I have had my gripes and uncertainties about this adaptation of the His Dark Materials series. Admittedly, I am a new fan having just recently devoured the books via Audible, but “Armor” really gave me a huge boost of hope for this show.
Honestly, I’m not saying it’s all thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance, but Miranda’s energy as Lee Scoresby does inject some levity, drama, and entertainment to the season. And while trying to fill the shoes of Sam Elliott’s near-perfect casting as sky cowboy Lee Scoresby must have certainly been a difficult task, it is one that Miranda fills with practiced ease.
We converge up in the north in a small town where the Gyptians bring Lyra to speak with a consul of the witches named Dr. Lanselius. In this same town, we see Lee touch down in search of his old friend Iorek Byrnison.
For the uninitiated, Iorek Byrnison is a panserbjørn aka an armored bear. They’re a species of sapient polar bears who are smart, noble, and have their own society up in the far north. Unfortunately for Iorek, he is currently without said armor.
So after Lyra surprises Dr. Lanselius with her ability to use the alethiometer by choosing the correct cloud-pine for Serafina Pekkala, he suggests that the Gyptians employ an armored bear. The local town has been affected by the General Oblation Board and they also have missing children. Having the muscle of an armored bear could be worthy protection.
For her accurate choice, Dr. Lanselius also gives Lyra a piece of Serafina’s cloud-pine, in case she ever really needs to contact her.
When Lyra and Farder Corum go to meet Iorek, it’s quickly apparent that this is not one of the armored bear of legend. For one, he’s not armored, for another, he’s a big old curmudgeon. One of the best relationships in Northern Lights is Lyra’s relationship with Iorek and they nailed this one on the head.
Lyra is immediately doling out some real talk for Iorek, much to the shocking horror of Farder Corum (who must be wondering if he’s about to witness a child die in front of him). But Iorek seems affected by this little girl asking him if he’s a coward or not. Maybe all he needed was some scolding.
We also learn about Farder Corum’s relationship with the witches this episode. Specifically, his relationship with one of their queens: Serafina Pekkala. It’s been hinted at and in this episode it’s aired out. In his younger days, he and Serafina were lovers. They had a child together who died young due to illness, and they presumably haven’t spoken in years.
We’ll learn eventually that witches age very, very slowly. So, Farder Corum is justifiably a little nervous to meet his once-paramour now that he’s got a few more decades on him.
But, it looks like old Corum’s still got it, because Serafina sends her daemon Kaisa to meet with the Gyptians. He tells the Gyptians about a place called Bolvanger. It is the station where the Magisterium has a foothold and is aptly named the “fields of evil”. And, while some of the witches are on the side of the Magisterium, Serafina Pekkala has decided to support the Gyptians and will help them.
While this is happening, Lee Scoresby is leaving his own mark on the town. From loud and rowdy bar fights to pickpocketing off of the barflies, he is as determined to find Iorek as Lyra and the Gyptians were. When approached by Lyra, he initially brushes her aside to speak to Farder Corum. After a little back and forth, Lyra ultimately decides not to get help from Lee immediately, not fully trusting his intention.
This episode is actually a good image of who Lyra will become as she becomes further embroiled in the story. She’s spunky, independent, strong-willed, and confident of herself. And, as Farder Corum remembers a prophecy of a child from Serafina and Dr. Lanselius’ greedy looks, we can start to see the potential within Lyra.
One of the the things that I’m starting to appreciate in this TV adaptation of Lyra is her passion. While I do think that her one-track-mind for finding Roger is a bit dramatic, the scene where she and Tony Costa look up at the northern lights and talk about getting the kids back is heartwarming. She’s not just doing this as some mission to go north or explore, she’s doing this for the right reasons, which is a bit more mature than book Lyra.
Also. THE CITY IN THE SKY. There’s so much I want to say about this, but for now, the only thing I can say is !!!!!!
Now, once Lee finally finds Iorek (“Some look good naked, you do not,”) we get a reunion between two friends that is equal parts endearing and bittersweet. Lee is immediately ready to help and listen without judgments, while Iorek can’t even bring himself to look Lee in the eye for the shame that he feels in his actions.
It’s great to watch Miranda slipping into the nuances of Lee’s character. Yes, Lee is essentially a stereotypical cowboy, but he’s got facets. One thing that defines him is his close friendship with Iorek. This soft moment between friends plays on all of Miranda’s strengths as an actor.
