Review for “Lyra’s Jordan”

“Lyra’s Jordan” was an excellent start at the introduction in the world of His Dark Materials season one written by Jack Thorne and directed by Tom Hopper. The pilot teaches us a lot about the building blocks of His Dark Materials, but still leaves us with many elements hidden. These mysterious elements can leave some viewers confused, but more desiring to watch more, to learn more about who Lyra will betray and to wonder what is happening to the children who are going missing?

            Let’s start with a basic summary of the episode. The episode first starts with Lyra Belacqua being dropped off by her Uncle or Lord Asriel, an Artic Explorer at Jordan College part of Oxford University. Lyra needs to be under scholastic sanctuary protection, but Uncle Asriel does not explain to Dr. Crane (The Master) why she is unsafe with him. The action starts about seven years later; we quickly learn that Lyra is an adventurous rebellious young girl with a daemon named Pan and a best friend whose a young servant in training called Roger Parslow. Both children are orphans, but Lyra still has Uncle Asriel, who is off exploring. 

            When Uncle Asriel returns, he goes in front of the professors of Jordan College to explain his heretical findings of “dust.”  Dr. Crane tries to poison Lord Asriel before he can bring danger to Jordan College, but a spying Lyra, who hopes to go off with her uncle to adventures in the North, stops Asriel from drinking the poisoned wine. Uncle Asriel has Lyra hide in a chest to observe how The Master reacts to his findings that the dust only surrounds adults, and to the existence of a city in the sky that’s made of dust.  Lord Asriel asks Jordan College’s faculty to help fund his exploration, which they do.

   After the meeting, Lyra falls asleep but wakes up in time for her Uncle to be putting her to bed. He refuses to answer too many questions about his research. Even though Uncle Asriel had promised to one day take Lyra away from Jordan College, he abandons her again, saying the Arctic is no place for a child. 

            Meanwhile, the Gyptians have a ceremony to mark Tony Costa becoming a man after his daemon Lyuba settled on being a hawk. He is given a metal ring with a hawk image with scraps of metal from the community. Tony’s little brother Billy Costa is kidnapped after wandering away from the celebration because he feels like his older brother will no longer be around. The Gyptian community looks everywhere for Billy Costa, but can’t find him anywhere nearby. The community decides he did not just wander off but was taken by some monsters they call the “gobblers.” The “gobblers” are already suspected of taking a couple of other Gyptian children. The Gyptians travel up to London in their boats, planning to find Billy and the other children. 

            Back at Jordan College, the Master and the Librarian discuss how the altimeter (a truth-telling device shaped like a golden compass)  tells them that it is time for Lyra to leave the college because she is going to be part of the adventures to come surrounding dust. The Master shares that Lyra will betray people, which will hurt her significantly.  The Master introduces Lyra to Marisa Coulter, another adventurer who promises to take the girl under her wing. Lyra jumps at the chance to leave Jordan College to be Coulter’s assistant but begs Marisa to allow Roger to come with them. The female adventurer agrees though soon after we witness her daemon grab the servant boy.

            The next morning, Lyra can not find Roger anywhere on the college grounds. She agrees to go to London with Maris after the woman adventurer promises to help the young girl find her best friend. Lyra is given the altimeter by the Master, who makes her promise to keep the device a secret, since it’s illegal, and to keep her council. We see Billy is being taken somewhere in a boat under the wind ship that the two new workmates are traveling to London.

            Now what I found interesting was how sometimes the daemons were visible on-screen, and other times you could barely notice them. Then suddenly, Pan would appear next to Lyra. Phillip Pullman wrote his novels this way because it would be distracting to see daemons all the time unless they were vital to the scene. Jack Throne must have felt the same way, which does make sense. I know I would be staring at the CIG daemons all the time if they were on screen constantly. I thought the special effects of the daemons were quite well done though I don’t think technology has gotten to the point where they look real. I felt that the actors who performed as the daemon’s voices did as good a job with their performances as their live-action counterpoints. I had initially forgotten that in the book they could talk , so at first, it was shocking, but then it made perfect sense. In the television show, the daemons act as their human’s consciousness. For example, when Lyra was spying on her Uncle’sUncle’s rooms, Pan reminded her that The Master had always been nice to them.

Along with Lord Asriel’s daemon, a snow leopard named Stelmaria points out that Lyra is still sleeping in the chest after the meeting was long over. The daemons do have their own personalities though. Billy’s daemon walks up to the daemon who helps kidnap them, showing he is adventurous even though the little boy warned him to go away. There is something special about the concept of the daemon. They are a source of comfort and support that a human is never without in this world.

            The only major criticism I have of the pilot is the gobblers kidnap Billy Costa because he is away from his family. In Gyptian, culture children are considered precious and never far from their parents. Why would his mother have allowed him to go on his own, or what were the adults doing who just let him go off into the dark? But I understand that for the plot, Billy needed to be kidnapped, which would not have happened if he stayed at the party. So all in all, I think it is the only way Jack Throne could have written that scene, at least in a believable manner.

            I was in love with the way Lyra was represented in the pilot by Dafe Kenne Fernadez. The way she was always running from place to place reveals her adventurous spirit along with her urgency to leave this confined space. Her loyalty to both Uncle Asriel and Roger Parslow lead her to make life-changing decisions in “Lyra’s Joden.” If Lyra were not loyal to Uncle Asriel, she would never have been spying on the Master  for him, which led to her learning about “dust.”  Her loyalty made her even more curious about the Artic. If she were not so desperate to go to the Arctic, then the young girl would not have been so compelled to go off with Marisa, who she doesn’t know. If she were not so loyal to Roger, then he probably would not have been kidnapped by the gobblers. Plus, Lyra would not have ultimately left Jordan College after name? had disappeared if Maris had not tempted her with finding her only friend. It’s Lyra’s adventurous and loyal spirit that leads her to venture into unknown worlds, which will ultimatley lead to the enormous pain she will experience — the pain The Master warned her about in his study. 

            The way His Dark Materials pilot was shot and edited (mixed in with the CGI) was awe-striking.  The long shots of Lord Asriel and Stelmaria climbing down the snowing mountains in the Arctic were breathtaking.  The medium shot of Roger pulling at the grates that are entrapping him as epic classical music is playing is heartbreaking. The way they built this urban fantasy/science fiction world is perfect. 

There are times, like in the beginning, when Asriel flys back Lyra into a flooded Jordan college in a helicopter where the technology seems modern. Then the main transport is these big metal airships that in my opinion look steampunk-like. The way the characters in the college dress is Victorian. But then the ceremony which makes Gyptian teenagers into men appear almost medieval. The daemons are fantastical, but there is plenty of alternative technologies like this camera that seems like a mixture of the modern and victorian that makes the television science fiction. This amalgam of genres makes the television show even more compelling.

If you are confused by any of the terms I use from the show check out the glossary:

Thank you! Please look out for a new review on Wednesday.

Published by Paloma Bennett

I have a Master of Arts in Cinema Critical Studies from San Fransisco State University. I am a Lesbian Feminist Pop-Culture Geek from California who loves film, television, book, comic books and podcasts. I work a the Paley Center at the moment, but I am interested in becoming a professional television and film reviewer.

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