The long-awaited, third and final season of His Dark Materials returns to our screens, following Lyra and Will as their adventures reach an epic end. Based on Philip Pullman’s final book of the award-winning trilogy “The Amber Spyglass,” the third season returns to find Lyra (Dafne Keen), the prophesied child, and Will (Amir Wilson), the bearer of The Subtle Knife trying to fulfill promises they made to others and venturing to a dark place from which no one has ever returned. As Lyra and Will travel to distant and dangerous worlds, Lord Asriel Belacqua gathers his armies to take on the Kingdom of Heaven and the Authority. All things, no matter how righteous or well-intended, must come at a cost, and nothing showcases that better than the epic conclusion of His Dark Materials.
Given the success of the books and the first two seasons, the final season of His Dark Materials had a lot to live up to. From fans of the books to new fans of the show, the incredible world-building that Jack Thorne and others had built within this series lives up to expectations. As the show goes on, more darker tones are shown throughout the series, which is perfectly shown through the eyes of Lyra and Will. They started their adventures as children, naive to the inner workings of the world and the cost of doing what is right for the world. Many had wondered if the final series could live up to the books and the previous two seasons, and it does, and that is thanks to the great care from all involved. From producers and writers who carefully planned out this concluding season, to the actors who have grown up playing these characters and the actors who have put their own spin on their characters.
Where season one seemed more about seeing the world through the childlike wonder, only to have it thrown into chaos but dangerous and duplicitous adults, season two was about characters living with such changes in the world and living up to prophecies they had no control in, and of course, the introduction of the promise of the greatest war that ever was. Season three answers all the questions that have been asked of the previous seasons, but also some questions book fans may have about the building of armies that weren’t shown in the books. Fans will have noticed that season two was an episode short. Due to the pandemic, the planned episode of Lord Asriel had to be cut, but in the third season, those gaps are filled. We get an insight into just what Lord Asriel was doing within “The Amber Spyglass,” without it overtaking the main story of Lyra and Will.
One of the things His Dark Materials gets expertly right is how to adapt a book. Time again, book adaptations have fallen short of their source material, some even butchering it entirely. His Dark Materials brilliantly brings the whole series to life, without changing or altering the source materials too much. It expands on storylines that add depth to characters like Lord Asriel that were missing within the books.
The final season of His Dark Materials shows that the past two seasons have been building up to this epic moment, and it’s not just regarding Lord Asriel’s war against the Kingdom of Heaven. The emotional bond and connection between a person and their daemon are heartbreakingly explored, as well as the topic of death and mourning. Death is a perfect stranger, always there, and perhaps even knowing a person more than their own soul, but given the final journey, it’s quite haunting that it’s the one thing a person has to be truly alone for. It’s one of the most pivotal and heart-breaking scenes within the series and books, and as fans of the books know, the ripple effects are felt for years later.
It would be impossible not to speak of the stunning visuals and special effects of this show. From the natural way the daemons walk beside their human counterpart, to the way the alethiometer works and how the knife cuts into different worlds. None of it is overdone, and the creators of His Dark Materials truly understood the beauty in making the different worlds as subtle and as real as possible. It works flawlessly, nothing is overdone, not even in the dust of the world. It would have been an easy choice to make things over-the-top, effects-wise, but by showing restraint allowed viewers to truly appreciate the beauty of each world they show.
Subtly is what this show does brilliantly, not just for the visuals or special effects, but for the characters learning and growing up. It’s the smallest of things that can make a monumental difference to a person’s world; a small change can make a person dare to be brave. Something someone once thought was small and ordinary is what can change a person’s life. Once that small thing is realized, things can never be the same no matter the sacrifice or change, and this final season, like the final book, embodies that so flawlessly, you will be craving the creators and HBO to authorize more of the books such as La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth. As the trilogy of His Dark Materials comes to an end, there is hope that the remaining books get adapted by the same network and writers. Given all that Lyra, Pan (voiced by Kit Connor), and Will endure throughout this final season, one would hope that the characters are given a chance to show the after-effects of the sacrifices and choices they have made, years since they were made. If anyone can faithfully adapt the remaining books, it is Jack Throne and the rest of his team.
With any adaptation, there are some faults and while this series comes close to perfect, it is not without them. One of the main faults of the third season is the Magisterium itself but more so in Cardinal McPhail (Will Keen). His character seems out of place in the third season, taking up too much time that could have been spent on the angels or even the newly added Father Gomez (Jamie Ward). The Magisterium of course is still a big part of the story but it’s not the biggest thing of season three. Where the show and plot had moved onto bigger things such as Angels and the Kingdom of Heaven, the magisterium and Cardinal McPhail don’t quite fit the pace of this series.
The Angels were a highly anticipated part of the show and unfortunately, I don’t think there is enough of them within the final season, especially in the first few episodes. Baruch (Simon Harrison) and Balthamos (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) deliver fantastic performances, but there simply isn’t enough of them to gather their impact. Balthamos and Baruch were such an important part of the books, especially as Will tries to find and save Lyra from her cunning mother Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson); unfortunately, this particular plot point is reduced to just a few scenes. Only briefly do viewers get to see Will travel through worlds as he attempts to find Lyra, and his interactions with the angels are very fleeting, which is a shame given the brilliant performances of Holdbrook-Smith and Harrison.
Father Gomez is another character that does not get the amount of screen time he deserved. While Jamie Ward delivers a great performance and even with his limited screen time, you understand that he is a threat, you simply do not see enough of him to consider him a great threat to many of the characters he meets. The writing does a lot to imply just how sinister Father Gomez is, and with a brilliant performance by Ward, viewers are left disappointed that instead of developing and fleshing out this character further, the time is given to Cardinal McPhail. While Father Gomez is an intriguing new addition and insight to the Magisterium, Cardinal McPhail’s character seems as if the story and plot had outgrown him.
Overall, this series is a prime example of how to adapt a story without ruining it. Expanding on certain things rather than changing them completely or changing them simply for change's sake. It did the impossible of improving on a book series that did not need improving by simply expanding on characters and motivations. Stand-out performances from James McAvoy as Lord Asriel as he battles with his own assumptions of himself to the reality of the fate of the world are perfectly written and performed but the best must be Mary Malone. Having read the books a few years ago, Mary was never a character that I quite cared for but Kirby brings such emotional warmth and depth to the character, you will be holding your breath in the final episode. As well as Simone Kirby, Amir Wilson as Will Parry has to be one of my favorite castings of all time. Not only does Wilson capture the vulnerability of Will but shows so many different aspects of Will, from the hopeful but cautious child to the child who had to grow up too soon as his mother couldn’t care for him and his father was not around. Without going into spoilers, a special mention must be given to Alex Hassell, whose voice leaves a chilling presence that will leave viewers wanting more. All the cast give their all to these characters, as do the writers. His Dark Materials is a series that all can be proud of being a part of, but all will be sad that it is ending.
His Dark Materials will be premiering on HBO on Monday, December 5 with its first two episodes airing back-to-back on the network from 9 to 11 p.m. ET/PT. For the UK, His Dark Materials will air weekly on BBC One from Sunday, 18 December. Alternatively, all episodes will be available to watch online on iPlayer from the same date.
Final Score- [9.5/10]
Reviewed by - Leigh Doyle
Publisher at Midgard Times
Note: All eight episodes of Season 3 are screened for this review.
Premiere Date: December 5, 2022, on HBO
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