His Dark Materials has returned, and things are getting weird. The multiverse has opened, and with it comes a whole new world(s) of possibility. But the most important thing it may do is finally bring our two young heroes together, setting the stage for a destiny too powerful to ignore.
For those who’ve read Philip Pullman’s trilogy, “The City of Magpies” brings us into the storyline of the second book, The Subtle Knife. The episode takes place soon after the season one finale, which saw Lyra (Dafne Keen) entering the doorway created by her father, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy, who is not present in this episode or season). She finds herself in Cittagazze, a gorgeous but abandoned city that seems to carry a great secret—and a terrifying evil. It all seems to hinge on a tower at the very top of the massive, King’s Landing-esque structure. But we’re not ready to go there yet, are we?
The story here sees Lyra at the closest thing to a low point. She’s mourning the death of her best friend Roger while dealing with the guilt about the role she played in bringing about his death. It’s made it hard for her to trust anyone or anything—including the alethiometer, which we see her repeatedly toss aside as a harbinger of doom. But she’s not broken, not in the least. It’s these kinds of moments where Keen gets to play to her strengths—portraying a character who, even in her darkest moments, strives to keep it together—and it’s something I’m hoping we get to see more of in the future.
Finally, Lyra gets to meet Will (Amir Wilson), who came to Cittagazza through a window in his/our world. The two of them have trouble trusting each other at first—mainly because Lyra is horrified at the idea of a person who doesn’t have a daemon—but eventually they start to work together. I felt their first interactions were stifled and awkward in ways that felt extratextual, like the actors were struggling to figure out their dynamic. But I’m sure that’ll buff out in time. Individually, I thought they were great. One of my favorite moments was how Will cleaned the shatters of a cup that had broken when Lyra first attacked him. Without a word, it said everything you needed to know about him.
Back in Lyra’s world, the witches are debating their next steps. Some of them wish to go to war for Lord Asriel, mainly the newly arrived Queen Ruta Skaldi (Jade Anouka), while others like Queen Serafina (Ruta Gedmintas) and Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) want to find and protect Lyra. There’s definitely more of an emphasis on the witches in this episode than I was expecting, including an extended action sequence where Ruta Skaldi attacks a submarine so she can come to the aid of a witch whom Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) was torturing...and deliver a near-fatal blow to the Magisterium’s reigning cardinal. I’m curious to see what happens with the witches in season two considering they kind of fade into the background a bit in the second book.
Most of Lyra and Will’s time in the premiere is spent exploring individually, but once they find each other they do try to get to know each other—since they’re from parallel worlds and that’s pretty wild for both of them. They even come to realize they both live in alternate versions of Oxford and decide to go find a “scholar” in Will’s version who may be able to help Lyra. However, the episode ends on the theme of secrets.
Mrs. Coulter plots with Father MacPhail (Will Keen) to secretly let the cardinal die so he can take over, promising it will be “her sin.” Meanwhile, as Will looks over his father’s letters in private, Lyra pulls out her alethiometer (which she’s likewise kept hidden from Will) so she can find out who he really is. This is where she discovers that he killed a man and that he has a greater destiny that’s tied to Cittagazze. As Will looks upon the tower and its many secrets, which will surely be discovered in the coming season, an evil presence called a Spectre looms behind him, ready to strike.
- I loved watching Ruta Skaldi and Serafina’s daemons debate as the witches did. The show seems to be getting better at integrating the daemons, something that they struggled with early on (partially because of the budget limitations).
- We’ve got a Lady Mormont cameo! Game of Thrones’ Bella Ramsey has joined the cast as Angelica, one of Cittagazze’s few young survivors. It’s Angelica who tells Lyra and Will about the Spectres—creatures in the city who suck the consciousness out of you, leaving you an empty husk, if you’ve reached adulthood—and reminds Will that he might be on the chopping block soon because he’s almost a grown-up.
- Screw Angelica and those other kids for being dicks to a cat.
- Spot the (book) difference time! In The Subtle Knife, it’s Serafina who came to the aid of the young witch, granting her the peaceful death she was asking for. In the show, they changed it to Ruta Skaldi. I feel this was a smart choice, as it showed Ruta is more about taking action than Serafina—setting the stage for a bigger conflict between the witch clans.
- The omelet scenes might’ve seemed a little weird, but trust me it was a whole thing in the book.
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