The secret of what fate exactly awaits the stolen children is one of the most compelling mysteries at the start of His Dark Materials. If someone were stealing a bunch of children in our world, then we’d have several terrible ideas as to why. But of course, this isn’t our world, and there’s something else going on here.
Before we get to that, though, let’s stay in our world a bit. It’s here that we meet young Will Parry (Amir Wilson) and his mum Elaine (Nina Sosanya). Will, obviously, is John Parry’s son. As far as they know, dad disappeared years ago while on an expedition to the Arctic. And now Will has to be not only the man of the house but also kind of the adult. His mother is dealing with unspecified mental health issues, which include compulsions and paranoia.
Like they always say, though, it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you. So when a strange man (Boreal) visits, claiming to have known John, and she sees another strange man (one of Boreal’s flunkies in our world) watching their house, it’s just confirmation for her. Maybe that’s why she agrees to let Will read his father’s letters. I wonder what he’ll find.
Although we didn’t spend much time with the Parrys this week, it was a nice introduction. And so was our meeting Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) the witch. As Farder Coram had mentioned in a previous episode, they’d had a relationship when he was younger, which ended after they lost their son (aha, another lost boy). They haven’t seen each other for some time and it’s clear they both still have feelings for each other. However, it’s also clear that Serafina is guarding her heart, like she’s afraid to get too close. It’s a very moving scene.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the scene that gives the episode its title, the scene with the actual lost boy. While consulting the alethiometer, it basically sends Lyra a message about something else. She can’t quite interpret it, but it seems to be directing her toward a “ghost” in a nearby community. After much discussion, Lyra is allowed to go look…provided that Iorek accompanies her, though.
Once they get to the little fishing hamlet, it’s eerie. The community appears to be abandoned, yet the alethiometer is clear that the ghost is there, locked in a hut. Lyra slowly unlocks the door and peers inside, as Pan whimpers. And it’s Billy Costa, but something is wrong. His daemon isn’t there.
Although they’ve tried their best, I’m not sure that a movie or a TV show can fully communicate the horror of what this means for someone in Lyra and Billy’s world. As it says in the book:
Her first impulse was to turn and run, or to be sick. A human being with no daemon was like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid open and their heart torn out: something unnatural and uncanny that belonged to the world of night-ghasts, not the waking world of sense.
It’s a moment that still gives me chills. But it just doesn’t work onscreen. And since we barely know Billy, it’s sad when he dies after Lyra and Iorek return him to the Gyptian camp, but it doesn’t have the impact that it should.
There’s a similar subdued feel later in the episode. I’d thought it a bit odd in retrospect that they just let Lyra tear off like that, especially since, again, children are being stolen. But it turns out that you ain’t safe anywhere. Because after she’s returned to the camp and is snug in a tent with Lee*, something outside disturbs her. It’s a group of masked men, who kill at least 3 Gyptians and kidnap Lyra. They take her to a weird little facility, where she’s told to undress completely.
Although Lyra has the presence of mind to give a fake name, she complies with the instructions. Now, granted she doesn’t have a lot of choice here–she was brought there by killers with wolf daemons†–but still, she doesn’t seem to be even curious as to what’s going on. After what she’s seen with Billy Costa, it’s confounding. In fact, only when she sees the outfit they want her to change into–a dreadful little jumpsuit–and recognizes it as what Billy was wearing, does she show any emotion. It’s weird, man. But this is Bolvangar, and Lyra’s in the fields of evil now. And she’s about to learn for certain what they’re doing to the stolen children.
8/10 – Overall, this was a good episode, although it did have its little issues, as I mentioned. That shot of Lyra eating her egg while Iorek eats…an elk (?) is worth the price of admission, though.
*The sight of a tween girl sleeping next to a grown man she’s not even kind of related to made me a little uncomfy in our world, by the way.
†*electric guitar riff*