His Dark Materials Season One Recap: Dust, Daemons and Betrayal
His Dark Materials had so much world-building to do in season one that it took a little while to get moving. Once off the ground though, the BBC/HBO fantasy soared. By the time the story had landed in the Far North, a place of armoured bears, cruel scientific research facilities and windows to other worlds, the adaptation had captured the scope and excitement of Philip Pullman’s books.
The first season is currently available to stream on BBC iPlayer and HBO Max, but if you don’t have time for a full rewatch ahead of the new episodes’ arrival, here’s a summary of the major action.
13-year-old Lyra lives in a parallel world where every human’s soul exists outside their body in animal form, known as a ‘daemon’. Lyra’s the subject of a world-changing prophecy and has an unexplained ability to interpret the alethiometer, a rare, mystical device able to answer any question. Lyra was raised as an orphan, but learns that she is the product of an illicit affair between her ‘uncle’ Lord Asriel and the villainous Mrs Coulter. Asriel is an explorer whose controversial experiments with Dust – a mysterious, invisible substance that surrounds adults but not children – have made him an enemy of religious rulers The Magisterium, which sees Dust as a manifestation of Original Sin and seeks to eliminate it. Mrs Coulter works for The Magisterium and leads secret, cruel experiments in the Far North that sever children from their daemons in an attempt to rid them of Dust, killing many in the process and leaving the survivors empty husks.
With the help of witches, an aeronaut and an armoured bear, Lyra and water travellers The Gyptians storm Mrs Coulter’s research station and free the surviving children. Lyra helps armoured bear Iorek – an exiled King – regain his throne, and she and Roger go to her father’s mountain laboratory. Lord Asriel kills Roger by cutting away his daemon to create an energy surge to open a window to another world, which Asriel walks through. Mrs Coulter, who reveals a deep love for their daughter and a continuing attraction to Asriel, refuses to follow him, but Lyra passes into the next world to try to stop him and to get revenge for Roger’s death. At the same time, in our world, teenager Will goes through a window used by Mrs Coulter’s villainous lover, Lord Boreal to pass between Lyra’s and Will’s worlds. Will is on the run from Boreal discovers the existence of a magical knife in a tower surrounded by angels and thinks Will is the key to finding it.
She regularly abuses and is cruel to the monkey, which says a lot about her mental state when you remember that a daemon is a person’s soul. As the head of the General Oblation Board, she’s responsible for the child-daemon-cutting experiments, and is a master manipulator who uses her sexual allure to discomfit and tempt the men of the Magisterium to allow her to carry out her will. She’s the lover of the evil Lord Boreal, who’s been crossing between worlds to pursue Will Parry for information about his missing father (see below).
From Oxford in our world (no to visible daemons, but yes to mobile phones and Walker’s Crisps), Will is an isolated teenager and the sole carer for his psychologically vulnerable mother. Years earlier, Will’s father Colonel John Parry disappeared on an Arctic expedition, and the villainous Lord Boreal suspects him of having passed through a window to Lyra’s world (daemons, air ships, witches). Seeking information about Will’s father, Boreal discovers the existence of a mystical knife, which he hopes to be led to by Will.