In a suddenly strange twist, the most hyped episode of the second season of His Dark Materials is one that doesn’t actually exist. You see, while most of the remake of Philip Pullman’s adaptation was completed before the coronavirus pandemic shut down television production.
Therefore, an episode starring Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) had to be abandoned after a few hours of filming, in a move that according to writer Jack Thorne was “really annoying” although it ignited the interest of fans in the part. missing from the story.
Now, having seen four installments of season two of seven truncated episodes (instead of the planned eight), I have to wonder if there is something positive to say about Asriel’s absence, what happens in the series without this character is much more unusual and interesting.
During episode four throughout Tower of the Angels, the characters talk, fire, attempt to find, or plan to team up with Asriel, making him a huge presence in the story. More than a loss, his absence from the screen makes the world of the series seem bigger, more mysterious and heightens the anticipation for his eventual return.
Said Andrew Scott’s series newcomer Jopari to Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) as the pair discuss their plans, as just one part of a larger discussion about Lyra’s (Dafne Keen) elusive father.
Asriel has not been forgotten, overlooked, or written about; indeed, he remains the center of the story, with everyone from the Magisterium and the witches of Serafina Pekkala to Jopari eager to search for him in this week’s episode.
What other TV shows would have such a crucial figure completely absent, but still central, for so long? Of course, in Philip Pullman’s novel The Subtle Knife (on which this series is based) Asriel is also missing, before playing a major role in His Dark Materials’ final book, The Amber Spyglass, so maybe not. It should come as a surprise that the series works so well without him.
In fact, in an interview last year, McAvoy himself seemed somewhat unsure whether it was the right move to include Asriel in season two, suggesting that a closer match to the books would not be a bad thing (although he once read the independent script, I was clearly persuaded).