Review: ‘His Dark Materials’ season 3 is world-building on a huge scale
After an unexpected hiatus caused by an insignificant pandemic, His Dark Materials is back for a third and final season.
In a world-building opener, Dafne Keen’s Lyra is unconscious under the watchful eye of her mother Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), Will (Amir Wilson) is slicing through worlds in constant pursuit, while Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) plots against heaven for the war to come. From the opening bar of that familiar theme tune composed by Lorne Balfe (Top Gun: Maverick), audiences will be transported into Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, as this epic saga builds to its staggering conclusion.
What becomes apparent as viewers are pulled between worlds on this wondrous journey, is that HBO and the BBC have spared no expense in telling the tale. Vast temples stretch into the sky, iridescent columns define divine architectural designs – while wrought iron beams denote those more industrial structures constructed by men, rather than gods.
These are fully-realized worlds with functioning ecosystems, which these characters are merely passing through rather than influencing, affecting or disrupting on any level. Whether Asriel is conversing with Serfina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas), or discussing tactics with Commander Ogunwe (Adewake Akinnuoye-Agbaje) prior to taking flight in his intention machine – there is a sense that this universe stretches off in every direction.
As for the central plot of season 3, it revolves around journeys undertaken and epiphanies experienced, as everyone undergoes fundamental change. There are angels who aid and abet our unwilling heroes, while familiar faces help out in every realm. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby) is amongst them, having taken on the Darwin mantle by wandered through a tear between worlds, just to study an indigenous species.
Elsewhere, members of the Magisterium headed up by Father MacPhail (Will Keen) and his trusted emissary Father Gomez (Jamie Ward), use every means necessary to locate Lyra. Acting according to scriptures passed down by The Authority, these pious men use religious fervor as an instrument against non-believers. This weaponized clergy, who consider daemons an ungodly abomination against nature, seek balance through orchestrated genocide.
This battle between organized religion and the individual is one of Pullman’s central themes, which has shaped this series from inception. Under the adaptive eye of Jack Thorne (Enola Holmes 2), His Dark Materials has boldly taken on these central tenets within its narrative and delivered a story of real depth. With ideologies clashing at every juncture as this series unfolds, half the pleasure of watching season 3 comes from seeing those opinions change.
Mrs. Coulter goes from a maternal jailer to a militarized weapon against divine creations, while Lord Asriel flips between being an enraged fanatic to an inconsolable father figure. Scenes between McAvoy and Wilson verge on the theatrical at times, as both actors chew through scenery in their efforts to squeeze every ooze of emotion from these moments.
Likewise, the angels which inhabit these realms, whether those are Baruch (Simon Harrison), Balthamos (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) or Xaphania (Chipo Chung) – each play a crucial role in shaping the story. Being genderfluid and otherworldly in their appearance, they represent an important inclusive element within season 3, which subtly acknowledges how boundless religious belief ought to be. In comparison to the militant approach taken by the Magisterium, who thrive on outdated dogma and strong-arm tactics, these angelic forms personify balance.
That more than anything is what gets revealed throughout the course of this story, which ultimately preaches a progressive approach and acceptance of others. Lyra and Will may be the linchpin that holds these realms together, while others seek to pull it asunder for their own ends. However, what season 3 does demonstrate is that there needs to be balance in every ideology for unity to be achieved.
Over an expansive eight hours of television, Thorne has adapted The Amber Spyglass and managed to retain many of those ideas which Pullman sought to discuss. Ideas which some audiences might consider contentious, yet cloaked beneath so many mainstream smokescreens that people will barely notice. As man stands against God and denounces him for considering himself superior, remember that once upon a time Hollywood almost destroyed any hopes of an adaptation with The Golden Compass.
This season 3 conclusion to Philip Pullman's trilogy is epic on every level. Majestic locations, thought provoking themes, and headliners Dafne Keen and James McAvoy on solid form throughout. Essential viewing for fans of the source material.