“She matters more than she can ever know. The fate of more than this world depends on her.”
Thrown in with the other children of Bolvangar, Lyra sees first-hand the danger she and the others are in. These evil doctors — experimenting on the children because they believe it will lead towards a better world — don’t recognize her, thus her relation to Mrs. Coulter will do her no good. Understanding that her cover would suffer should she and Roger speak, Lyra feigns as if she doesn’t know her best friend. Knowing that the Gyptians aren’t too far behind, when one of the girls is taken for the brutal experiment where the doctors sever the child/daemon connection, Lyra begins to formulate the plan to get her and the other children out of their oppressive interment.
Though she’s had help, so much of the onus on making His Dark Materials’ success lies on the shoulders of Dafne Keene. Her progression from week-to-week has been amazing and she’s at her best in “The Daemon Cages”. It’s not only how she takes charge, convincing the other children that there is hope, but her naked fear when the doctors separate her and Pan into the daemon cages is astounding. For the first time, there’s a real fear that Lyra is in mortal danger and the tension her wails of “Mother!” towards Mrs. Coulter creates is difficult to watch, as is the follow-up scene where mother and daughter speak.
As good as Keene is here, displaying such a quiet fury and heartache at what her mother has done to these innocent children, Ruth Wilson is every bit as formidable. Her shame at abandoning Lyra is only overshadowed by her convictions in what she did was right. It’s a difficult task to create sympathy for such a vile character but Wilson almost makes me want to find fault with my aspersions against Mrs. Coulter. She knows that her actions at Bolvangar are causing pain but is convinced that a schism between humanity and daemons is a necessary step for this world to free itself of the sinful tenants this daemon-interdependency brings. Yet there may be no more of a painful moment than, as Lyra and the children are freed by Iorek, Lee, and the Gyptians, Mrs. Coulter casts a final glance at her daughter, the realization that she has lost Lyra for good etched in her heartbroken features.
The character arcs between Lyra and Mrs. Coulter would have been themselves enough to carry “The Daemon Cages” to the finish line. The action sequence where the cavalry storms the facility is the proverbial cherry on top of a tension-filled sundae. As valiant as the Gyptians are, Seraina steals the show here; her incredible speed and grace cutting through the Tartar forces and Bolvangar doctors alike. It only takes that handful of seconds to showcase the immense power of witches in this world. But Serafina is not just there for the bloodshed. She pays a visit to Lee as he, Lyra, Roger, and Iorek head further North to rescue Asriel. Her ability to manipulate the aeronaut— suggestively strong-arming him into accepting the charge to keep Lyra safe — is every bit as potent as her physical capacities. She emphasizes Lyra’s importance, to this world and others but offers no more. It’s a staple of those in tune with magic; tell them enough to titillate but not enough to see the whole picture. Nevertheless, Lee takes the responsibility to heart… too bad he fails in that promise to keep her safe only hours after making it.
For five weeks now, His Dark Materials has flirted with achieving the beloved heights of its source material, but the at-times uneven pacing, unfulfilling (or unnecessary) moments and lack of energy in scenes kept it from reaching its potential. “The Daemon Cages” puts the pieces together like no episode before it. Every scene mattered, with the production combining a delicious mix of action, drama, and legitimate moments of unease capped off by a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that teases Lyra falling to her death (we know, she doesn’t die).
This is everything I have been wanting in this show and what better way to lead into the final two weeks than a tour-de-force of creativity where both the script and actors merged for a synergistic marvel.
• Serafina, Serafina, Serafina. I cannot say enough about this character. She’s had maybe seven minutes of screen time but I love her every bit as much as Lyra or Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson is too amazing, even if her character is a madwoman). Ruta Gedmintas carries with her this aged, world-weary knowledge of centuries interspersed with a younger, tangible verve. It’s understandable where her earlier involvement would have screwed with the narrative (think if Frodo and the others hitched a ride with the eagles in Fellowship of the Ring) but everything about this game-changer keeps me wanting more.
• With Bear-Brawl 2019 seeming to be the primary story for next week’s penultimate episode, unless it’s more of a Season Two thing, the finale will be responsible for expanding on Lyra and Will’s connection. As much as I want to know more (I reckon I could pick up a copy of the books), I almost hope at least some of this is held off until next season as I’m not entirely convinced the time left will be able to satisfactorily wrap everything up without overindulging on the exposition.