Take Asriel. This was the first time it felt as though we really got under his skin, and it took the presence of Marisa Coulter to do it. Their scenes in ‘The Intention Craft’ were filled with revelations. Why is Asriel so scornful of Marisa’s love for Lyra? Because he’s jealous. Or at least that’s the impression James McAvoy gave when he put his hand around Ruth Wilson’s neck. Asriel wants Marisa’s devotion and is maddened that she’s given it to their daughter and not to him. This is a man – ironically considering his mission to kill God – used to being worshipped, something Marisa pointedly needles him about in their electric scenes together.
Asriel’s also in denial – as Stelmaria and Mrs Coulter know full well – about his own feelings for Lyra, and suppressing them under all that heroic change the world stuff. It was satisfying to finally witness more of Asriel’s conflict, and the obvious chemistry he shares with Marissa. That ‘you are my prisoner’ rope stuff was… not for children’s ears. Can you imagine the fanfic? I daren’t look.
As for Mrs Coulter, her character and its conflicts remained as fascinating as ever, from her violent tamping down of feelings when she received her mother’s trunk (always better for us to imagine the childhood pain that created that woman than if her suffering were all laid out), to her trotting around the Magisterium like she owns the place and playing every game to her advantage.
Well, almost every game. Eventually, Father President MacPhail got too high on his own supply and channelled all the misogyny of his church to rebel against the woman he so clearly lusts after, and therefore despises and blames for his desire. Marisa’s arrest just goes to prove once again that a woman who shores up a system that hates women is by no means exempt from that hatred. This show cuts deep.
It cuts deep into the wrongs of those worlds and ours, but also offers hope from the one place hope springs eternal – young people. ‘The Intention Craft’ gave us scenes of Asriel and Marisa side-by-side with scenes of Lyra and Will, and the implicit comparison was revealing. The grown-ups lied and point-scored and aimed to injure each other, while the kids’ conflict was handled with altogether more emotional maturity. Lyra wanted one thing, Will wanted another, and through honest, difficult communication, they landed on a solution and came out of it closer. The adults could learn a thing or two.
Young adults is a better description of Lyra and Will now, three years on from when we first met them. The distance travelled, and the increasingly romantic nature of their relationship was acknowledged in a nicely underplayed way with their “You seem different”/ “So do you” / “You’re staring” exchange. Once again, understatement beats overtly confessional.