This week's His Dark Materials begins with Lyra taking a chance that she can get away with infiltrating Will's Earth twice without getting caught. Even without Pan sounding the alarm, audiences can guess that the second round won't go nearly as smoothly as the first.
The Pale Faced Man is already at Mary Malone's before Lyra arrives, and though she escapes, it's only to rush right into the arms of Lord Boreal. Boreal gets what he wants, too: The alethiometer, right out of her bag. It leaves Lyra trapped, unwilling to leave without her precious device, but unable to get it back alone.
Scoresby: It's not enough, though, is it? Love. Doesn't mean you won't hurt her, doesn't mean she's safe with you. Doesn't work that way.
As much as Will and Lyra are the main A plot of the episode, it's a bit frustrating that nothing they do this week has an immediate payoff. Instead, it's all set up for future earnings. Will's conversation with Angelica foreshadows the mission to get the Subtle Knife, adding a bit of color by throwing in the Guild of the Torre Degli Angeli. However, it doesn't explain much about this new "crossroads" world in which both Lyra and Will keep finding themselves. It's much the same as Lyra's return to Earth, which does not get a second round with the Dust In The Machine. But it propels Mary to throw herself deeper into the work, setting up a different, separate chain of events.
On the one hand, Will's coming to rescue Lyra represents the sinking reality she cannot go off on her own like this anymore, that she needs him. (Also, Will takes her to see Paddington and buys the popcorn. Shout out to that Hugh Bonneville cameo!) But even that doesn't pay off this week either (other than the Paddington bit). Instead, Boreal directs the two back again to Cittagazze, with the promise that he'll return the alethiometer if they bring him the Subtle Knife. of course, Boreal is lying, but that's a problem for another day, preferably one where Will has the knife in hand.
But despite all the screentime given over to this and a few side items, like Serafina Pekkala reaching out to Iorek Byrnison to ascertain Lyra has left this world for a different one, the real heart of this episode was the oh-so-coincidental meeting of one Marisa Coulter and one Lee Scoresby.
I have been less than kind to Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby. Though I appreciated what the show was trying to do with this broad "American" stereotyped character out of Pullman's novel, up until this week, his performance never landed. It felt like a put-on, a faux character with a fake southern drawl, a painfully awkward fit that refused to work. But this week, I finally saw what the casting directors must have seen when they gave Miranda the role. The revelation that Lee Scoresby is the way he is because he was a deeply abused child rang true for the first time in a way that it neither did in the books or when Sam Elliott played him in the film.
More importantly, though, was Miranda's meeting with Ruth Wilson on screen. Season 1 was marked by Wilson's Mrs. Coulter often feeling like she was in a completely different (and far better) series than the rest of the cast with whom she interacted, save Dafne Keen. Here, for the first time, Wilson seemed to meet a match for the type of show she's trying to play. That the scripts have somewhat moved in the direction she was pushing this whole time helps, of course. But there's putting her with flatter, duller foes, and then there's this, a fireworks-laden scene that was the most riveting thing the show has done so far.
The scene of two adults who are the product of abuse and have been spurred on opposite paths in response gave real depth to Scoresby's previously weirdly buffoonish persona. His self-efficacy and loyalty to Lyra finally got a real grounding to it. (It also went a long way in explaining his snow bunny daemon. Shout out to Cristela Alonzo, who voices Hester, who did wonders with her small role here.) It also went a long way in making Coulter the "complex female villain" the show wants, who both tortures people Nazi-style and remains utterly desperate to protect her daughter. The Golden Monkey also got a boost, going from tender one moment to knocking out the guard via his daemon the next.
Unfortunately for viewers, there probably won't be much more of that. The entire contrived reason for putting the two characters together was short-lived as it was. Scoresby's killing of the religious fanatic Haley (Angus Wright) was a great excuse to lock him up in the same town where the fog just so happened to derail Coulter's trip up the mountain to the rip in the sky. Their meeting was a wonderful moment of character building, but Coulter letting Scoresby out so that at least one kind person is looking for her means he needs to keep moving.
Hopefully, Andrew Scott's Stanislaus Grumman/John Parry will make his entrance next week and keep this momentum going. Moreover, this gives more shades for Wilson to play when Coulter finally crosses out of this world and head off to find Lyra. But first, let's have Will get his hands on the Subtle Knife.