His Dark Materials Season 3 Parts 6-8 review

 Part 6 The Abyss

This has been a season that feels very much like an artist's third album. The simpler stories of the first two seasons are unfurling into something more mature, something more interesting. The two year gap though has caused this to seem an initially slow affair but the reward comes in the latter half of the season and these final three episodes are the full flowering of this. 

Spoilers after the break.

It’s difficult to know what to make of the concept of Purgatory in religious terms but the logic of it as a place where sinners repent. The people in this particular Purgatory seems more randomly chosen but when you realise that the `release` Lyra is promising will not bring them back to life it leaves a rather sad aftertaste to the episode. So it is a bittersweet resolution of this strand of the story for sure. Once again it is superbly staged, the dark caverns of the Land of the Dead seamlessly rendered. The abyss created by Metatron proves to be a schism everywhere that draws people in and all the characters, wherever they are witness it. This looks like a volcanic eruption yet with slightly different colouring.

There are several touching scenes along the way but the episode retains a grittiness that never allows the multiple reunions and goodbyes to overwhelm the threat from beyond. There are bows for Lee Scorsby and, briefly, Will’s father as well as some hints that Roger is a little jealous of the time Lyra and Will have been together. It might have been better had some of these meetings and reminiscences been spread across two episodes just because there are so many but there’s a sense of turning the corner towards the final strait about things.

We see a different side to Marissa this time as she mourns her seemingly deceased daughter and, despite all she’s done, it’s difficult not be as cheered as she is upon learning that Lyra is likely still alive and, what’s more ,fulfilling the first of the prophecies. We also see the wisdom of Lyra too now, as she finds a way to win over those turtle heads again using the power of stories and simply giving one of them a name and therefore some sort of self identity.

And if you ever start moaning about digital effects, check out a scene where a contrite Marissa reconciles with her monkey daemon. The way its expression alters almost imperceptibly but just enough shows just how seamless these effects can be. It’s a lovely scene too though I’ve never known why her daemon doesn’t speak like all the others but just grunts. Still, it looks much friendlier this episode than it ever has before! More than that this is Mrs C starting the road back to being a better person and Ruth Wilson, yes again and I know every review anyone’s done about the series keeps saying this is brilliant. She seems to know exactly the right pitch for any given scene but then adds something more and I really think awards should be heading her way for this role.

Part 7 The Clouded Mountain

As a massive black cloud heads for Asriel’s base he gives a stirring speech that owes much to more famous pieces but nonetheless works and then the final battle is upon us. As you’d expect from such an erudite series not all of this is fast cut zipping conflict and firing guns, though some of it is, and makes for quite a spectacle. However the really important stuff is spoken and there is a lengthy sequence where both Asriel and Marissa are inside the Authority’s white walled monolith of a palace debating the whys and wherefores with him. He was just a man once and their trick is, by their presence, to make him appear as himself. There is a wonderful mix of philosophy, tactics, belief, big levers and explosives that all come together. The denouement is a slow motion tussle in which it appears Marissa and Asriel are reunited in their final moments before they and Metatron tumble into the latter’s own Abyss. It is poetic too that the many dark guile Marissa possesses – Metatron describes her memorably as “a cesspit of moral filth” – should be utilised one last time but on the side of good rather than for her own purposes.

You might argue that this massive power and all knowing being is defeated a little too easily yet it fits with a story that usually selects the more intelligent option. All of the pieces that have been carefully wrangled come together in this one scene. Although the entire point of the attack is diversionary to allow Lyra and Will to reunite with the demons, it does make the kids part seem somewhat side lined. They wander about and after an all too brief reunion become spectators to the crumbling cloud beyond.

And there’s still an episode to go. The series has definitely refused to follow trends and fill its running time with quick edits, pacy sequences and generally lots of shouting. It has been a contained slowburn series and this climax maintains that style. It is probably why the final, key scuffle is done in slow motion, in real time it would be the fastest scene in the whole programme!

Part 8 The Botanic Garden

When it seems there is not much to do in the final episode except watch Mulefa skating around as Will and Lyra edge closer to each other there are still issues. One is that Dust is still leaving worlds so how to reverse it? Turns out that all the references to Mary as a serpent don’t mean she is somehow bad but that she needs to tell the youngsters a story that inspires them to finally kiss and in doing so sets off a chain reaction that brings Dust back to all the world.  It’s a neat twist to realise we’ve been seeing much of the prophecy from the religious side protecting their own interest. Not only that but implicit in Mary’s story is a takedown of organised religion that makes logical sense. This is joyous stuff while the man who earlier looks like he may spoil the party- Father Garcia- is despatched fairly quickly.

No, the real humdinger is the revelation that all of the doors opened by the knife recently and over time need to be closed and the knife destroyed to ensure Dust stays where it should be. This means Lyra and Will cannot remain together as they are from different worlds. You might say they get a bad deal considering all they’ve been through but there seems to be no way round it. Sorrowfully accepting this inevitability they agree to each come to the same park bench at the same time each year.

So after some of the happiest scenes you’re likely to see in a while come some of the saddest. As someone who has written novels I can tell you how difficult it is to do these terrible things to characters you grow to know so well and its equally shocking to watch as a viewer. I was just glad they didn’t do a scene where one of them turns up as an old person and senses the other one is no longer there. That would have been too much to bear. Yet in many ways they are already much older.

Now that the work is complete I imagine there would be much to reward anyone watching this as a whole over a couple of weeks rather than separate series or with a two year gap between the second and third season. This presentation has meant that the richness of the text has not fully been possible to enjoy and I know I’m looking forward to watching it again as a complete series.

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