Recap: HIS DARK MATERIALS S2E2 — “The Cave”

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It’s time, once again, to enter into a new world! His Dark Materials S2E2 “The Cave” sees Will and Lyra going into Will’s world while back in her world, big changes occur regarding the Magisterium rulership. The title of the episode comes from the machine created by the Dark Matter Research Unit which Lyra comes into contact with alongside Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby). As with last week, I will be discussing some of the differences from the book series at the end of this recap.

Preparing to go into Will’s world, Lyra must change her appearance and hide Pan into a bag all in the name of being subtle and not attracting attention. This is not put into as much emphasis in the show, but Will is an expert at flying under the radar — to the point where it is even compared to the witches’ invisibility. Of course, Lyra is always used to doing things her own way and only a few minutes after crossing over into Will’s world, she is nearly run over by a car because she’s run out into the road. Yes, Lyra, the cars are much faster here.

Stalking in their shadows is Lord Boreal in his black Tesla. You have to wonder, has he just been sleeping out in his Tesla all day looking out for Will? We’ll see him again shortly.

But first, they head to Jordan College. Only, there is no Jordan College in this world. Lyra’s connection to Jordan College is essential. It is where she grew up, where she was educated, where she made friends. The fact that it doesn’t exist — when many other things are paralleled in their two worlds — comes as a shock to her. While patching up her injury from the car accident, Lyra tells will about her alethiometer. She tells him that it told her that he is a murderer, but “the good kind, like Iorek.” Obviously having never met Iorek Byrnison, Will is surprised and disturbed by her reading. He tells her that she doesn’t understand and leaves her behind as soon as he is able to, in order to check on his mother. The two agree to meet at the Botanic Gardens at 5 pm that day.

His Dark Materials S2E2
Photograph by Courtesy of HBO

Trying to figure out where to go, Lyra heads to a museum exhibit at Oxford. Here, she pulls out her alethiometer and uses it to find a scholar who can tell her about dust. It directs her quite simply to St. Peter’s College and to enter the door with the mountain on it. It also tells her very clearly that she is not to lie to the scholar and she should focus on Will and finding his father.

Armed with this information, Lyra is about to leave when she runs into Boreal. Remember, she’s met Lord Boreal before, many many weeks ago when she was still staying with Mrs. Coulter. But in another world, he is unfamiliar to her. He tells her he is a collector and they chat before he gives her his card. Honestly, even if he wasn’t trying to be creepy this would be creepy. A grown man giving a little girl his business card so that she can find him again and hang out with him? Even with the best of intentions, this raises some red flags.

Lyra follows the alethiometer instructions and ends up at the Dark Matter Research Unit where she meets Dr. Mary Malone. She’s surprised to see that the scholar is a woman but obeys the alethiometer and starts to tell Mary why she’s there. At first, it’s complicated, with Lyra speaking in the terms of her world, while Mary Malone is simply surprised to hear a child talk about other worlds and “elementary particles.” She tells Lyra that she studies dark matter, “The matter in between all the known bits of the universe, stars, and galaxies.” In the process of searching for “shadow particles,” she created a computer she calls The Cave that allows them to test for shadow particles. She realized that man-made items have stronger readings from The Cave, and when she plugged herself into it, she was able to generate even stronger results.

In order to do this, she had to be lost in her own thoughts. She says that you have to “hold your mind in a state of expectation without impatience.” This realization came with the revelation that the particles are somehow conscious. This all leads Lyra to realize that Mary Malone is studying dust and that is what her shadow particles are. The Cave is much like the alethiometer. To prove this, Lyra demonstrates by telling Mary Malone what she did before she became a scientist — a nun who lost her faith.

His Dark Materials S2E2
Photograph by Courtesy of HBO | Photographer: Simon Ridgway

Curious and surprised by Lyra’s information, Mary shows Lyra The Cave. It isn’t long after Lyra is plugged into The Cave that the particles start to react to her. Treating it like the alethiometer, Lyra is able to get The Cave to respond back in the language of images. The Cave tells Lyra that Mary is important, but she must make a connection herself. She will need the I-Ching box in her office for where she will be going. But before she is able to interpret more Lyra realizes it’s already 5 pm and she needs to meet back with Will.

Meanwhile, Will has spent the day dealing with his horrible grandparents. After checking on his mother from the bushes outside of his teacher’s house, he heads to his family lawyer for the money from the trust set up by his father. Unable to release the funds to a minor, the lawyer directs him toward one of the other trustees, aka his paternal grandparents, who just happen to live in Oxford. The lawyer makes a reference to a dispute over John Parry’s estate and it’s clear that Elaine does not have a good relationship with her in-laws.

It’s a short visit with his grandparents before he realizes that they are more willing to believe the authorities than their own grandson. Both grandparents do not like his mother and soon, Will realizes that they are going to betray him and runs away before the authorities have time to catch on to him. When Lyra finally meets back up with him, he has been waiting, afraid that Lyra had somehow been caught. Lyra then tells him that she needs to help him find his father. For Will, who has always assumed his father was dead because of his journey to the Arctic, this opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

The two sit together on a bench in the Botanic Gardens while Lyra reads the alethiometer. Will explains to her what happened with the home intruder and how he killed the man in self-defense and to protect his mother. Lyra tells him that his mother is safe and that he is somehow connected to Cittàgazze. Accepting that he needs to leave his mother behind as long as he is in danger, the two seem to be on the same page with one another.

