His Dark Materials S3 The Break review


Mrs Coulter has been so duplicitous up till now that you tend  not to believe a word she says so her seemingly heartfelt speech into his episode about the bond between a mother and child may or may not be as sincere as it seems. It’s the centrepiece of an absorbing episode which advances the plot slowly but with increasing tension.

Spoilers after the, ahem, break...

Having been a series of loosely linked events till now the overall story seems to be cooking well, coalescing into a war against the Authority. James McAvoy really suits the role of the determined strategist / scientist Asriel. When a bad Angel is captured we see just how far Asriel is prepared to go in pursuit of his aim.  He’s not a hero in traditional mode- that role is more Lyra or Will- but a committed man prepared to make the hard decisions. Maybe after seeing off the Authorty he could become Prime Minister! On the other hand you should not forget- referenced in this episode- that Asriel was responsible for the death of Roger, a crime that continues to haunt the story and Lyra, understandably so.

The enemy as such seems somewhat multiple - the Magisterium, the Authority, the Regent. While such a moving target can seem vague the script is peppered with warnings and examples of misrule to ensure the viewer is on side as well. There are always underlying (and some not so underlying) targets in Phillip Pullman’s work and this episode references the banning of reading and writing for girls, something in the news this very week in Afghanistan. So just because there’s a giant talking bear and people moving between parallel worlds doesn't mean this story is not grounded in reality. Lest we forget this is a  tale against organised religion as opposed to belief – people get these mixed up. Real history is littered with religious organisations who exploit ordinary people’s acquiescence to a mythology they they created and if you’re looking for a way to identify with the struggle here just imagine one of them.

And who should turn up this week but Mary Malone last seen slipping between worlds to follow her curiosity as she looks for Dust. I feel like she needs a separate series to pursue her dimensional travelling, possibly solving mysteries along the way then moving on like those 70s series Kung Fu or The Incredible Hulk. Simone Kirby brings a human touch to a tale which can often be very serious minded though she doesn’t seem to get a lot to do really. Will, meanwhile, is working to his own agenda. He seems to be a character for whom fewer lines are meant to say more but we could do with a a little more of a reminder as to what he’s up to.

That speech mentioned earlier is one of several that make this episode, which is really a sort of part two to the first one, come alive with a crackling momentum. Mrs C talks of the bond between a parent and a child which may change but never goes away. The episode also sees some of its characters being asked what they would be willing to sacrifice to succeed. These are big questions so it’s refreshing sometimes to have a sequence where a giant bear plays pinball with a bunch of Magisterium soldiers!

Once again it is the scenes featuring Ruth Wilson which really impress as the actor takes shifting emotional approaches to embody this slippery character, a steeliness under a seemingly calm exterior. Jamie Ward’s Father Gomez seems to be her equal though as he clearly knows what she is trying to keep from him so it’s almost comical that in the end she resorts to hitting him over the head with a piece of rock!

That’s not the biggest shock though- after Mrs C unsettles Will by reminding him of his mother just as he’s trying to open a portal the subtle knife rather unsubtly shatters into pieces. I was wondering why they chose the title `The Break` for the episode though it could just as easily refer to the death of the angel Baruch and the bewilderment felt by his partner Balthalmos  Or indeed the separation of mother and child referred to by Mrs Coulter.

Will is a clever character on the page and this episode shows that more than perhaps the series often does and he can see through much of Mrs C’s trickery. Yet Marisa is not easily out-guiled and will do anything to get what she wants even having her own demon bash her on the head to make it look like Will did it. There’s some poetic balance I suppose that she does the same with Gomez. The saddest moment is Will’s expression after he’s shot a soldier. It’s a look of utter bewilderment at what this situation has made him do. And he’s probably still thinking about the knife breaking. Maybe he doesn’t always need words.

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