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'His Dark Materials' 2.03 Review: Theft

An emotional and exciting episode that hints at the bigger battle to come.

Lee Scoresby holds a gun and looks frightened
(Image: © HBO Max)

Our Verdict

An enjoyable but dense episode that pushes us towards the rest of the season.

For

  • ✨An iconic Lin Manuel Miranda and Ruth Wilson faceoff.
  • ✨Mary Malone is the hero we all need.
  • ✨Long Live Iorek Byrnison!

Against

  • ✨The witches are boring and I never thought I'd say that about witches.

This post contains spoilers for His Dark Materials.
Check out our last review here

Ah, the chosen one. The bloody chosen one. The trope to end all tropes. Its shadow weighs heavy over this week's episode of His Dark Materials. After a near-perfectly balanced second episode that centered around our beautiful children, Will (Amir Wilson) and Lyra (Dafne Keen), 'Theft' is more concerned with the other threads of the series which vary vastly in their quality. One of the most important to the chosen one story, though, is the witches and their belief in the prophecy that Lyra will save the world. With their sacred home attacked by the Magisterium, the magical race are even more desperate to find the inquisitive young girl than ever. 

Unfortunately for Lyra, her curiosity is very much manifesting big "killed the cat" energy as she ignores the alethiometer and abandons Will in order to visit Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby) and discover more about Dust, which was revealed last week to actually be Dark Matter. The particle physicist proves herself to be a trustworthy ally, protecting her from one of the dangerous men who's hunting down Will. Sadly, as Lyra makes her escape she runs into Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare), who she just thinks is a friendly Oxford resident. After accepting a lift from the turncoat, he steals her alethiometer, leaving her alone and lost with no idea where to find him. 

Another traveler searching for something is Lee Scorseby (Lin Manuel Miranda) who spends most of this episode floating around in his hot air balloon trying to track down an observatory. At first it feels like a distraction from the action of Oxford where Mary is trying her best to connect to the Dust to discover whether or not Lyra is safe after her escape. But Lee is on an important  mission and he gets closer to what he's looking for when he manages to track down Dr. Haley (Angus Wright) who he interrogates about Dr. Stanislaus Grumman. In case you're wondering who that might be, well the doctor also goes by the name of John Parry. Yes, the mysterious figure that Lee is looking for is actually Will's father, which seeing as Lyra and Will are looking for him too means that Lee may be reunited with his young friend soon. 

Miranda actually gets one of the most important and emotional moments this episode, as he shares a scene with the brilliant Ruth Wilson. After Lee is arrested at the observatory, he's imprisoned and Mrs. Coulter (Wilson) just so happens across the aeronaut. The pair face down and share their trauma as Coulter attempts to break Lee and make him tell her where Lyra is. But Scoresby shares that he won't break "because my life is worth 1/10 of that little girl's." It's an enlightening scene as Lee reveals he has no fear of torture or pain because his father was violently abusive and would endlessly terrorize him. It's a trait he sees in Coulter too, trying to connect with her own trauma and humanity. While he doesn't quite manage that, he does stop her from pulling out each of his nails and breaking every bone simply by triggering her fight or flight instinct when she realizes that he truly won't give up her daughter. 

In a surprising turn of events, Coulter helps Scoresby escape. On the surface it seems like the villainess does it to protect Lyra, encouraging the aeronaut to protect her daughter when he eventually finds her, but knowing Coulter she likely has other plans. She's rarely driven by her maternal instinct alone, and despite her fears about the prophecy and what it could mean for Lyra, it's likely Lee is just a pawn in Coulter's bigger plan. Luckily for Lyra, that isn't the only ally she has as we get to see the great big bear Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg) who is as tired of the prophecy life as I am. In a scathingly great mini-monologue he rebuffs the witches' emissary and scolds them for using Lyra as a toy in their plan. She'll be given no agency and can never be told of her fate, and Iorek is rightfully furious about what will happen to his friend.

Mary Malone has been such an awesome addition to this series and I love that we get to see her exploring the Dark Matter without Lyra this episode. We rarely get to see women in STEM, let alone older women who are groundbreaking particle physicists. As Mary tries to understand her new discovery it seems that her connection to the unknowable material might be as strong as Lyra's, but we only get a hint of Mary's power when the particle collider begins to show strange shapes like a snake. Sadly, Mary is at home so she doesn't see the message which might be spelling more danger for Lyra and Will who are already in quite a pickle as the episode ends. 

If you're a fan of the His Dark Materials book series you'll likely know that we've moved on from The Golden Compass and are now venturing into the world of The Subtle Knife. And that artifact is about to play a huge part as we move forward into the rest of the season. With Lyra on the hunt for her alethiometer, she and Will manage to find Lord Boreal thanks to the business card he gave her when they first met. But shocking no one who's been paying attention, it was all a scheme to lure Lyra and Will to him so that he could use them to find a man he's been hunting and steal his knife. If the pair head back into the world of Cittàgazze and locate "the man in the tower," take his knife, and return it to Boreal, he'll give Lyra back the alethiometer. Of course, Will is already aware of a man with a knife... his father, John Parry.