His Dark Materials sometimes it feels like it’s moving through plotlines at breakneck speed, but the latest episode knew to slow things down. That’s because there’s no way in hell that anyone’s gonna rush the debut of Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear.
[Editor’s Note: While the BBC has already aired this episode, HBO will not until tonight. Proceed at your own risk. -Jill P.]
“Armour” takes place almost entirely in Trollesund, a port town that’s a common stop for folks going north. It’s small, it’s dirty, and it’s full of secrets—not to mention having its fair share of Magisterium soldiers. Lyra (Dafne Keen) and the gyptians are making a supplies stop before heading inland to find the kidnapped kids, a respite where they get way more than they bargained for. You see, Trollesund’s got another special visitor: aeronaut Lee Scoresby. And he’s on the hunt for an armored bear.
We first come across Scoresby in his hot air balloon, singing a duet with his arctic hare daemon Hester (Cristela Alonzo) before they arrive in Trollesund in search of their friend Iorek Byrnison. Scoresby finds that the town is either uninterested or afraid to tell him anything about the bear, to the point where he gets into a bar brawl (with Hester providing fighting tips and color commentary). He also comes across a cowardly port master, Syssellman, living under the thumb of the Magisterium, played by Harry Melling (who you might better recognize as another sniveling man-child, Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter series).
Iorek (voiced by Joe Tandberg) is gruff, intense, and uncompromising. I found his performance intriguing—he was the bear, something that’s not always easy to do when you’re playing a giant CGI creature. As far as Miranda himself, he’s kind of a mixed bag for me. His Scoresby is charming and light-hearted with a certain intensity bubbling underneath—not threatening, but much like a hare he seems constantly aware of his surroundings. But he still seems to be Lin-Manuel Miranda-ing it up, which is a common problem in his performances. And Almighty help him, Miranda cannot hold a Texan accent. It’s distracting to the point where I would’ve rather he not tried doing it at all.
Anyway, it turns out Scoresby isn’t the only one who wants to get the bear’s attention. Lyra finds out about Iorek thanks to a witch consulate, whom she and Farder Coram had sought out to get help from the witches, led by Coram’s ex-lover Serafina Pekkala. During their chat, the consulate discovers she has an alethiometer and tasks her with using it to find a piece of “cloud pine,” which is a type of tree the witches use for flying. She succeeds, and that gets the consulate’s attention. As we find out, the consulate was secretly testing her. The witches have a prophecy about a special girl who will change the world, and it seems they may have found her. But no time for that, we’ve got a bear to rescue!
Lyra uses her wits and skills to recruit Lee and Iorek to their cause, mainly by helping Iorek find his armor that the local townsfolk had hidden away so they could force him to keep working for them. Bears don’t have daemons, but they do craft their own armor out of sky-iron and treat it as if it’s part of their soul. A bear without their armor is not a true bear. Once Lyra tells Iorek where to find his armor, we get an awesome and intense action scene where Iorek rampages through the town, leaving destruction in his wake as Lyra gives chase. It’s only Lyra who’s able to calm him down long enough to prevent him from killing Harry, and together with Lee, they join the gyptians to head north.
This episode may have still had its fair share of plot dumps and exposition—especially during the scene where Farder Coram and Lord Faa talk with Serafina’s daemon about the coming war—but overall it managed to slow things down a bit and focus on a very important part of its own story. Iorek is such a crucial part of His Dark Materials, you can’t skim over his debut. And even if Lee is a little rough around the edges—not in a good way—he’s still a welcome addition to the family and I’m looking forward to more scenes between Miranda and Keen. The two of them play excellently off each other.
But there was one more thing that happened this episode. Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) has been busy. She managed to thwart an attempted coup against her position at the General Oblation Board, and secure passage north because she’s got something the Magisterium desperately wants. Lord Asriel. He’s being held prisoner by the bears up north, led by King Iofur Raknison...who we meet at the end of the episode, hidden in the shadows. Mrs. Coulter has a gift for manipulating everyone she sets her eyes on, and Iofur is her latest target. You can feel the desire and desperation seething out of him, as he yearns to be accepted as human. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of that, and how far Mrs. Coulter will go to keep him and Lord Asriel under her control.
- Farder Coram telling Lyra about the death of his son took a turn for the devastating when he choked up at the memory of having to bury his little boy. That broke me, and I had to pause the episode for a second to collect myself. It’s still gut-wrenching.
- We’ve gotten some more hints about what the Gobblers are up to at “The Station,” aka Bolvangar, the place where they’ve been transporting kids. A few of the terms mentioned included intercision and child cutters. Both of those sound really, really bad.
- BEAR FIGHT.
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