The third episode of His Dark Materials “The Spies” is the weakest of the season so far.
Not to say that it is bad but there are just a few things holding it back from the quality of the first two episodes.
For starters, “The Idea of North” ended with the cliffhanger of Lyra and Pan being kidnapped by the Gobblers, only for them to immediately be rescued by the Gyptians at the beginning of “The Spies.”
It kind of made it seem like they had just made a contrived cliffhanger to get viewers to tune in next week, as opposed to doing it naturally by perhaps having the Gyptians finding Lyra after she escapes Mrs Coulter.
Directed by Dawn Shadford, the rest of the episode is pretty good, detailing Lyra’s time with the Gyptians nicely.
In particular, I liked her growing bonds with Ma Costa (Anne-Marie Duff) and Farder Coram (James Cosmo).
It is from Ma Costa that we get the second parental twist in two episodes that Coulter is Lyra’s mother.
While expected, both because I have seen the movie, and by Coulter’s obvious dodging of the question about Lyra’s mother in the previous episode, I found the explanation of Lyra’s birth to be very interesting.
The backstory of Asriel and Coulter’s affair, leading to Coulter’s husband trying to kill Lyra which forced Asriel to kill him, adds complexity to both characters and their relationship with their daughter.
Not only does it again show how far Asriel is willing to go to protect Lyra, despite his coldness towards her, but it also explains both Coulter’s love and disdain for her.
She loves Lyra because she is her daughter but, on the other hand, she hates a part of her because Lyra’s birth led to the death of her husband and damaged her reputation.
This also shows how cruel the Magisterium is because Ma Costa explains that Coulter’s husband murdering Lyra would have been legal their eyes because of the dishonor to his wife.
And so, the explanation about Lyra’s parentage and birth is the most interesting part of the episode, even if it is a bit obvious.
The second best scene is easily Tony (Daniel Frogson) and Benjamin (Simon Manyonda) breaking into Coulter’s apartment to find information about the kidnapped children.
Thankfully, Tony escapes but Benjamin is captured, leading to a great cut where Coulter mimics her daemon in her attack pattern on Benjamin.
Before she can get any information out of him, though, Benjamin sacrifices himself by intentionally falling down the elevator to his death.
It is through Lyra’s attempts to figure out what happened to him and Tony that we get the first usage of the alethiometer as she uses it to try and find them.
From this, it looks like the alethimoter will be different from the movie because it does not give the holder visions, like in the adaptation, rather it just points to an image.
However, despite learning to use the compass-like object, Lyra is not completely on top of things because Coulter sends soldiers to find her.
It is here that my other problem with the episode comes in because it is a bit ridiculous that the highly trained soldiers with dogs cannot find Lyra or the Gobbler the Gyptians kidnapped.
While this and a few other moments are distracting, the rest of “The Spies” is solid with Boreal continuing his search for Gruman and learning he was from our world rather than his, raising some interesting questions.
Coulter also knows who Lyra is with at the end of the episode because of her spy beetles, which adds more danger for our lead characters.
Overall, “The Spies” is a good episode of His Dark Materials which, while not quite as good as “Lyra’s Jordan” and “The Idea of North,” is still very enjoyable with a lot of character building moments.