Sometimes when stories open up as they have to after their initial stages we veer off the main path into unnecessary side alleys but the impressive aspect of this story is that each of the plot strands is intricately connected to the others even if we don’t exactly know how. The mysterious Boreal makes a welcome return to the centre of things this week and remains an impressive presence in a series packed with them. His casual menace is matched by deeds this time as he uses his brief acquaintance with Lyra to steal the altheiometer. The way it is done is a bit clumsy but nonetheless sets up an impressive scene at the end of the episode. Arlyon Bakare is one of those actors who can make a point with economy and the character’s controlled ambition is a highlight in a week that ups the game for all concerned.
Ballooning Lee Scoresby is back too, in the books I did find him a bit irritating and a little too much of a parody of one of those characters from old Westerns. In this series he fits in better, assisted by a persuasive performance from Lin-Manuel Miranda who makes Scoresby’s flaws likeable. You’d never expect him though to be at the centre of the episode's most dramatic sequence when he’s visited by Mrs Coulter while in a cell for murder. Like most of the plot points this week the set up is less than convincing but it enables something special. Seems that he and Mrs C have in common abusive parents as well was wanting to find Lyra and the way this plays out makes for one of the series’ trademark slowburn emotional scenes.
Ruth Wilson’s ability to show Mrs Coulter’s vulnerability as well as her strength makes it powerful stuff and as ever her monkey demon is hanging around looking like the most evil thing ever. This scene matters because it’s the difference between the programme being presented for a general rather than a juvenile audience. Incidentally this development is not from the novels in which the two characters never meet. As a neat adjunct to the scenes afterwards her nasty monkey holds her hand and you wonder- is her own childhood why she treats the deamon so badly or is it’s behaviour a manifestation of her own unhappiness. Cos you’ve never seen a grumpier monkey than this one!
Visually this episode encompasses a lot including a visit to Boreal’s house which has stairs that mirror those in Cittagazze (deliberate or just for us to notice?) and is like a museum. The opening scene shows us the devastating aftermath of the Magisterium’s act at the end of part 2, all wasteland and a handful of bare trees. The contrasts between an airship hanging majestically over the sea and the kids in a cinema (with a serendipitous clip from the Paddington film), or Mary Malone’s lab and then the observatory at the top of a mountain is reminiscent of the way Game of Thrones used to swerve from one locale to another. Oh and it looks like we might find out who is in that Tower next week.