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'His Dark Materials' 2.05 Review: The Scholar

An unexpected and villainous alliance puts Will and Lyra in grave danger.

Marissa Coulter stands in an over the top suit staring at Lord Boreal with interest
(Image: © HBO)

Our Verdict

Another great episode that places our young heroes front and center.

For

  • ✨Will and Lyra are the best heroes we could hope for.
  • ✨A powerful Marissa Coulter and Mary Malone showdown.
  • ✨Finally beginning to touch on the philosophical questions at the core of the book.

Against

  • ✨ Be careful Dr. Mary Malone we want you to survive the season!

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

As Lyra (Dafne Keen) has found strength in her friendship with Will (Amir Wilson), this week we see a dark reflection of that relationship in the terrifying new allegiance between Marissa Coulter (Ruth Wilson) and Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare). Though we've watched them lie to each other and carve their own deceitful paths over this season, their paths crossed last week as they made a wary pact to help each other. For Mrs. Coulter it's about locating her daughter Lyra, though her motives for why she's so desperate to do so are unclear. For Boreal it's about gaining control of the Subtle Knife which Will became the bearer of following a battle in the last episode. After moving through the window that Boreal has been using to get between worlds, the pair are now in our world, waiting for the children to return from the Cittàgazze. 

Lyra and Will have no plans to return the knife, though they do need to retrieve Lyra's alethiometer which Boreal stole as leverage. Luckily, Will's new role as bearer of the knife means he can cut a window into any world and potentially straight into Boreal's home. With such a dynamic yet infinite conflict taking up these last two episodes, it could be easy to forget there's a wider war in process, one that was most recently defined by the slaughter of the witches. During the final moments of last week's episode we saw the witches retaliate, killing 24 of the Magisterium's men and flying into the hole between worlds which Asriel (James McAvoy) created. Unsurprisingly, the Magisterium are less than pleased and decide the only way to discover what's truly going on is to hunt down Mrs. Coulter and bring her in. 

That journey will be a difficult one, though, as Boreal has revealed all, meaning that Mrs. Coulter is now completely aware of the Dust and Dark Matter, as well as the existence of Mary Malone (Simone Kirby). That doesn't bode well for the astrophysicist who is ambushed by Marissa in her office and tricked into momentarily trusting her. However, after her recent connection and conversation with the Dust, she is luckily reserved enough to not put Lyra in danger. Once Marissa disappears, though, she heads back to the Dust and is told that she "must play the serpent" in a new iteration of Adam and Eve. She's also told to "save the girl and the boy," implying that Mary will have a large role to play in the future and the fates of both Will and Lyra. How that connects to her playing the role of the serpent is yet to be seen and sounds... ominous. 

As Marissa comes to term with the realities of this new world--one where women are allowed to teach and be scholars--Lyra and Will discover the fate of the boy who'd been the knife bearer before Will. Drained of his soul by the spectres, he's now nothing more than a ghost, and his Cittàgazze friends are less than happy. Coming to terms with the consequences of their actions derails the pair slightly, but soon they are back on their mission to steal the alethiometer. Their timing couldn't be better as Boreal and Marissa are coming clean. She's furious he kept this world where she could have thrived from her, while he is eager for her to join him in it forever. With the adults distracted, Lyra and Will put their plan into action, though the presence of the machiavellian Marissa could pose a huge danger to our young heroes. 

While Lyra distracts Boreal at the front door, Will cuts a window into his basement to retrieve the alethiometer, with no idea that Marissa is also in the house. In a brilliantly tense moment, she almost comes across the young boy. But just before he manages to get the gadget in his grasp, Mrs. Coulter's daemon reveals his presence. Lyra is horrified to see her murderous mother and Boreal couldn't be happier to potentially gain possession of the powerful knife. With Will and Boreal facing down over the powerful artifact, Coulter is trying to convince her daughter that she only has her best interests at heart. There's plenty to dig into here as Coulter tries to use her maternal connection to manipulate Lyra and Boreal threatens the safety of Will's mother. It all leads to a devastating showdown as Pan attacks Coulter's daemon and Boreal overpowers Will. 

Ultimately, our beautiful children prevail. Lyra overpowers her mother and Will disarms Boreal with the smart use of a vase. After retrieving the alethiometer, Will cuts them a window and the pair escape, leaving our world behind. This week's episode is full of symmetry; as Will and Lyra recover in the Cittàgazze, the show reckons with one of its most tragic thematic playgrounds: parenthood. Will has done everything that has led him to Lyra in the hopes of protecting his mother whose life was ruined by his father and plagued by mental health issues and goons from other worlds since he left. On the other hand we have Lyra, who wants nothing more than to be nothing like her mother or father. As Will states, he's constantly afraid of something happening to his mother but could never imagine her hurting him, whereas Lyra has never been anything but a pawn in her parents' cosmic games. 

Luckily, now the children have each other. But while Boreal is despairing about the odds of him and Coulter surviving Cittàgazze and the spectres, Marissa is finally getting to put her immense intelligence into play. This episode is very concerned with the way that the Magisterium has oppressed women like Marissa into subservience and silence. So now that she's discovered a new world where she can truly thrive, she's been inspired. And she thinks there's a way that the pair can survive the spectres as long as they understand Dust and its powers. It's a mysterious way to leave the pair, but before the episode is truly over we see someone else entering the Cittàgazze. Dr. Mary Malone is on a quest for adventure, for freedom, for understanding. But unlike Coulter, she has no idea of the spectres and what dangers lie through the window she walks through. She's become a firm favorite of this reviewer this season, so let's hope that WIll and Lyra can find her before she loses herself to the spectres forever.