His Dark Materials Episode 5 review

When you reach the end of this compellingly morbid episode you suddenly realise Mrs Coulter isn't even in it! It’s an interesting idea to go into the second half of the series with a different intent. For all the talk of how dark a story this ultimately is the action so far has stayed mostly on the side of easier to digest fantasy save for the odd outburst from Mrs Coulter. There’s been no real clues as to what might be happening with the stolen children yet here matters take a different turn. Edgier than the four episodes preceding it, `The Lost Boy` takes the story down a dark alley of mental instability, shock discoveries, grief and nasty murders. Each key scene revolves around the dead and the lost giving it the feel of an episode of Game of Thrones with equally sudden moments that will make the viewer gasp. 

As the Gyptians trek across icy hinterland headed further North Lyra’s altheiometer tells her to go to a small town and it is on this vague advice alone that she does so accompanied by Iorek. The scenes where the two of them talk are brilliant at establishing the bear as a character rather than just an impressive effect. They’re also the only lighter scenes to be found this week. One question though- why does Iorek remove his hard won armour before going on this mission?
What they discover at their destination- introduced with considerable tension as they pad through a cold, deserted town- is the story’s first real body blow. Actually it’s even darker in the book as the series hasn’t quite been able to clarify the purpose of the daemons. There is much talk of their significance and role yet half of the characters we see don’t seem to have them so the fact that Billy’s is missing- a real shocker in print- doesn’t make as much impact here as it might. Nonetheless it still a horrible discovery though I get a sense that the production didn’t want to dwell on it too much, the only time I’ve so far felt the tone misjudged a little. Yet the sight of the missing Billy Coster looking like he’s been tortured pulls a dark hue over an episode that has already been moving into that kind of territory with the parallel plot in the parallel world.
Again dipping into book two material we meet Will Parry whose mother has clearly seen something that has left her teetering on the barrier between reality and scary fantasy. Nina Sosanya makes her look perpetually anxious and nervy and the character probably has good reason to be. The novel mentions these events in the past tense so it’s interesting to see them played out here. The contemporary sequences have never looked more unlike the other world ones even if the themes are the same and it makes for a varied feel with a different colour palette and more downbeat style of filming worlds away from the high sweeping shots across the Northern plains. In our world the story is more like a spy thriller.

To further darken the mood (!) we witness a bittersweet reunion between the centuries old witch Serafina (who still looks about 30) and Father Coram that is framed with regret over what happened. James Cosmo is so often called upon to play the gruff warrior type and it is quite something to see how well he handles this emotional scene. Another impressive effect too for the witch who seems to blow away like a leaf when she takes off.  
Seeing as they’ve depressed us enough already, the episode might have ended with the emotional Gyptian funeral complete with hymn but has one more shock to deliver as Lyra is kidnapped again and this time taken to Bolvanger, the location already identified as the place where the stolen kids are imprisoned.  It’s a fearsome looking place and you wonder just how the Gyptians could take it down. Dafne Keen proves as sure footed displaying fear and foreboding as she has previously been confident and cheeky. Her performance throughout this series is continually impressive whatever she’s called on to do.
If you looked at the synopsise you’d imagine this as a production that seems too disparate to be a coherent hole but so far it has achieved that and is proving to be a strong example of how best to adapt a much loved literary work for tv.

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