An Emotional Conclusion to the War Against God

Jan 6, 2023

What started as a story about a precocious young girl tracking down kidnappers has grown and turned into a multiversal event of epic proportions. Of course, if you’re at all familiar with Philip Pullman’s book series, then you know that was always going to be the way of things. Season 3 of His Dark Materials adapts the epic third book in the series, The Amber Spyglass, and it leans completely into the complexities and weirdness of that final story. Complete with angels, flying fairy-like people, aardvarks who roll on balls, and a visit to the land of the dead, His Dark Materials Season 3 is the densest and most emotional entry of the series, but that’s exactly what it should be.

By no means is this show the kind that you casually put on and listen to in the background. If you’re going to understand why the Authority is kind of god, but not really, and how it’s actually not about fighting the Authority but actually about a guy named Metatron, you’re going to need to pay attention. And yet, even with all of its complicated multi-world building, Season 3 does not lose the essence of The Amber Spyglass, though it sometimes indulges in spectacle that feels epic but also off-brand for the show. The series is at its best in the quiet moments between two characters, whether that be between James McAvoy’s Lord Asriel and Ruth Wilson’s Marisa Coulter, or between Amir Wilson’s Will Parry and Dafne Keen’s Lyra Belacqua.

With so much new material being thrown at you, the series’ solid casting is doing a lot of the emotional lifting for the series. Complicated characters like Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are given more room to breathe in the final season, expanding on their roles both as former lovers, parents of Lyra, and scientists questioning the role of the Authority. The crackling chemistry between McAvoy and Ruth Wilson makes them a joy to watch on screen, heightening the dynamics we see playing out between them. If you were ever curious about what these two are like beyond their brief encounter at the end of Season 1, Season 3 delivers boatloads of exciting scenes. Without any flashbacks to the past, it’s still quite clear what attracted these two brilliant-if-Machiavellian people together.

Image via HBO Max

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On top of that, Wilson’s performance is as dynamic as ever — not only across from McAvoy, but with Keen and the Magisterium characters. The season explores not only Mrs. Coulter’s identity as a woman within the Magisterium but her role as a mother to Lyra, and finally gives us insight into her connection to her golden monkey daemon. As a complex character who often toes the line between villain and anti-hero, Wilson is able to walk that line, and her portrayal of the character is near-perfection.

After finally bringing together Will and Lyra in Season 2, the third season spends a good amount of time developing the relationship between the two young protagonists which is crucial for the series. Keen and Amir Wilson have a natural chemistry together and are able to tackle some of the most emotionally tragic and gripping scenes of the series masterfully. If you know anything about The Amber Spyglass, you know that Will and Lyra are at the center of the story and the emotional core of the story lies with them rather than the adults waging their war. We are once again reminded of the cleverness and wit that Lyra possesses, though now she is counterbalanced by Will’s steadfastness and bravery.

Although the season comes in at eight episodes, often that just doesn’t feel like enough time. Given how dense some of Pullman’s theories and philosophies are in His Dark Materials, it can sometimes feel like whiplash going from the lofty concepts of free will and false gods to the struggles of puberty and dealing with your childhood crush. And when you include creatures like the Mulefas, aardvark beings from another world, and Mary Malone’s (Simone Kirby) understanding of dust, the series can feel alienating to anyone who wants to casually watch the series.

Image via HBO Max

The show, for better or worse, doesn’t really hold your hand through the season. Concepts are explained but in a passing fashion, and sometimes characters from different worlds are simply introduced without much explanation as to who they are. Plot points from the earlier two seasons are touched on without much recapping. As a lover of Pullman’s series and a dedicated fan of the show, this feels refreshing, but certain details will likely be confusing for viewers who are more casually enjoying the story.

Adaptation-wise, showrunners Jane Tranter and Dan McCulloch have nailed it. The Amber Spyglass is a naturally disorienting novel, jumping between perspectives and different tones and writing styles. The show manages to grapple with that gracefully while also not losing sight of the grander message of this story. His Dark Materials has always been about questioning the authorities of our world and not shying away from the difficult questions that must be asked of the people in charge. An eternally relevant message, the entire season deals with this from Asriel’s determination to the prophecy about Lyra. If you missed the message before among the talking polar bears and Lin-Manuel Miranda as an aeronaut, you definitely won’t miss that here. There should be no question after this series is over why Pullman’s books top the list when it comes to the most banned books in America.

As the show draws to a conclusion, it’s a welcome one in the world of adaptations and IP. It’s clear the series understands the books, while also indulging in little changes here and there that make it a compelling television show. The conclusion of His Dark Materials is best paired with a box of tissues. Season 3 is thought-provoking, devastating at moments, and completely emotional. The final episodes turned me into a sobbing mess, just as the books did, and reminded me just why I loved the story so much.

Rating: B+

His Dark Materials Season 3 premieres December 5 on HBO Max.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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