After two long years, the adaptation of Philip Pullman’s riveting fantasy series His Dark Materials returns to HBO for its wrap-up third season. There are eight episodes airing two each Monday, premiering on December 5. The final season is emotional, philosophical, and action-filled and offers lots of answers and climatic moments starting with Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) gathering an army to take down the Kingdom of Heaven and its regent Metatron (Alex Hassell), whose repressive minions rule the show’s multiverse.
McAvoy and star actors Ruth Wilson (Marisa Coulter), Dafne Keen (Lyra), and Amir Wilson (who plays Will) and executive producers Jane Tranter and Dan McCulloch spoke about the season with TV Insider. McAvoy previews that this season, the obsessed Asriel’s goals are “revolution and the emancipation of the human spirit from the oppressive institutional forces of moral judgment.” Also: “multiverse domination and complete submission, ” he playfully adds, mocking his narcissistic character.
But before that huge climactic battle, the main characters have plenty of challenges, both horrendous and redemptive, especially the series beloved hero Lyra and her best friend Will, both now on the cusp of adulthood.
The season opens with Will having to decide whether to deliver the powerful knife (Season 2’s “Subtle Knife”) that he uses to enter the various worlds to Asriel, per his father’s dying wish, or search for Lyra, who’s being held captive by her mother Marisa Coulter (Wilson). He chooses Lyra.
Marisa is keeping Lyra hidden — and asleep — to protect her from those she had worked with for years. For good reason. Unbeknownst to Lyra, their world’s ruler, “Father President” McPhail (Will Keen) believes that Lyra is the reincarnated “Eve, the Mother of all Sin,” and is sending villains to capture or kill her. Marisa drugs her seriously estranged daughter Lyra, because she would try to escape, no matter what is revealed to her.
Smart and devious, Marisa ruthlessly gained power in her and Lyra’s world by getting close to the priests in the Magesterium, who run a society where women have no voice. To keep her small bit of authority, she abandoned the daughter she had with Asriel, her one-time lover, and did horrific wrongs to other children to satisfy her employer’s warped religious strictures. Wilson says, despite the newfound acceptance of the love she feels for her child, “she now understands that her journey is to let go of her. She has to let destiny happen.” Marisa’s destiny: let’s say it involves her being a warrior.
In the second episode, Will manages to free Lyra, who stubbornly insists no matter the danger she must reach the ominous Land of the Dead, so she can see her childhood pal Roger (Lewin Lloyd). It won’t be an easy journey for the friends. On the way, they’ll meet a number of other beings, both friendly and not, among them, the return of armored bear Iorick (Joe Tandberg) and rebel angels Baruch (Oliver Monaghan) and Balthamos (I-Kay Agu).
Once Will and Lyra arrive at the LOTD, “it’s a chance at closure,” says Keen, “at coming to terms with Roger.” She must apologize because she contributed to Roger’s death when she brought him to meet Asriel in Season 1. In the “cause of science,” her father had experimented and killed the poor boy by surgically separating him from his daemon, an animal spirit that functions as a soul. Look for a surprise appearance by Lee Scoresby (the kindly Texas aeronaut played by Lin-Manual Miranda). While we don’t want to spoil what happens in that hellish landscape, executive produce Jane Tranter, shares that the visit “will have enormous ramifications” for both Lyra and her beloved daemon Pan (voiced by Kit Connor).
We can say that as expected, there will be happiness for devoted fans of the two intrepid youngsters, as their relationship evolves. “They’re best friends that realize they have feelings for each other,” Keen explains. In a more grown-up way.
The story also follows Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), the nun-turned-scientist, as she visits the world of the gentle trunked animals known as the mulefa, and makes surprising discoveries about Dust, a form of Dark Matter important to sustainable life. (We’ll learn what the season’s subtitle — and the name of Pullman’s third book in the trilogy — The Amber Spyglass — means in Mary’s plotline.)
Yes, there’s war, religious extremism, and betrayal in the final season, but “what really drives the story,” sums up executive producer Dan McCulloch, “is Lyra’s desire to do the right thing. That’s what we love about this — it’s that our main character has heart and goodness in her.” Despite Pullman’s clear aversion to religion, we still say “Amen to that.”
Will this be the end for lovers of Philip Pullman and his Lyra? Not necessarily. “I would absolutely love to adapt [the trilogy prequel] The Book of Dust,” says Tranter, adding that fellow producer Jack Thorne “has made clear that he’s really keen” to adapt another related novel, Once Upon a Time in the North. “Finger crossed, hopefully,” she says.
His Dark Materials, Season 3 Premiere, Monday, December 5, 9/8c, HBO