Nowhere else on TV this year have you seen a gang of angels – heaven’s, not hell’s – spoiling for a scrap and a psychopathic mother booting her vicious monkey up the arse. What a family-friendly adventure series this is. Brains, young and old, must be sizzling at how much was served up in this epic finale; deaths of beloved characters, the reappearance of characters thought lost, and an overwhelming sense of irreversible change.
Of those changes, Lyra’s is the most significant. As she enters adolescence she will become the second Eve and precipitate the death of God. Puberty, eh? The finale of His Dark Materials was the series’ most emotional and complex, full of reunions and farewells, with the cliffhangers of all cliffhangers.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, cliff-ghasts gnawing on your bones – that’s the Christmas Lord Asriel faces if his war on The Authority fails, as enemies gather to feast on his failure and anticipate his inability to mobilise the forces needed to gain victory. The swaggering and arrogant Asriel is the general of his army, but his victory entirely relies on the recruitment of Will and Lyra. For the moment, Lyra’s focus – and by extension that of Serafina Pekkala and her witch allies – is making sure Will finds his long-lost father.
This series-long search builds to a tragic and desperate conclusion as Mrs Coulter, spectres, Magisterium forces, Lee Scoresby, and Hot Shaman Jopari all converge on a canyon. Lee and Hester, his hare daemon, fall as they hold off the Magisterium to lend Jopari enough time to locate the bearer of the Subtle Knife, who he doesn’t know is his own son. Their reunion, after so many years apart, is the series’ emotional climax, although the conclusion of Will’s search is devastating rather than joyous.
The final chapter of His Dark Materials is, to borrow a phrase, a book of revelations. Lyra contemplates a sensation of change, brought on by her friendship with Will, and is aware she and Pan are on the brink of leaving childhood behind. Mrs Coulter learns the true identity of her own daughter and what she is destined to accomplish, accelerating her into an even higher state of sharply-dressed fanaticism. And Jopari, despite all his accumulated knowledge and strange learnings from multiple worlds, is stunned to meet Will, his son and the knife-bearer.
In the novel Will and Jopari’s encounter is in the dark, the two recognising each other as light from a lantern illuminates their faces the moment Jopari’s heart is split by a scorned witch’s arrow. Will’s perilous search is given a grandstand finale in this adaption, their reunion under a cloudless afternoon, and balances recriminations with responsibilities. His understandable anger at John Parry for abandoning his family, as if for another, is tempered by listening to his words and trusting in the future he has seen for him.
Yet before there’s time for Will to tell his dad that when they’re home he should go on Tattoo Fixers to sort out the questionable ink on his hands, John is taken from him for a second time. In the end, Jopari was a father first. Not so Mrs Coulter, who is a mother second. Loving mothers tend not to kidnap their children and lock them in a trunk.
“What are you frightened of?,” asks Mrs Coulter of her bullied monkey, the last remnant of her own humanity. While the monkey fears yet more abuse and torture by her own hand, for the audience it’ll be the gap between this finale and The Amber Spyglass reaching our screens.
Jack Thorne and the writers weaved an exemplary adaptation from Pullman’s original thrilling work, their bold imagination matched by the work of the production design and visual effects teams. Sunday nights won’t be the same for a while, but what a conclusion awaits – a vast war against the essence of creation, with scripts which treat viewers of all ages with intelligence.
Even darker material
- There was always going to be a larger gap between the adaptations of The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass – Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson could do with the break – but might that gap be significantly greater due to Covid?
- In another world, with those shooting skills, Lee Scoresby would be a professional e-gamer.
- Lena Feldt is the witch who kills Jopari in the book for breaking her heart. Here she is condemned to death by spectre, instead of plunging the Subtle Knife into her own body out of remorse.
- A post-credits sequence! Featuring poor dead Roger! So, where is Lyra and why is he there?
His Dark Materials is available via BBC iPlayer