Review by Sean Boelman
Most kids who grew up early 2000s went through a phase where they were reading one of three young adult fantasy series: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, or the best of the three, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Spectacularly bringing the intricately-written world of Pullman’s novels to life, BBC One and HBO’s television series returns with a second installment that is even more impressive than its predecessor.
Based on the second book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, the series picks up after the end of the first season, Lyra and Will having both entered the windows in their respective worlds with the authorities chasing after them. Northern Lights (or The Golden Compass, as it is known in the States) is all about setting up these worlds, but The Subtle Knife allows the characters to go on a real adventure.
Something that is noticeable about this season compared to the last is that it does a much better job of juggling all the moving parts. In the first season, it was clear that all the subplots were building to something, and they eventually came together. Here, their relation and interdependence is clear from the start, allowing the pacing to feel much more effective.
This season also doubles down on the political aspects of the series. Now more than ever, this story of a totalitarian regime that rules based on paranoia and a false sense of morals feels particularly timely. And a subplot about an exploited and excluded group rising up to challenge the status quo adds another layer of commentary.
It is nice to see some of the character dynamics introduced in the first season be expanded this time around. The tumultuous mother-daughter relationship between Lyra and Mrs. Coulter becomes even more complex this season. And while aeronaut Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) was just a supporting character in the last season, he becomes a more major force in this season.
New additions to the second installment include Terrence Stamp, Jade Anouka, and Simone Kirby, of whom the latter is the standout. The fifth episode ends on a great cliffhanger teasing an even larger role for her in the remainder of the season. Also welcome is an expanded role for the sinisterly charming Ariyon Bakare.
Additionally, with the now much wider world that the series has to explore, the visuals have become all the more impressive. The grand battles and CGI bears are swapped out for some gorgeous sets and adventures that are not only globe-trotting, but also dimension-trotting. It’s a wonderfully immersive series that will remind fans of how Pullman captured their imagination.
Season two of His Dark Materials is much more relaxed than the first season, but that is to its benefit. Fans will undoubtedly be excited to see the continuation of the saga of Lyra Silvertongue, and these episodes deliver.
His Dark Materials debuts on HBO on November 16 at 9:00 ET/PT with subsequent episodes airing on Mondays at the same time. Five out of seven episodes reviewed.