The second season of His Dark Materials will be exciting for fans of Philip Pullman’s original books. While the first in the trilogy, The Golden Compass, was previously adapted as a film, this is the first time we’re seeing the events of The Subtle Knife on screen. And I’ll tell you upfront: this one is exactly what you want.

The story picks up right where the first season left off, with both Lyra and Will venturing into a new world, meeting in the mysterious city of Cittàgazze.

(Note: This review is based on the first five episodes of the season provided for consideration by HBO.)

His Dark Materials S2 Review

Well Balanced Stories

Let’s be clear: there’s a lot happening in season 2 of His Dark Materials. There’s Lyra and Will’s journey, of course. But we’re also following Mrs. Coulter and Lord Boreal, Serafina Pekkala and the witches, Lee Scoresby, John Parry, the Magisterium, and a new character for season 2, Dr. Mary Malone. Add all those characters to the fact that the story takes place across three different worlds, and things could easily become confusing and imbalanced. 

They don’t.

His Dark Materials actually does an incredible job of balancing all its story threads. I never felt like we waited too long to revisit any particular character or world. Everyone’s stories seemed to both progress and interconnect naturally.

Amir Wilson as Will and Dafne Keen as Lyra in 'His Dark Materials' season 2

Slight aside: I will say that Lyra’s father and world-splitter Lord Asriel has been absent. Though this is true to the source material – he doesn’t appear in The Subtle Knife at all – I would have liked to see just a little bit of where he ended up. To be fair, Asriel may still turn up near the end of the season. We do know the series planned an Asriel-centric episode that COVID ultimately cancelled.

Fantasy Fun

Season 2 nicely weaves magic and the fantastic throughout the series. One of the highlights for me was getting to see a lot more from the witches, who have a whole host of cool powers. (And the visual effects to support them.) 

Even when we’re in Will’s (non-magic, “normal”) world, we get little glimpses of the fantastic hiding just under the surface. When we see Dust swirling around and forming shapes in the Cave, it feels magical, yet grounded. And isn’t that what you want from a fantasy set close to home? To feel that possibility, that magic is already here, if we only knew where to look?

Good vs. Evil

There’s a lot to love about season 2 of His Dark Materials. But one of my favorite things about it so far is the series’ exploration of Mrs. Coulter. While she’s never been a one-note, simplistic kind of villain, these latest episodes really work to delve deeper into her character. No specific spoilers here, but season 2 gives us greater insight into her relationship to Lyra and her relationship to the world she lives in. (It also offers up a fascinating look into how she views other worlds.)

At her core, Mrs. Coulter acts as a reminder that good and evil aren’t always easy to define. That’s a big theme for the series, and one that season 2 really works to drive home. (Yes, I’m talking about the heavy anti-religion elements.)

His Dark Materials season 2 poster

His Dark Materials Season 2: The Bottom Line

It’s not easy to merge fantastic and grounded worlds, but His Dark Materials does it with style. Like its debut, season 2 continues to be visually stunning and strongly acted. The season also offers up emotional and thematic threads that will surely pay off as the series progresses.

Rating: 9/10

His Dark Materials season 2 premieres Monday, November 16 on HBO.