching Dark Matter which could be linked to Dust.
The previous series suffered from a sluggish start as it tries to turn a 400-page novel into an eight-episode series. These fears were amplified for the second season because it was based on the shortest novel in the series. Fortunately, the second season was more consistent but any hopes that the TV version of His Dark Materials would be a faithful adaptation have gone out the window.
His Dark Materials was a hybrid of book moments brought to life, broadly following the storyline of The Subtle Knife, and inventing and changing things for the TV show. From a book fan’s perspective “Tower of the Angels” was the best episode. It followed the events of the novel closely as Will and Lyra reluctantly go on a mission for a shadowy figure. The changes that were made were for that episode were either minor or filling a gap.
Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) was the MVP of this season. She had a season-long arc due to her obsession with Lyra. Mrs. Coulter goes on a mission to find and protect Lyra. The TV version of the character was more like the character in the novels who had a steely focus and more cunning. She was less of the rage monster that she was in the first season. Whilst Mrs. Coulter was more in line with the character in the book the series did invent events – she met two characters she never did in the novels. These scenes were to explore her character and show the differences between her world and Will’s World.
Mrs. Coulter’s search for Lyra culminated in a tense conclusion in the fifth episode, “The Scholar.” This episode creates new conflicts for the series, but it was damn good drama as mother and daughter face off against each other. Mrs. Coulter’s dark soul was on display in the sixth episode, “Malice” when it was revealed she had a special power.
The first half of the season did add more events to extend the story. The season showed more events in Lyra’s World. The first two episodes showed the power struggles within the Magisterium and Father MacPhail’s (Will Keen) rise to power. The conflict between The Magisterium and The Witches was amped up for the series. There literally go to war with each other. The aim was to make the series longer and prevent the Witches from going to the other worlds so soon and it did lead to some dramatic and action scenes.
Not all the changes worked. There were plenty of small scenes that added just so an episode can meet the required run time. An example of this was in the second episode, “The Cave,” when Will met his estranged grandparents. It was a scene that would have been cut under normal circumstances. The weakest episode in the series was “Malice,” the sixth episode of the series because it was the most meandering – very little happened that continued the story.
Most of the changes that were made for the series were so it could suit the TV format. An example of this was the reveal of what the Witches called Lyra. This was done to make the reveal more dramatic for a TV audience, especially people who haven’t read the novels. The series slowly built up the biblical references involving His Dark Materials’ new creation myth. One of the strengths the second season had over the books was explaining what Dust was – Mary Malone explained the substance was conscious Dark Matter.
The first season of His Dark Materials was a dark series: it was a series that featured kidnapping, human experimentation, death, and children literally losing their souls. The second season introduced the Spectres. These were ghost-like creatures that eat souls, making their victims nothing more husks. There were a scarier idea. There were like the Demeanors from the Harry Potter franchises because they also soul-sucking ghost creatures.
Whilst the second season of His Dark Materials was mostly a serious affair, there were moments of levity. Most of these moments involved the cultural differences between Lyra and Will’s Worlds and Lyra’s privileged background compared to Will’s hardships.
As an interpretation of The Subtle Knife, the second season of His Dark Materials was an excellent piece of TV and an improvement over the previous season. It felt less dragged out and the changes that were made worked in the context of the TV show.