After weeks of constantly finding herself in danger, Lyra finally reached her destination: her father Asriel’s lab in the deep North. It all seems like the perfect setup but the moment he catches sight of Roger, staring at the young boy like a wolf does a lamb, it was obvious that Roger was in peril. But Asriel wouldn’t hurt his daughter’s best friend, would he? Even after his exposition on Dust and ironically embracing an attitude of religious fervor towards stopping the Magisterium, the idea that Asriel would take such a step was something reserved for Marisa Coulter. And then it happens, solidifying Lyra’s parents up there with the worst mother and father pairs in fictional television.
By his actions, Asriel optimizes the ends justifying the means, sacrificing Roger (and the boy’s demon) to open a gateway to the City in the Sky. It’s not just Asriel’s curiosity of other worlds that drives his actions but his conviction to strike back at the Authority—who, based on their scripture, is God—even expressing to Marisa about their chance to create “a new Republic of Heaven”. His disdain for the oppression delivered by the Magisterium for centuries is understandable yet he goes beyond the pale in a visceral need to confront the Authority. But does the City in the Sky lead to that higher power or, like his world, is it nothing more than one of mortality? It’s a question with no answer as of yet, destined to be explored in Season Two.
Despite a sixty-minute runtime and a healthy dose of exposition, “Betrayal” is a rather simple finale. While it gives us a clearer picture of Asriel’s motivations, it still leaves room for expansion. There’s nothing definitive provided; even Asriel’s explanation of Dust is nothing more than his educated guess. If anything, the only thing we’re positive of is Asriel’s overwhelming arrogance. His mission to unmask the Magisterium for the power-hungry cult that they are is commendable, but the thought that he deems himself the one to take on the Authority which again, based on the snippets of this world’s own tale of Adam and Eve, is the Creator, is reckless and takes hubris to an entirely different level. His resoluteness in sacrificing a child for his own designs tells us enough about Asriel as a man. Though things can absolutely change and what we discover next season may change my opinion of him—maybe even redemption— but, at this moment, Asriel may have overtaken the Magisterium and Marisa Coulter as the series’ biggest antagonist.
Though Roger’s death was a shock, Marisa’s admission that she wanted to be a mother to Lyra is just as staggering. For a woman that displayed every bit the cold, unfeeling nature as Asriel, it’s — in wrestling parlance — a major face turn. Maybe she doesn’t fully give up on her old ways, but it seems as if being in Lyra’s presence has jump-started her ability to feel something more than for her own machinations. She has a long way to go to make amends, but Marisa’s confession may be that first step towards redeeming herself; and while she’s at it, bringing the Magisterium down from the inside wouldn’t hurt her case.
Considering her dad’s heinous actions, Lyra’s journey is one ending with unexpected devastation. It’s clear that Asriel knows nothing about being any kind of role model, let alone being a father, and Lyra’s expectations of a happy reunion is quashed by his stand-offish behavior. Yet the greatest wound Roger’s murder and Lyra seeing Asriel for the man he truly is. Never one to run, Lyra shows her bravery in the face of danger and uncertainty, following her father through the gateway to find Dust before Asriel does. On her fears of going alone, Pan’s succinct response—“we’ve always been alone…except for Roger”—is the definitive circumstance of her life. Whether it’s the Magisterium or her own father, Lyra vows to stop them from gaining possession of something that may not be the dangers it’s been purported to be. Lyra Silvertongue may be afraid but she’s not alone: with Pan and the alethiometer at her side, not to mention a spirit unlike anyone, it’s possible that Lyra is the one that will bring the truth to her world.
Unlike some finales “Betrayal” isn’t an over-the-top, action-packed episode. The anticipated battle of the Magisterium forces against Iorek’s panserbjorn is given but a few exciting seconds on screen but never materializes into an epic confrontation. Instead, it stays true to what His Dark Materials has been for the entire season: a quieter affair of Lyra finding the strength within herself to confront the uncomfortable and unexpected. While it provides a greater understanding of the ever-mysterious Dust, it also leaves us with many more questions than answers. In that, “Betrayal” does not satisfy, and yet, it creates a powerful springboard towards new worlds and maybe even bigger surprises. Most importantly, it’s bolstered my anticipation for more.
There was an up-and-down nature to the Season One narrative, with moments of excellence followed up with missed opportunities (though that latter part could be due to the material itself). The looming tension of war never came to pass, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the series—the last few episodes paved the way for the battle to come, including Serafina and her witches— but it was never about the action set pieces or the frenetic nature of confrontations. Instead, His Dark Materials was about the smaller moments, particularly those questions Lyra had lived with her entire life about her parents. The discovery of her lineage reminds me of the adage of never meeting your heroes. As a general philosophy, that’s too pessimistic for me but one can’t deny that, at least for Lyra, it’s an accurate assessment.
Based on the cliffhanger we’re left with — Lyra following Asriel into the light of an unknown world and Will stepping into the daemon world — let alone the various forces preparing for the larger conflict, Season Two already has a heavy amount of material to create a fascinating narrative that has been given a strong foundation by its freshman campaign. In that regard, season one was an adequate journey into the world of His Dark Materials.
‘His Dark Materials’: Season One overall rating:
7.5 out of 10