'His Dark Materials' Season 1 Episode 2 Recap: "The Idea of the North"

(photo: Courtesy of HBO)

When we last left Lyra at the end of the first episode of His Dark Materials, both she and Roger were on their way to London, though each had no idea the other was on board, as Lyra traveled first class, while Roger was taking the caged child route. This week's episode focused on what Lyra found upon arrival in London, which was a far cry from what she expected.

Lyra assumed several things upon her arrival in London. Mrs. Coulter was going to show her the ropes; they would be heading up to the North soon; and the mystery of Roger's disappearance would be taken care of. By the time the episode was over, none of these things had come to pass. Oh sure, Mrs. Coulter wanted to show Lyra the ropes all right, the ropes to climbing up the one percent ladder. In addition to taking her out to tea in the toniest spaces, she redressed Lyra in luxurious outfits and had her hair clipped and curled, turning the child into her virtual mini-me. 

Confused and frustrated, Lyra begins to act out, and in doing so, starts to realize she's jumped into a rabbit hole that goes far deeper than she realized. On a hunch, when Coulter presses her about Oxford, she casually brings up Asriel and Dust. The result confirms that Coulter knows about Dust, and is disturbed to hear Lyra talk about it.

But her response to bringing up Asriel is far more terrifying. Anyone who has ever seen a parent flip out about their spouse in the middle of contentious divorce proceedings will recognize precisely how much Coulter gives away in her rant. But for Lyra, all she hears is Asriel has been lying her entire life. He's not her uncle, but her father. And Coulter? Well, when the Golden Monkey attacks Pan in this world's version of child abuse, it's a sign she needs to flee.

(photo: Courtesy of HBO)

Coulter was also surprisingly rigid about Lyra's schoolwork, pushing her at her studies at ever turn. But in the mystery of Roger's disappearance, nothing seemed to be happening, and travel to the North seemed to fall away from the conversation as well. Moreover, Pan is convinced Coulter's Golden Monkey is spying on them, a fear they confirm one day when Coutler goes out. Understandably, Lyra begins to feel trapped. Though she stares dutifully at the alethiometer she was given by The Master before leaving Oxford; it doesn't seem to tell her any truths at all.

Coulter's day trip also reveals secrets. She heads right to the place Roger, Billy, and all the stolen children are being held. She has them write letters home to their parents (never sent) and promises they're going on a great trip to the North. (When Roger has her write a letter to Lyra, Wilson's eyes are well nigh terrifying in their "well would you look at that" expression.) It seems like Roger is heading North, even if Lyra isn't, despite the best efforts of the Gyptian raiding party who travel to London in hopes of staging a rescue. By the time they arrive, it's too late, the kids have moved on.

But Coulter's reveal is not a big surprise, considering that the show has been following Roger and Billy all episode. Neither is Lyra's discovery that the "gobblers" who steal away the children are shorthand for Coulter's General Oblation Board (G.O.B.), which is paid for by the Magisterium. That she runs away is only the logical next step. When she, a child alone on the streets, gets gathered by the head gobbler's daemon (probably the last thing Coulter wanted), it's merely an ironic twist to get her on the path to the North viewers know she must take.

No, the real surprise this episode comes from Lord Boreal. After taking a trip to Oxford to threaten the Master over Asriel's research grant, he heads over to a greenhouse shed, inside which is a shimmering something that he proceeds to step through...

(photo: Courtesy of HBO)

...Only to come out the other side on a traffic island in the middle of Oxford. An Oxford where ambulances with LED lighting that don't exist in their world fly by, and 21st-century cars are parked in rows along s neighborhood street. Boreal proceeds to reach in his pocket, pull out an iPhone X, and turn it on.

That's right, Borael's portal takes him from Lyra's Oxford to ours. As a representative of the Magisterium, he is working undercover in this new version of Earth, trying to see how this repressive government can use it to their advantage. He's got a contact too, a dude by the name of Thomas (Robert Emms), who finds Borael's whole "pet snake demon" a little offputting. 

The "city in the clouds" that Asriel saw through his specialized photographic emulsion lens that allows Dust particles to become visible is a real city. Whether or not it's a city in our world or a third multiverse remains to be seen. But if the Magisterium already knows these cities are real and is sending envoys to learn about our world, no wonder they're so eager to shut down Asriel's research. Not only does the existence of other worlds go against their religious teaching, but their hypocrisy in covering it up is too big to let get out. No wonder Coulter was so upset to hear Lyra casually talk about it.

Now the question is, why are they sending children North as part of these Dust experiments in the first place?