TV Review: His Dark Materials: “The Lost Boy” (S1, Ep. 5)

In this episode, things begin to take some interesting turns, as Lyra at last discovers for certain what exactly the Magisterium has been doing to the captured children: separating them from their dæmons. Meanwhile, in our world, we are finally introduced to the character Will Parry and his troubled mother, both of whom are being pursued by Boreal in his efforts to discover what it was that Stanlislaus Grumman managed to discover. In the final moments of the episode, Lyra is captured by unnamed persons and taken to the terrible Bolvangar.

Even though I’ve read the book and knew what to expect, the death of Billy Costa was still like an emotional punch to the gut, and it serves as an important reminder of the stakes of the journey to regain the children from the hands of the Magisterium. When his mother tells him that he can go and be with Ratter, it’s hard not to feel as if your own heart is being torn out at having to watch this woman who has already suffered so much have to stand by and watch her son die as well.

Since the beginning, I’ve thought that Duff was one of the strongest parts of this series, even if she wasn’t one of the main characters, and her performance in this episode was truly the stuff of awards season. The same can also be said James Cosmo as Farder Coram. Those who saw him as Ser Jeor in Game of Thrones would be forgiven for thinking that he was only capable of playing bluff, bear-like characters, but here he shows that he has a sensitive side as well. His scene with the witch Serafina was as heartbreaking in its own way as Ma Costa’s was with Billy, for it reminds us just how much he’s had to give up as he grows older.

Of course, the most noteworthy part of this episode was the introduction of Will. I’ve been wondering for some time how deeply they were going to go into Will Parry’s backstory in the first season of the series, given that he doesn’t even make an appearance until the second book. Here, we learn that he takes care of his mother, who clearly suffers from some form of anxiety and OCD. The scenes between the two of them also pack an emotional punch, as it’s clear that Will loves his mother, even as he’s consumed with the same conflicted feelings that most adolescents feel toward their parents (the bonds between mothers and their children is one of the themes from the books that the series has chosen to emphasize).

Though I’m sure that some annoying fans of the books (who just happen to be racist) will start bitching because they cast people of color in the roles of Will and his mother, to me that matters less than the talent that we see from both Amir Wilson and Nina Sosanaya. Between the two of them, they manage to convey a great deal of emotional richness of these two characters and their deep bond with one another.

Strangely enough, despite the fact that Ruth Wilson didn’t put in an appearance as Mrs. Coulter, I still felt her presence looming in the background. I have to be honest, I rather missed seeing her striding across this stage, and I’m looking forward to seeing her certain return next week, particularly since it will involve her confronting the fact that her own heartless experiments on children have now caught Lyra.

Overall, I thought this was a very strong episode. Though there weren’t any truly big set pieces, there were a few moments–such as Lyra’s journey atop Iorek–that were breathtaking. And, as always, the scenery continues to be one of the highlights of the series. And, of course, Iorek himself continues to fascinate, and I’m really impressed with how well the CGI has been handled. His conversation with Lyra, in which he explains his shame, is also one of the highlights of the episode.

Now that there are only three episodes left, I’m finding myself wondering where they’ll decide to make the cut off. There are a number of climaxes that occur just within the first book, so they have a lot to choose from.

See you next week!

TV Review: Carnival Row: “Grieve No More” (S1, Ep. 5)

I’m slowly but surely making my way through Carnival Row, and I’m now over halfway done with the first season. Rycroft continues to investigate the brutal deaths, Vignette makes inroads with the Raven, and Imogen schemes with Agreus to earn his money in exchange for her introducing him to society.

I have to admit, I’m getting a little frustrated with this show. The various plot threads are still ambling along, and none of them seem to have any particular destination in mind. That’s fine for a while, but when nothing seems to ever really move forward, it becomes increasingly difficult to care about these characters in the way that we’re presumably supposed to. For the life of me, I still do not care about Imogen and her family’s struggles against poverty, and the Puck Agreus’ motivations remain as inscrutable as ever (and, much as I like David Gyasi, his overly-mannered delivery is becoming almost unwatchable).

