Let me start off by saying that as a fan of the books, I had some upfront concerns about His Dark Materials Season 3 going in. The Amber Spyglass, the final novel in the series and the one providing the plot for this season, is the longest in the trilogy, and the original goal had been to turn it into two seasons of the show. Would one eight-episode season be able to cover a multiverse-spanning story that features a war between heaven and earth, a journey to the land of the dead, and sentient species ranging from fairy-esque people with wings to elephant-like creatures that move around on wheels?
Somehow, the answer is yes. His Dark Materials Season 3 maintains a great balance between the major story arcs set up by the previous season of the show; Lyra and Will, Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel, and Dr. Mary Mallone. Plenty of other characters, new and old, get the screen time needed to bring their stories to conclusion, and the changes made from the source material all seem to work for the better. While I wish it never had to end, the ending felt so satisfying.
Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson are absolutely KILLING IT this season. Both of the actors have really grown into their roles, and this season gives them so much time together to play off each other and show off their rapport. The characters have grown so much from the children we saw in season one, and both actors do an amazing job showing that. The series is, at its heart, about growing up, and seeing these characters grow and change and defy expectations is lovely.
I couldn’t talk about the performances without mentioning the perfectly-hateable Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, played by James McAvoy and Ruth Wilson. James McAvoy, a man so charismatic I found his Charles Xavier likable, does a truly impressive job at playing the world’s worst father. Every time something happens, you can see the wheels in Asriel’s head turning as he sets up his plans and machinations. Ruth Wilson’s Mrs. Coulter is a force of nature, a tornado going from enemy to ally and scheme to scheme. She’s eating every piece of scenery in sight, and it’s fantastic to watch. Their chemistry together is off the charts, and each scene between them has so much lying and double speak that it’s riveting to watch.
This season also features two major additions to the cast – Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Commander Ogunwe and Jamie Ward as Father Gomez. Despite their characters being polar opposites in every way, both actors are phenomenal additions. Commander Ogunwe becomes the heart of the rebellion, despite sometimes clashing with other characters over methods and attitudes. Father Gomez is a terrifying presence, and his zealotry and determination had me worried for all the characters every time he was on screen.
In addition to the armored bears and daemons from past seasons, this season faced what may have been the most difficult CGI item of the series: the mulefa. These creatures are described in the book as having a trunk, a diamond-shaped skeleton, and using seed pods as wheels on their front and back feet. Somehow, the show has taken the absolutely insane description and created creatures that look physically possible while maintaining many of the features from the book. I’ve been nervous since the initial photos released of the mulefa were cropped at the ankles, but they did indeed show them traveling via seed pods, and they looked great! The creatures themselves looked beautiful, and I appreciated the extra effort they put in to create mulefa of different sizes – animating a baby mulefa who moves a little clumsily wasn’t necessary, but it was absolutely adorable, and I loved it.
Even expecting most of what was going to happen, I found myself sobbing through the final two episodes, especially the finale. For those who’ve read the books, the finale’s title of The Botanic Garden hints at exactly what’s coming—and all I can say here is that it was presented in such a beautiful, bittersweet way. As someone who grew up with the books, I’ve been picturing this (and, frankly, crying about it) for almost twenty years. My love and relationship with the story has changed over the years- from viewing Lyra and Will as my peers to relating to Mary as an adult— but I never stopped having that emotional connection.
No adaptation or remake is ever going to precisely mimic what you feel when you experience something for the first time, but His Dark Materials gave me exactly what I wanted, and it was devastating in the best way. It felt settled and complete in a way that was extremely satisfying as each piece clicked into place and the characters and storylines settled in. This series really got the conclusion it needed, and I’m so happy it did!
If you’re desperate for spoilers after reading this, check out The Amber Spyglass (available at Bookshop.org here, or check your local library). Just keep in mind that some plot changes have been made from the book to the show!