His Dark Materials: The Idea of North   Books Included 
November 10, 2019 1:06 PM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Lyra starts her new life in London, determined to find Roger with Mrs Coulter’s help. The Gyptians continue their search for the missing children and the elusive Gobblers.
posted by adrianhon (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This was lot better-paced than the pilot, and much less packed with exposition and setup. I enjoyed seeing more of Lord Boreal, especially as we got to see our Oxford; I think it's a good choice to pull The Subtle Knife's plot (well, the prologue to it) into the story this early, it'll keep non-bookreaders on their toes.

General thoughts:

- Turns out West Elm exists in their world, and Mrs. Coulter's a fan.

- The Gyptian's "plan" of a frontal attack to "take on whatever's there" was ill-advised to put it lightly. I suppose they share the same no-scouting philosophy as the master strategists from Westeros.

- Still think Roger is written like an adult.

- Pan’s CG really is great. Maybe I was just looking for it more this ep, but I felt we got to see more daemons in general. It's possible they were just in too much of a rush for the first ep.

- Of course Boreal would have an Android, it's clearly the phone of choice for a villain. Google Pixel 3XL, if I'm not mistaken.

- Surprising Mrs. Coulter doesn’t have any permanent housekeepers or security.

- I forgot how smart Mrs. Coulter was in getting the kids to write letters and gain their trust.

- Casting Trivia: Ma Costa is performed by Anne-Marie Duff, who was married to James McAvoy for ten years (they divorced in 2016)
posted by adrianhon at 1:13 PM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

TBF Boreal’s just the sort of person who’d be attracted to an evil global authority that seeks to control all thought and extinguish all freedom. But enough about Google...
posted by adrianhon at 1:18 PM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

My first guess was that the building Mrs Coulter lives in was Senate House plus CGI, but the frontage wasn't quite right. A bit of digging shows that it's Cardiff's Temple of Peace plus a lot of CGI. Mind you, I'm pretty sure Senate House was the inspiration, as it was to George Orwell for Nineteen Eighty-Four's Ministry of Truth.
posted by Major Clanger at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

I got to enjoy the opening credits more this time. I really love that mirrored shot of the two Oxfords that unfolds into the myriad of universes. (also was a clue to me that they'd bring in the two worlds earlier on, since it was so centrally placed.)

There's a few points where the dialogue made me go "oh yeah, this is a kids show where you have to say things out loud." (i.e. The Gyptians breaking into the gobbler hideout and saying "they must have left before we got here"
you think? )
posted by Wulfhere at 2:49 PM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

- Surprising Mrs. Coulter doesn’t have any permanent housekeepers or security.
I noticed she was wasting a lot of potential time, that might otherwise usefully have been dedicated to evil, preparing elaborate breakfasts to eat on the balcony.

A fun aspect about HDM is that the whole idea of multiverses is drawn from science rather than (merely) being a narrative trope (here is a useful scientific video primer ). Maybe Pullman is writing about a bubble multiverse, or perhaps it is quilted multiverse? Perhaps it is a result of the many-worlds theory? Maybe it is all a set of simulated realities? The idea of having central religious authorities, intrepid explorers and assorted bastards who make it their business to patrol multiple universes also puts Pullman's books WAY ahead of the people who are accusing him of boring mono-universe heresy.
posted by rongorongo at 3:42 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ooof. There were some clumsy things. Like, scenes where we couldn't spot a daemon at all, when we should have. Example, the scene on the balcony where Lyra and Mrs. C talk about heights. I looked for either daemon, never saw them. There was also the scene with the gyptians, with Ma Costa yelling at her older son that he mustn't go, etc. - so many people in the scene - but no daemons!

Mixing up things from the different books, well... I guess that was apt to happen. But this thing now with the monkey moving unnaturally far from his human, implying Mrs. C is a witch....? Really?

I feel awkward defending the Golden Compass movie, but... it handled some major reveals better, which this episode has already blown.
posted by tomboko at 8:23 PM on November 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

I read the first book a million year ago, but was the multiverse stuff that include the "real" world introduced there? I don't remember much of what happened, but I definitely don't remember the characters coming into our universe.
posted by sideshow at 8:25 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

No the multiple universe stuff started in the 2nd book.
I like that they're letting Lyra be a snotty little badass while also still just a kid, making the kind of mistakes kids make. Dafne Keen is a great actress and perfect for this role.
Overall I'm a little disappointed in the quality of the writing and not even watching it in Spanish helps. It makes it a little embarrassing to watch with someone who's skeptical about the show. The scene with the Gyptians in Ma Costa's boat was pointless and empty. I just wish the pacing was better and they spoke like people really spoke.
Also agree that the actor who plays Roger looks like he's 3 years old but speaks with an adult voice. It's weird.
posted by bleep at 10:38 PM on November 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also I really appreciate the diverse casting. There is really no reason why all the main characters needed to be white but they very well could have been, and why? For what?
posted by bleep at 11:02 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

But this thing now with the monkey moving unnaturally far from his human, implying Mrs. C is a witch....? Really?