Part of the problem is that Carnival Row keeps throwing in more character arcs as it goes along. Whereas before we were basically supposed to be interested in three separate strands: the chancellor and his family; Vignette and Rycroft, and Imogen, now we’re supposedly supposed to also care about the showman and his kobolds as well as a Puck who was fired from the Absalom’s service (who appears to be in the midst of a religious conversion). I’d like to be able to give the series the benefit of the doubt and believe that these stories will end up somewhere, but I’m increasingly finding that a difficult proposition. If, however, the show can do the heavy lifting of making these plot arcs a central part of the final resolution, then I will be very impressed indeed.

Don’t get me wrong. The episode was enjoyable as far as it went. It’s nice to get a little more detail about Rycroft’s background–including some important revelations about his birth and a particularly haunting flashback depicting the amputation of his wings when he was a baby–and the acting continues to be top-notch. There are glimmers of an interesting story with the stuff surrounding the Breakspears and the newly-emergent Sophie Longerbane, but there’s so little detail given to them that it’s hard to really get invested (which is truly a shame, since it appears that they’re wasting the considerable talents of both Jared Harris and Indira Varma).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m not going to finish it out. After all, I’ve only got three episodes left, and I still don’t quite see what the end game is, and I have the sinking feeling that I am going to be left disappointed by the ending (especially since there is already a season two announced, so most likely it will end on a cliffhanger). To my mind, the greatest challenge facing this series is the inescapable conclusion that there is a truly fascinating concept, and maybe even a truly great series, yearning to be born from a rather mediocre one.

Maybe by the end of the season it will succeed, but I’m not holding my breath.

TV Review: Carnival Row: “Aisling” (S1, Ep. 2)

Warning: Spoilers for the plot follow.

After the bombshell ending of the first episode, in which a former singer was brutally slaughtered by some unknown being from beneath the city, this episode of Amazon’s Carnival Row slowed things down a bit. Rycroft continues on his search for this new killer, while Vignette has to confront the true ugliness of her (truly terrible) employers and ultimately flees into service with a smuggling group. Meanwhile, both Imogen and Ezra (Vignette’s terrible employers) struggle with impending bankruptcy and the presence of a wealthy Puck next door, while Chancellor Absalom contends with the kidnapping of his son, unaware that his wife Piety is responsible.

Bloom and Delevingne continue to turn in solid performances, though it’s still very unclear how they feel about one another now that they have been reunited and, for that matter, what it was that separated them in the first place. They only have one scene where they are together, but there are a few sparks there, an indication that Vignette’s avowed hatred of her husband may not be as sincere as she claims, and it’s clear by Rycroft’s actions (such as paying off Vignette’s bonds to her employers), that he still has feelings for her. I sincerely hope, though, that Carnival Row starts revealing more about their backstory, as know almost nothing about either of their backstories, either individually or as a couple. That’s a bit of a problem when they are, in theory at least, your two main characters.

Varma’s Piety is also still something of an enigma. We now know that she’s staged her own son’s kidnapping, though her motives for doing so are as opaque as ever. One suspects that she bears her husband some significant amount of animosity, and their brief and testy exchange after their son’s kidnapping suggests it may be due to Piety’s exalted family status. I’ve always felt that Indira Varma is a supremely talented actress who always has the misfortune to be cast in roles that underuse her (such as her role as Niobe in HBO’s Rome and as the vengeful but ultimately ineffective Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones), and I hope that doesn’t prove to be true here as well.

This was, in many ways, a bit of a slow-burn episode, revealing a bit more about the workings of the city of the Burgue and shedding a little more light on the politics and magic that undergird this world. However, it doesn’t really solve any of the enigmas put in place by the first episode, and though I enjoyed the episode (and very badly want to enjoy the series as a whole), I sincerely hope that matters kick into a higher gear going forward.