His Dark Materials: The Spies   Books Included 
November 17, 2019 2:37 PM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

From the clutches of the Gobblers, Lyra finds help from an unlikely source, which helps her piece together more about her past and keep safe from the Magisterium.
posted by adrianhon (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Continues to improve - much pacier and the data dumping was far less overt. Lord Boreal continues to win every scene he’s in - loved him in those sunglasses, and of course he’d drive a Tesla. Anbaric cars ftw!
posted by adrianhon at 2:38 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


I was distracted-watching, but I still found the occasional data dumps a bit much (but note below). Also, the aforementioned skimping on daemons thing has now started annoy me, esp. in that I'm left trying to explain/contextualise stuff to my barely-interested co-viewer. Actually dropped the obvious (is it obvious?) reveal about Lyra's Mum during the scene before it was revealed [insert eyeroll-at-self emoji here].

Can't quite put it into words and it's been a long while since I read Northern Lights, but is the series perhaps trying to hew too close to the book, thereby necessitating EXPOSITION? Or did the early chapters always use the (wonderful!) exposure/discovery of the world to cover the slowness of action?

I will say that Ruth Wilson is knocking it right out of the park. Despite vaguely liking her in previous stuff I found her annoying in early Luther which got her so many plaudits, primarily due to issues with the character/writing. She is so excellent here though, her scenes are easily the best part of the series, she really seems alive and active in the world.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 5:43 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


I’m not sure if the series is getting better, but I do know I’m understanding its intentions better, I think, or getting a read on it better.

For better or worse they’re decentering Lyra, at least for now. And it makes sense, in the same way frontloading the Boreal and Jopari reveals do. Lyra’s limited naïve perspective in the books can’t translate to the screen; we’d be way too far ahead of her as the audience who can see everything, and aren’t having adult actions narrated through the filter of an 11-year-old. The last episode is going to make a lot more sense to us as an audience than it did to Lyra in the book. On the “for better” side— I’m really enjoying understanding Mrs Coulter better.

Plus, it’s a lot more compelling centering Ruth Wilson as an actress than taking a gamble of Dafne Keen. I’d be willing to bet they’re using first season as a run-up to S2 instead of throwing her in the deep end. (Cf Maisie Williams.)

The limited daemons are annoying but I get it. This was the first time I realized that they are right up against their budget lines. Anyone else catch that a whole lot of narration on Lyra’s first arrival to the barge was patched in after the fact without reshoots? All ADR, no shown mouths. Clearly there were some confused execs or test audiences.

Also: I was/am giddy about seeing Will and his mother so soon.
posted by supercres at 7:49 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


and of course he’d drive a Tesla. Anbaric cars ftw!
The Northern Lights film visualised a (Lyra universe) anbaric car like this - which seems right to my imagination. They are what Tesla cars might have looked like if they had been designed by Nicola Tesla - maybe along the visual lines he used for his motor boat..

The "spy flies" were beautifully depicted, I thought. When HDM was written, miniaturised drone technology of that sort was in the realm of magic rather than science. Today, I would feel disappointed if a company like Boston Dynamics were not working on something equally ingenious and malign.

Final tech note: Mrs Coulter's apartment appears to feature lamps with non-British plugs on them. Pretty disturbing stuff!
posted by rongorongo at 10:16 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


supercres: Yes, I noticed the ADR too, when someone was speaking to Lyra. It was pretty distracting since it didn’t match up with their mouth movements. I will note the BBC, in my direct experience, is fond of meddling with shows right up to the last minute because they think audiences don’t understand anything that isn’t spelled out directly, and multiple times.

Regarding the limited use of Lyra, apparently this is also due to child labour laws since Dafne Keene is only 14 and can only shoot a limited amount of time during a day, and they don’t have the budget to extend the filming schedule.
posted by adrianhon at 12:34 AM on November 18


Plus, it’s a lot more compelling centering Ruth Wilson as an actress than taking a gamble of Dafne Keen

Dafne Keen was in the movie Logan, and she was fantastic in it. Definitely not a gamble with her.