As Lee tries to finds out what happened to Iorek’s armor, the Magisterium rep, Mr. Sysselman, informs him that the armor is now being held by the government. Of course, Lee does his best, utilizing his B.S. in Bullshitting to try and get the armor back, but it’s all for naught (“Shame on you, Mr. Sysselman.”)
Instead, it’s up to Lyra, who is determined to get Iorek on their side, despite Lord Faa’s insistence that they leave him be since they have the witches on their side. There’s news that Lord Asriel has been captured and is guarded by armored bears, so they are now on even more of a clock. But, Lyra reads the alethiometer and finds out that the people got him drunk and tricked him into giving up his armor, but Lord Faa is insistent that Lyra leave the matter be.
But, that’s not our Lyra, and I do mean that. This is the Lyra I’ve wanted since day one, and it’s so great to finally see her here.
This Lyra is the one that can casually walk into the saloon inn and tell a bald-faced lie to Lee (“Sometimes when there is no hope, it can allow you to bluff magnificently.”) She tells him she represents Lord Faa and that they’re prepared to pay him in gold for his help as an aeronaut. Through this conversation, she finds out that Iorek’s armor is like his daemon, and as long as the Magisterium has it, he is stuck in this town.
Going to face him on her own, Lyra offers Iorek a proposal. For her help in finding his armor, he will come with her and the Gyptians. Iorek agrees, but only if he can exact justice and vengeance. Lyra agrees, but only if they try to stop him from taking the armor. Then, in a matter of moments, using a device that normally takes weeks to read, Lyra is able to decipher where the armor is with the alethiometer and Iorek roars to life, rampaging through the town.
Watching Iorek tear through town is terrifying and amazing. We see this once depressed and sloth-like bear move into action with nothing but pure determination to get a piece of his soul back. And after breaking into the Magisterium building to get it, the tension builds. The guards are called and they gather, but they are no match for a fully armored bear.
(And, whew, does Iorek look good in that armor.)
Suddenly, we’re getting Revenant flashbacks, as Mr. Sysselman is tossed about like a ragdoll by Iorek. Thankfully, Lyra manages to remind Iorek of his promise to her and calms him down enough to save the whimpering man’s life. And so, despite Lord Faa’s gripes, the Gyptians now have the aid of an aeronaut and an armored bear.
Speaking of bears, we find Mrs. Coulter engaging with her own panserbjørn this episode, as she deals with the aftermath of her destructive search of Jordan College. She gets reprimanded for her actions and nearly loses ownership of the General Oblation Board (with McPhail eagerly ready to take her place) but we find out she’s the one who has Lord Asriel and she’s got the armored bears at her beck and call.
Not only does she manage to keep control, but she gets to ask one question to the official Magisterium alethiometrist, Fra Pavel. And the all important question she has? “Who is Lyra Belaqua?” Fra Pavel pauses for a moment, aware of Lyra’s parentage, but obviously Mrs. Coulter is searching for something else. Hmm…
While Fra Pavel works on that, Marisa heads north with her monkey, penning a letter to a northern king as her monkey daemon frets. Some of Ruth Wilson’s best work (all of it is good) is done with the daemon. Their distance from one another, the aggression, the tension is a perfect way to not only personify how daemons reflect us as people, but also how different Mrs. Coulter is from many of the other characters.
Once her ship lands, she goes into an ice cave to meet someone in secret. That someone is Iofur Raknison, the current king of the armored bears. Interestingly, this version of Iofur isn’t as enamored with Mrs. Coulter. In the book, Iofur is considering building a new city and naming it after her. Instead, this version plays on another desire of his. The desire to be human.
Mrs. Coulter dangles the impossible potential of the Magisterium offering him a baptism and being offered a seat in the government. As absurd as this offering is, Iofur can’t help but be drawn in. After all, she was his helping hand in usurping Iorek and gaining the throne. Yep, that’s right. It’s not just Iorek, it’s Prince Iorek!
In exchange for the baptism, she requests that he destroy Asriel’s lab and his work on dust. It’s a perfect scene to illustrate just how perfectly charismatic and manipulative Mrs. Coulter is. She not only dismantled Iorek’s rise to king, but also put in his place a regent that could be molded and manipulated for her own gain.
This episode was by far one of the most enjoyable of this season. Finally getting to see Iorek and Lee on screen was an absolute joy. The minute amount of Lord Boreal was preferable (he’s still hunting after what Grumman knew). And, we finally got to see Lyra in her element! I can’t wait to watch the next episode and see what happens as the group travels further north to the witches!