I wonder if the twist will be that she's been severed from her daemon, but without the usual effects.
posted by Pyry at 4:05 AM on November 12, 2019

I liked this episode better than the pilot, but the dearth of daemons onscreen is extremely frustrating. Why green light the production if you're going to cheap out on such a fundamental element? This isn't like 'Jaws' or something where less is more. How are they going to make the reveal of the severed children impactful? A whole crowd of daemonless-by-budget characters reacting with horror at the sight of other de-daemoned characters isn't going to be particularly visually effective.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:32 AM on November 12, 2019 [12 favorites]

I, too, enjoyed this episode more than the first, but I think that might just be because it diverged more from the book, which gives novelty, at least.

The production as a whole is still very stilted and lacking wonder. It feels like a Christmas BBC adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel.
posted by Aethelwulf at 7:39 AM on November 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

But this thing now with the monkey moving unnaturally far from his human, implying Mrs. C is a witch....? Really?

I could have sworn that detail was straight from the books, and that it was either stated or implied later that Mrs. Coulter had undergone the severing procedure. I also thought the ill effects were mainly experienced by children, and adults could tolerate it better. (But I last read the books years and years ago, so I don't remember everything.)

I agree that there is a chronic lack of daemons in this show. I've always wanted a Ghibli-style animated version, where CGI budgets didn't have to be a consideration.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:50 PM on November 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Wikipedia sez: The golden monkey is shown to be capable of going much further from Mrs. Coulter than other dæmons are able to separate from their humans. How the golden monkey can go so far from Mrs. Coulter is not explained, Mrs. Coulter has not undergone any of the processes which enable other humans to achieve such separation.

There you have it, I suppose!
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:11 PM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Regarding the melding of the plots of "Northern Lights" and "The Subtle Knife", I read recently that this has been done maintain better "age continuity" with Lyra, or rather Dafne Keene. Shooting the stories together helps them ensure that there are no disorienting changes in the character's appearance as there are bound to if they were shot in successive years, say, and right in the middle of Ms. Keenes adolescence.
posted by hwestiii at 5:52 PM on November 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I agree that there is a chronic lack of daemons in this show. I've always wanted a Ghibli-style animated version, where CGI budgets didn't have to be a consideration.

Integrating daemons into the show must be a nightmare from the point of view of production: each one needs to have its own design - or designs, its own rendering in whatever form, it needs to have its own path to follow in a particular scene (which may intercept with that of other characters). It may also need to talk - requiring an actor to do the voicing and blue-screen work with the human counterpart. None of that is remotely cheap - and the rules should really be applied to each of the many characters. It is far cheaper to say something like "well - maybe this person had a small daemon that was in their pocket at the time" or "maybe they managed to be just out of shot" - but that looks problematic over time.

As a matter of interest, this clip gives an impression of how the stage production managed daemons. I went to see this show - 6 hours long in total. At the end the puppeteers who had been bringing each daemon to life too a curtain call alongside their matching human characters - they fully deserved this level of credit.
posted by rongorongo at 10:40 PM on November 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Man, this show is really making me nostalgic for the days when I held the charmingly naïve belief that a government program devoted to the kidnapping of vulnerable children would feel the need to hide its activities instead of performing them openly to wide public acclaim.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:36 PM on November 14, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of Dafne Keen, but this version of Lyra--sullen, worried--is far less satisfying than the plucky spitfire from the books.

The diverse casting is great, but I'm going to need them to convince me that Lord Boreal, the epitome of corrupt privilege and power, isn't better played by an aging white man. I can be persuaded, I'm just going to need them to sell me on why they'd go against the grain when portraying the predatory elite class. I think most of us associate that form of assholery strongly with white men.

I forgot to mention last week, but we did all smile in our house when Tokay wine came up. That particular Hungarian wine is a fine alternate universe choice for prestige wine. That stuff is good.

I'm still deciding how I feel about Ruth Wilson's guarded, simmering Ms. Coulter. It may end up working better for a tv show, but Nicole Kidman's brittle, high strung version was closer to the book.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:11 PM on November 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

The idea of a "subtle knife" that can find the seams between worlds is what drew me to the book series to begin with. I remember, I think, Lyra fiddling with the knife against the fabric of her world, in search of those seams. Given that, I'm a little disappointed at the ease with which Lord Boreal passes between. Not subtle at all. Nonetheless, I'm enjoying this series so far!
posted by baseballpajamas at 4:48 PM on November 17, 2019

How the golden monkey can go so far from Mrs. Coulter is not explained

There's an easy explanation:

It hurts both of them. Tremendously.
posted by schmod at 7:26 PM on November 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

That particular Hungarian wine is a fine alternate universe choice for prestige wine. That stuff is good.

It is indeed tasty, and also the tipple of choice in the common rooms of Our Oxford, as per Naomi Alderman last week (tweets protected, 13th Nov).
posted by Concordia at 2:30 PM on November 19, 2019

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