But I totally agree Ruth Wilson is amazing in this role (haven't seen her in anything else unfortunately).
posted by littlesq at 9:38 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]


She was great, but she was a supporting role, same as here. Playing the Lyra of the books whose perspective we see for, what, like 70% of the first book? would be a much greater task. That said, the labor bit makes total sense too.
posted by supercres at 5:15 AM on November 19


This episode was such an improvement that I gotta blame Tom Hooper for the kinda meh quality of the first two. (I know he's the name director, but I'm not a fan.) The scene by the river between Lyra and Ma Costa was better staged, for my money, than anything in previous episodes, so it sent me straight to IMDb to look up director credits, where I found out that Dawn Shadforth had taken over, with other directors to follow. It was honestly a relief to me because I had assumed for some reason that Hooper was directing the lot of them!
posted by Mothlight at 8:43 AM on November 19 [2 favorites]


Is there a single character among say the top fifteen or twenty speaking roles whose characterization was not altered from the book? Or am I just so attached the versions in my head that I am taking natural variances hard?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:16 PM on November 19 [3 favorites]


I keep feeling that this series will watch a lot better when its complete and you can just watch more to get to the exciting parts versus waiting a week. Even in the book the pre-north adventures were less fun than what's to come.

And I guess what seems weird is that they added all the Our Oxford and Boreal stuff to eps 2 and 3, which I'm in theory on board with, but it's also just building to some greater mystery even further down the line. If Boreal was doing something really exciting in Oxford this ep it might have balanced out the slower Lyra on a boat plot.
posted by Wulfhere at 7:42 PM on November 19


Is there a single character among say the top fifteen or twenty speaking roles whose characterization was not altered from the book?

John Faa, the Master, and Farder Coram.

What I’m noticing is they are doing a thing they’ve done in every adaptation and I hate in every adaptation- they’re making Lyra more likable and more innocent. One of the things Phillip Pullman did beautifully in the books was capture how children actually are, not how we want them to be. Lyra isn’t running around the rooftops just because she’s a free spirit - she does so in part because her and the other children fight miniature tribal wars all around them. She doesn’t take a bottle of wine to look cool, she drinks a bottle until she throws up. And she doesn’t resist Mrs Coulter so much at first - she preens a bit, and is very susceptible to being told she’s special and smart and being bought clothing and told she’s important. And she lies! She lies all the time. She’s not self sacrificing and she isn’t trying to be a hero - she’s trying to get Roger because he’s her friend and she owes him and promised him, not to Save All The Children. She winds up saving them, but she didn’t set out to. This Lyra is setting out to, and I don’t like it.
posted by corb at 11:13 PM on November 19 [9 favorites]


That's a really interesting take and one I will have on my mind going forward.

The changes to the adults are the ones driving me crazy personally. I felt like it was a recurring theme in the books that to a child that adults are largely inscrutable. The show version of Lyra says that, but the casting choices and non-child's PoV scenes undercut that for me. Asrael doesn't come off as imperious and callous. Boreal doesn't come off as the walking talking epitome of rich person with the game rigged so that he never loses. Coulter... Well, I'm actually maybe down with her barely contained swirling internal darkness as opposed to the frightful harpy of the books.

The one adult that definitely jumps out as improved to me is Ma Costa. She's more vulnerable, more openly in pain about her sons, but still intimidating and strong with plenty to teach to a kid.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:01 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]


What I’m noticing is they are doing a thing they’ve done in every adaptation and I hate in every adaptation- they’re making Lyra more likable and more innocent. One of the things Phillip Pullman did beautifully in the books was capture how children actually are, not how we want them to be. Lyra isn’t running around the rooftops just because she’s a free spirit - she does so in part because her and the other children fight miniature tribal wars all around them. She doesn’t take a bottle of wine to look cool, she drinks a bottle until she throws up. And she doesn’t resist Mrs Coulter so much at first - she preens a bit, and is very susceptible to being told she’s special and smart and being bought clothing and told she’s important. And she lies! She lies all the time. She’s not self sacrificing and she isn’t trying to be a hero - she’s trying to get Roger because he’s her friend and she owes him and promised him, not to Save All The Children. She winds up saving them, but she didn’t set out to. This Lyra is setting out to, and I don’t like it.

This is so right. However you might describe Lyra (sneaky, intelligent, curious, stubborn), she's also a child who spent her entire life running wild (because no one was paying attention) or misbehaving (to get her father's attention). My adult self should be watching with helpless sympathy for every adult that finds themselves even marginally responsible for her well-being. And yet...so far, she's been turned into the chosen one cipher character. I don't think the first episode was perfect, but at least she had the run of Oxford. Lyra is supposed to be a bit of a nightmare. I'm really missing that.
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:22 PM on December 2 [3 favorites]


She should be a little bit Steerpike by rights.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 7:58 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


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