Warning: this feature contains spoilers for the final episode of BBC One's His Dark Materials
How do you feel about the end of His Dark Materials? Tense? Hopeful? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Trust that you are on the right lines, because even the most rigid of Philip Pullman loyalists couldn't have predicted the journey we’ve taken over the last eight weeks.
We landed in the final episode not long after ruthless Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) had been told that she’d failed. The General Oblation Board’s mission to sever the connection between children and their daemons was foiled by a whip-smart and impressively resourceful little girl. Our fierce young heroine, Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) fought her way from the confines of Oxford’s Jordan College, through London where she was groomed to be Mrs Coulter's mini-me (until she discovered Mrs Coulter’s real job as head Gobbler) before escaping to the protection of the Gyptians and joining their mission to rescue the kidnapped children.
They made it to the North where, armed with the trusty alethiometer, Lyra recruited aeronaut Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and disgraced armoured bear Iorek Byrnison to aid their mission. She found Billy Costa, destroyed the intercision machine and freed best friend Roger and the rest of the kids before making her way to where her father, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) was supposedly being held hostage (in his own custom-built laboratory) in the mountains. He was furious when she turned up on his doorstep but worryingly delighted to discover she had Roger in tow. It's not long before we find out why.
She’s a wily one, our Lyra, and had earned her new surname Silvertongue long before Iorek gave it to her. "How does a little girl acquire the king of the panserbjørne [the armoured bears] as a guardian?" Lord Asriel asks when he's calmed down a bit. "It’s been quite a journey to get here," Lyra replies.
And it really has been. Our relief in finding a screen adaptation that finally does Pullman’s books justice ran throughout the series, stalled only by a few digressions. In the book it’s a boy called Tony Makarios, not Billy Costa, who Lyra finds cold, lost and soulless in a village near The Station after having his daemon cut away. She finds him alone in a shack, clutching a dried fish – a desperate attempt to replace the animal manifestation of his soul that had been torn from him.
It’s this heart-rending image that drives home just how crucial daemons are in Lyra’s world. And though Lord Asriel gives Lyra (and viewers) the comprehensive definition of the human-Dust-daemon relationship in the series finale, the inhumanity of what Mrs Coulter and the Gobblers – under the secret enforcement of the governing Magisterium, might I add – are doing to children doesn’t quite punch you in the gut as hard as it should.
Lord Asriel explains that the Magisterium thinks Dust is "actual physical sin raining down from the sky, settling on humanity and infecting our souls with evil… It was discovered that Dust only begins to settle on humans going through puberty," which is when children’s daemons lose the ability to transform and settle into one form. They labelled Dust as original sin and use it as a means of control. "That’s what my mother thinks she’s doing by cutting away our daemons," Lyra muses. "Preserving our sinless souls."
"The bond between human and daemon is immensely powerful; quite beautiful really," Asriel continues. "There’s an immense release of energy when that link is severed." And there’s the kicker. Here is where the betrayal that the Master of Jordan College warned of back in episode one comes to light. Asriel plans to use an incision to generate enough energy to create a portal to the worlds he’d seen in the Northern Lights. Great for him and the pursuit of Dust. Crucial for the action of the second series. Dreadful for Roger, who is severed in the name of science. Devastating for Lyra, who so desperately wanted to trust the father who had lied to her for all her life.
Let us take a brief moment here for the beautifully tender relationship between Lyra and Roger; the boy who knew she’d come to the North to save him, who walked backwards through the bathroom door to sit at the end of the tub and chat after her disappointing conversation with her unsympathetic father, who told her "I like that you changed my life," as they ate sandwiches in the sanctuary of a fort made out of bedlinen on Asriel’s floor.
Of course, the biggest digression from Northern Lights was the early introduction of 15-year-old Will Parry, who doesn’t appear in the saga until the second book. It’s a detour that we’re both grateful for and anxious to see more of. Intertwined between Mrs Coulter’s venomous screaming and witch queen Serafina Pekkala’s sporadic appearances, though, Will’s rich narrative in the second world of His Dark Materials – a daemon-less world that most closely resembles our own – was often lost in the wider story.
Will’s mother Elaine, exceptionally played by Nina Sosanya, struggles with mental health issues that are all the fuel bullies need to antagonise Will at school. He supports her regardless while simultaneously living in fear that the authorities will find out and put him in care. But Elaine's vulnerability isn't her defining characteristic.
In episode seven, when Lord Carlo Boreal from the Magisterium finds a portal between his world and ours, he locates Elaine and asks for information on her explorer husband, John Parry. Here, Elaine’s true strength and resilience bats him away as she defiantly protects what remains of her family. She buried her John years ago and now she's being told he might be alive. Not only that, but that he was supposedly connected to dangerous things which, if you're able to fill in the subtext with prior knowledge from the books, you'll know is the all-powerful subtle knife.
Unsuccessful in his approach, Lord Boreal sends his two henchmen to search the Parry house while Elaine and Will are out. They're looking for John's letters, which Elaine keeps hidden in a sewing machine. After a failed raid the men return for one more search, unaware that Will is in the house to collect the hidden letters himself. Will swings at one of them, accidentally sending him toppling over their cat and then over the bannister to fall to his death. Terrified, Will makes a run for it and instead of returning to the safe house where he'd left his mother with a teacher, he hides out around town, dodging police officers and trying to keep himself safe.
The series ends on the promise that we'll be seeing more of Will in the second season, though. After slipping into a park to avoid two police officers on patrol, he follows a cat into a familiar gap in the atmosphere. As he steps through the tear in his world's fabric, Lyra steps through the gaping window out of hers to start the next chapter of her journey and as we teeter on the cliff edge of anticipation, the credits roll just that bit too soon.
The early merging of books one and two, of Lyra and Will's respective worlds, couldn't help but make the season feel a bit like a prequel when in actual fact there's so much more to delve into before we properly explore the story of the subtle knife and the Parry family. The armoured bears, for example, have a history that gives much more context to Iorek Byrnison's surprise at Lyra's ability to trick the king into a fight for the throne. Lord Boreal, a brilliant villain in the making, has a relationship with Mrs Coulter that we grazed past without the investigation necessary to understand the layers of conflict that float between him, Lord Asriel, the Magisterium and Mrs Coulter.
Optimism says that we'll get much more in the second season to fill in the gaps for people who haven't read the books. But despite the overarching charm of a series that avoided being as awful as the film adaptation, it was inevitable that the final episode wouldn't quite hit the spot. We know too much and have been shown too little. The stakes for the next instalment are going to be even higher.
His Dark Materials is on BBC iPlayer now.