Episode two of His Dark Materials is a delightful exploration of the intricate relationship between Lyra (Dafne Keen) and Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson) and divulges some of the more sinister aspects of the series.
It begins with Lyra and Marisa’s arrival in London. Lyra wanders, mouth agape, through Marisa’s extravagant apartment—her new home, Marisa reminds her. “She’s nice,” Lyra tells Pan, “she treats me nice. Don’t we deserve to have nice things? For once.” Lyra has so often craved a mother that she attaches to the first person who shows her care in such a maternal way. Not to mention Marisa is a scholar who theoretically represents everything Lyra desperately wants to become. She is beautiful, young, and powerful, the only woman in a room stuffed with men. Highly questionable morals excluded, Marisa Coulter is the person Lyra has been waiting for her entire life.
“No one’s ever said I could be extraordinary before.”
I tend to shy away from the word evil because that word is quite definitive; Marisa Coulter is incredibly complex and fascinating, and not so easily categorized. While she outwardly presents as cold, calculating, and even vicious, there is warmth within her. Then there’s the matter of Marisa’s daemon. Her ability to separate from her daemon, her violent physicality with him, and his inability to speak all reflect a massive degree of self-loathing and detachment from her soul. Daemons, as manifestations of the soul, cannot be separated from their humans without harmful, even deadly consequences, yet Marisa is inexplicably immune. This screams of Marisa’s soullessness, however, it seems more like a self-destructive behavior, and a representation of her repressive, dark tendencies. “I’ve never been sure about them… heights,” she admits to Lyra, “I could never get away from the occasional urge to jump.”
Marisa would like to be completely cold, but her warmth for Lyra does flicker inside her, eating away at that darkness and evilness. Anger is the emotion she is most comfortable with, and she internalizes or represses all others — except in the instance of Lyra.
This episode serves as an incredible character study of both Marisa and Lyra while still managing to move the plot forward in an effective manner. The Magisterium, more malevolent than initially implied, has access to a window to a parallel world and wields an alarming amount of power over all those who may refute them — including Jordan College and any journalist unlucky enough to get caught. Meanwhile, Ma Costa and the Gyptians continue their search for Billy (who has met up with Roger) and the other missing children taken by the gobblers. This will draw them north, the direction everyone seems to be headed.
The end of episode two and Lyra’s rooftop escape from Marisa’s apartment marks the true beginning of her journey northward. Lyra is unique in that she doesn’t let her desperation for parental affection overshadow her morals —despite being a twelve-year-old girl. As soon as she begins to understand who Mrs. Coulter truly is, she holds steadfast to her moral ground and determines to continue her search for Roger, despite how much she may crave Marisa’s maternal care and mentorship.
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Jenna Kalishman is a freelance writer and cinephile based in Colorado who often focuses on female and queer perspectives as well as female-led projects. She spends much of her free time listening to Stevie Nicks and re-watching Carol. You can find her on twitter @jenkalish.