His Dark Materials season two
Photograph by Courtesy of HBO

Meanwhile, back in Lyra’s world, it’s time to elect a new Cardinal! Mrs. Coulter weaves her web in the background and pushes Father Macphail to act dramatically, by bombing the Witches’ homes and gaining the favor of the other priests. While I do think these were important events to set up the plot of the season, I actually find the Magisterium kind of boring this season. Much of their job should surround the prophecy about Lyra, but they seem more concerned with politics this episode. It was enjoyable, as always, to see Mrs. Coulter create her plan in the shadows of these men. Her disgust at Father Graves, who shames Dr. Lanselius’ witch mother for sending her child away, calling it a “perversion of all that is natural,” feels the most genuine. What we can guarantee from Mrs. Coulter is her desperation to get Lyra back and to be a mother to her.

This is one of the most compelling aspects of Mrs. Coulter, which can feel tiring at times since we know Mrs. Coulter has so many other talents, but it is something that Ruth Wilson perfects in her performance of the character. When she meets with Thorold in his cell, her true intentions are made clear. She learns for the first time that Lyra came to Asriel’s lab, she’s horrified to learn that he would have cut Lyra had Roger not arrived. She also comes to the conclusion that Lyra is now in another world. And, with Macphail set as the Cardinal (and Mrs. Coulter holding a good amount of blackmail over him) she can go on to pursue Lyra instead of obeying the Magisterium.

Finally, we have the witches. I have to say, they have the most disappointing story for the same reason the Magisterium does. The witches know full well the extent of the prophecy surrounding Lyra and their first concern should be to help her achieve her goals. Instead, they’re doing business with the Magisterium. They send Dr. Lanselius as a peace envoy, though they must know that the moment this man enters into the Magisterium’s clutches he will be taken prisoner. Considering that Asriel is out there trying to literally fight God, their issues seem so petty in comparison. Also, given the Magisterium’s tendency toward extreme solutions, should it have been that much of a shock to the witches that the bombing would happen?

His Dark Materials S2E2
Photograph by Courtesy of HBO

In The Book…

  • The title of the episode is clearly in reference to The Cave machine that Mary Malone uses. However, although the show included the “negative capability” quote from Keats, they did not explain the meaning of The Cave’s name. It is a reference to Plato’s Allegory of the cave by Socrates. It tells about a group of people who have lived in a cave their whole lives, chained to a wall while facing a blank wall with shadows on it. To the people chained to the wall, the shadows are their reality, but they are not the real world. Socrates explains that a philosopher is someone who is freed from the cave and understands the truth about the shadows, though the other people in the cave might not believe him. This plays in perfect parallel to The Cave machine and Mary Malone’s research into Shadow Particles.
  • I’m pretty vocal about my dislike of the witch characters in Pullman’s series. However, at least the witches of the books talk frequently about the importance of the prophecy and the fulfilling of the prophecy. In The Subtle Knife, they are the ones who speak with Thorold — who was not captured and still back in the cabin — and they agree to fly into the portal that Asriel opened up to help Lyra. The whole sequence in His Dark Materials S2E2 was a vast change from TSK, where Dr. Lanselius leads Serafina Pekkala to Thorold, who is fighting off cliff ghasts at the time. There was no talk about Asriel’s rebellion against the authority or the angels who rebelled. One of the key aspects of Asriel’s rebellion is the fact that he deemed the Magisterium too small of a concern and too easy of an opponent for himself. He wanted to face up against the Authority himself. Knowing that, this is why I feel like the witch and Magisterium plotline feels so petty. There are bigger issues, these feel like squabbles.
  • Fra Pavel, the Magisterium alethiometer reader, actually knows a lot more than his television counterpart. He is the one who reveals that Lyra is already in another world. He knows about the prophecy and he knows that this should be a main concern of the Magisterium. I wonder when the television version will catch on?
  • During Dr. Lanselius’ meeting/trial? with the Magisterium, he tells the priests about the ritual that young witches have to go through in order to separate themselves from their daemon. Up until now, the only non-witch character we’ve met who can do that is Mrs. Coulter. The camera pushes in on her in this moment, so I wonder if the showrunners are trying to suggest that Mrs. Coulter could have some kind of association with the witches?
  • Speaking of witches, we have yet to meet Juta Kamainen, the witch who had her heart broken by John Parry. Although I doubt Juta has any fans, her inclusion in the story is important. Her relationship with John Parry plays a major role in the final act of TSK in the most devastating way. Will we get to see Juta and will the finale play out the way it did in the novel?
  • There’s little mention of zombies, which are adults cut from their daemons like the children at Bolvanger. They play a more prominent role later on regarding Mrs. Coulter, but I wonder if they have been cut for the sake of clarity.
  • I wish we saw more of Lyra and Will when they first entered into Will’s world. The car accident scene where Will quickly comes up with false identities for the two of them, Will taking Lyra to an ATM for the first time, Lyra showing him her gold coins. We already have seen both of their worlds and we know there are differences, but it would have been a delight to see this interaction between characters. Still, I did enjoy Lyra donning a cape and wide-brimmed hat thinking she was going to be able to wear it in Will’s world.
  • The bench!!!! Guys!!! Seeing Lyra and Will sitting at that bench together immediately got me teary eyed. The bench!!!!

Watch His Dark Materials Mondays on HBO Max.

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