A '(Dark) Material' world: Pullman's trilogy continues on the small screen

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Rachel Jones / TV Media
Dafne Keen and Lucian Msamati in "His Dark Materials"

Dafne Keen and Lucian Msamati in "His Dark Materials"

Join in on the adventure of a lifetime as the HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman's well-loved trilogy, "His Dark Materials," continues with an all-new episode airing Monday, Nov. 30. Now in its second season, the series started off strong and continues to impress fans who are all looking forward to the twists and turns to come.

If you've read the books (or saw the 2007 film "The Golden Compass") you'll already be looped in on the show's character lineup and the uniquely magical world created by Pullman. The series follows a young girl, Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen, "Logan," 2015) — also known by the name of Lyra Silvertongue — who is believed to be destined to liberate her world from the grip of the Magisterium — a meddlesome and ultraconservative organization that tries to repress any human connection to magic and sentient animal spirits, known as daemons.

The first book in Pullman's series was released in 1995 and was titled "Northern Lights," although it was published as "The Golden Compass" in North America. "The Subtle Knife" was released in 1997, and "The Amber Spyglass" soon followed in 2000. When "The Golden Compass" movie came out in 2007, many of the book's readers were extremely disappointed in the film as they felt the book’s integrity was not accurately represented. Luckily, the series adaptation, "His Dark Materials," has had a much warmer reception, with the first season going on to receive 10 BAFTA Award nominations and winning two. Also, while "The Golden Compass" featured a rather high-profile cast, it's possible that the cast of "His Dark Materials" could be considered even more studded with stars.

Starring alongside Keen to make up the core cast are Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Hamilton," 2020) as "aëronaut" balloonist Lee Scoresby; Ruth Wilson ("The Affair") as the stern and menacing Mrs. Coulter; James McAvoy ("X Men: Dark Phoenix," 2019) as the powerful and aristocratic Lord Asriel; Anne-Marie Duff ("Sex Education") as grounded matriarch Ma Costa; Lucian Msamati ("Gangs of London") as John Faa, King of the Gypsies; and Andrew Scott ("Victor Frankenstein," 2015) as renowned scholar and mystic healer Col. John Parry.

Like most everything right now, the series was struck hard by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, though, fortunately, it wasn't as severely affected as most other shows. Season 2 is scheduled to consist of seven episodes, which were all (quite fortuitously) filmed before the current pandemic struck. Having just begun to film its eighth Season 2 episode, "His Dark Materials" was forced to cease all production due to health dangers caused by the virus. Given that the first season was only eight episodes long itself, the cut down to a seven-episode second season is hardly noticeable. That unfinished episode, however, was intended to have been a standalone feature about the mysterious Lord Asriel, so fans of the show will hopefully have that to look forward to sometime in the future when the episode has been completed as planned.

Dafne Keen stars in "His Dark Materials"

Dafne Keen stars in "His Dark Materials"

While Season 1 focused primarily on the events of the first book in the series, this season's episodes are based on Pullman's second book, "The Subtle Knife." The Season 2 storyline is expected to show what happens after Lord Asriel opens a bridge to a new world. Meanwhile, mourning the loss of her best friend, Lyra heads off into the unknown, searching for her father and continuing to investigate Dust — an elementary particle that bestows consciousness upon certain species — using the rare alethiometer, a magical compass-like device. The compass also has another unique quality: provided its user knows how to read it, it will provide the truth to any question it is asked (like a much more accurate version of the real-world Magic 8-Ball).

As the storyline progresses and the "His Dark Materials" universe expands, fans should prepare for the unexpected. In an interview prior to the Season 2 premiere, Jane Tranter, one of the show’s executive producers said: "In Season 1, we had a witch. In Season 2, we had witches and we have angels. Everything is just kind of building and expanding … there are many new characters and excitements."

With that in mind, the book enthusiasts among us can rest easy — both Pullman and "His Dark Materials" screenwriter Jack Thorne have confirmed that they fully intend to keep as true to the source material as possible. "We are not trying to do something different from the books,” Thorne said to the media in an interview. “Sometimes we do step away and do different things, but always we're going back to the text and saying, 'How does this help us tell [Philip's] story best?'"

In the latest episode to air, Season 2 Episode 2, Mrs. Coulter's daemon spied on Lyra without having been instructed to do so. Mrs. Coulter’s character — well known to fans of the books and the original movie — is the director of the General Oblation Board, also known as "The Gobblers," who are responsible for the disappearance of several children. As Episode 3 approaches, we're left wondering if Lyra will ignore the alethiometer's advice; a decision that, if opted for, could have serious ramifications. Is denying the compass's truth worth it to explore what lies beyond the bridge?

If you haven't taken the dive into "His Dark Materials," now is the time to start. Season 1 is available to stream on HBO Max and, with only eight very-bingeable episodes, it's easy to catch up to the new season in no time at all. And, once you’re all caught up to speed, follow Lyra into the new world by tuning in for the third episode of Season 2, airing Monday, Nov. 30, on HBO.