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His Dark Materials season 2 episode 1 review: Return of captivating TV fantasy is a much-needed escape

Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) has entered a new world in the opening episode of His Dark Materials season 2 (Credit: BBC)

Warning: spoilers ahead for season 1 of His Dark Materials.

The arrival of His Dark Materials season 2 couldn’t have come at a better time, offering viewers a very welcome dose of distraction, fantasy and escapism as we face an uncertain reality.

At the end of season 1 of His Dark Materials, protagonist Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) finds herself in a fragile, uncertain position. Having witnessed her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd) die at the hands of her father Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) – a man she thought she could trust wholeheartedly – Lyra decides to step into the unknown, entering the doorway of a new world.

Season 2 of His Dark Materials, the television adaptation of Philip Pullman’s book trilogy of the same name, picks up right where we left off, following Lyra as she sets off on her journey for answers with only her shape-shifting daemon Pantalaimon (voiced by Kit Connor) for company.

However, she soon meets the kind-hearted Will Parry (Amir Wilson), who also comes from another world, a world where he’s a young carer for his mother and where he recently went on the run after killing an intruder at his home in self-defence.

The highly-anticipated meeting between Lyra and Will marks a significant point in the series, as both characters must learn to trust each other despite experiencing immeasurable loss and sadness in their pasts. Following the explosive action of season 1, the coming together of these two characters at the beginning of the season provides viewers with a very important reminder – that no matter how heroic and noble these two characters are, no matter how much responsibility is placed on their shoulders, at the end of the day, they’re still just children.

Will Parry (Amir Wilson) and Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) form an alliance (Credits: BBC/© Bad Wolf/HBO)

Dafne and Amir both do a masterful job at portraying young characters who are just as wide-eyed as they are wise beyond their years, bouncing off one another as they explore the curious city of Cittàgazze together. Despite coming from different worlds, one with witches and the other with iPhones, the pair are clearly cut from the same cloth, both inherently believing in the importance of goodness and morality.

But the episode reaches its peak when scene-stealer Ruth Wilson arrives on screen as the devilishly conniving Mrs Coulter. We can all agree that Mrs Coulter is innately corrupt, a woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, particularly when it comes to tracking down her daughter Lyra. But her scenes are absolutely riveting to watch, Ruth savouring every manipulative word uttered by Mrs Coulter as though she’s drinking a glass of delicious red wine.

Ruth Wilson continues to captivate as Mrs Coulter, pictured here with Will Keen as Father MacPhail (Credits: Bad Wolf/HBO/BBC)

Season 1 provided just a taste of the cruelty Mrs Coulter is able and willing to inflict on others, all the while emphasising her capacity to love when faced with Lyra and her former lover (and co-parent) Lord Asriel. If the opening episode of season 2 is anything to go by, Ruth will prove herself yet again as one of the standout stars of the show. Honestly, the decision to cast The Affair star in this role was truly one of the best TV casting choices of recent years.

While we feel a sense of comforting familiarity when the wisecracking Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) appears in the season premiere, sparks fly when witch-queens Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) and Ruta Skadi (Jade Anouka) come face to face, the latter a new arrival in the series. With a menacing glint in her eye, Ruta is just as powerful as she is entrancing to watch, the sequence that she features in providing one of the highlights of the episode.

The opening of season 2 also teases the introduction of Spectres, terrifying beings that anyone who has read the book trilogy will know are to be greatly feared. While Lyra and Will are currently safe from their grasp – as Spectres are only a danger to adults – we have no doubt spine-chilling scenes await us this season.

Verdict:

The season 2 premiere of His Dark Materials sets up the rest of the season nicely, gently introducing viewers to new worlds, characters and concepts. While the excitement in this season will undoubtedly reach far greater heights as the story progresses, the return of the show is exactly what we all need as we turn to TV for diversion during lockdown.

Season 2 episode 1 of His Dark Materials airs on Sunday 8 November at 8.10pm on BBC One.

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