'His Dark Materials' Season 2, Episode 6 Recap: "Malice"

(Photograph Courtesy of HBO)

His Dark Materials Season 2 was initially ordered at eight episodes, the same as Season 1. The BBC put in this order in early fall of 2019, sending the cast and crew back to work early. Of those eight episodes, seven were completed before the end of the year. The eighth was supposed to be a standalone hour in which the show goes off-book completely. It imagines the adventures of Lord Asriel during the events of The Subtle Knife (because you can't have a full season without your A-list star).

But the production didn't begin work on it until March of 2020. Everyone knows what happened then, as the coronavirus pandemic ensured His Dark Materials Season 2 would be without James McAvoy after all. 

Mrs. Coulter: They consume what makes us human. I just hid that from them; I suppressed myself.

Instead, we reach the penultimate episode one week earlier than one might have otherwise hoped. However, considering the scripts' structure, Episode 6's "Malice" was always going to feel like the build to a climax. Like any good action-adventure, this means a week of wind up ahead of next week's payoff. It also means an episode where our characters, who are spread out across three worlds at the start of the hour, converge in one place, in and around Cittàgazze. 

First to come are the witches, blessedly in time to save Lyra and Will from Angelica and her pack of feral children, then comes Mary, who tames said children with a well-placed hug. (How adorably pathetic was Angelica asking for Mary to order her to take baths?) Coulter and Boreal pop through from Earth, chasing Will and Lyra, only to discover the witches have already spirited them out of the city. And after a season with every ducking through crossing via these tiny cuts in the world, Asriel's giant split in the sky finally starts getting used, first by Lee Scoresby's balloon, and then by the Magisterium itself with its giant Zeppelins coming to kill everyone willy nilly.

(Photograph Courtesy of HBO)

This part of the story is why the witches are so necessary as a critical plot turner, both in their rescue of Lyra and Will and introducing the Angels. As the show quietly clarifies with Mary, these Angels are just a different form of Dust that the murderous spectres (Hence how the one in Cittàgazze keeps her safe.) They're merely mentioned in passing this week as an excuse to send off Ruta to find Asriel (and set up our missing episode). But, like the witches, these beings will be crucial to Season 3. That leaves Serafina Pekkala to be the witches' mouthpiece to Lyra and Will. It should have been a thrilling meet-up, but instead mostly felt like some lady butting into a relationship she has no business opining on.

Giving the witches something to do other than helplessly hover around the edges of was an upgrade. But this week's sending everyone into the crossroads realm was also revelatory in which stories are gelling and which are not. The Magisterium is still the weakest, continuing to fail to rise to the level of the rest of the story. Worse, this is where the books reveal Lyra's real purpose and the "prophecy" everyone is always faffing on about. But unfortunately, the series merely has Fra Pavel Rasek faff some more rather than announce Lyra is re-enacting the fall from the garden of Eden by heading towards a big bite of science. I know there were technically still two more episodes when this was written and shot, but, please, get to the point.

Lee Scoresby and John Parry were somewhat better, in their ongoing two-hander trapped in Lee's balloon. At this point, everything they're doing (including the final oncoming crash that closed the episode) is all about building up to crossing paths (or not) with Lyra and Will in next week's finale, and all their banter (and various sleep-deprived confessions) are in service of that build up. Despite their chemistry, I am sad Lin-Manuel Miranda has not hit the heights with his character playing against Andrew Scott that he did back with Ruth Wilson earlier this season. He gets one more chance next week, and let's hope a balloon crash does the trick.

(Photograph Courtesy of HBO)

As usual, the best part of the episode is Wilson, as Coulter crosses back into Cittàgazze and discovers the spectres for herself. Everything about this scene, which happens off-page in the novel, was on point. It also highlights that Marisa is just as powerful as Lyra. There's a lot of talk between Boreal and Coulter where Boreal insists he sees Coulter as his equal in every way. (Funny, he didn't seem to be thinking that when he closed and locked the door when the spectres showed up, leaving her outside to die with them!) But this scene provides the first visual moment that Lyra and her mother genuinely are on the same footing.

Of course, Boreal's talk is all talk, and Coulter has no time for it or respect for Boreal at all. Moreover, though his character has been a massive boon to the series over the first two seasons, attaching him to Coulter meant his days were numbered. Eventually, she'd need to strike out on her own. After all, his ambitions were small, and they ended with only one or two worlds, unable to comprehend the sheer number of multiverses out there. I assume she must have laced his wine with iocane powder. Fare thee well, Ariyon Bakare, and let this be a window to a much larger career in the future.

Now, to see just how many of our characters find each other in next week's finale and learn how long viewers will have to wait until we finally see the missing Episode 8.