S1: The world’s changing. They’ve all sensed in. The prophecy is clear. Duty is to protect the girl. And boy, wherever they are. Something happened in this world people are going to be looking for.
S2: And I’m looking for a girl named Lyra. Welcome to the authority Slate’s His Dark Materials podcast, it’s Season two, Episode seven, etc. We’re Slate’s resident scholars of experimental theology. And Dan Coates, I’m a writer at Slate and my deman is a Prairieville named Gilda.
S3: I’m Laura Miller, books and culture columnist for Slate. And my Deman is a sea otter named Saki.
S4: It’s the season two finale and the cast list is about to get shorter. Season Once finale showed us the terrible sacrifice of Roger and it makes sense in season two ends with two heroic deaths. The Scoresby holds of the Magisterium at Alamo Gulch long enough for John Perry to meet his son and then John Perry himself, who shot shortly after he and will finally have a heart to heart, etc., covers sections of chapters 13 through 15 and the subtle knife. So we’re going to talk about these momentous developments with each other and also with special guest for our Deep Dive. This episode, we’re being joined by none other than this episode’s writer and the executive producer of the entire series. Jack Thorne is going to talk to us from London about the evolution of culture, about Lee’s great sacrifice, and about the lost season two episode that was supposed to focus on Lord Azriel.
S5: As always, on the authority, we’re talking about the worlds of his dark materials without spoiling the story of his dark materials, will fill in some of the blanks. Talk about the way the book treats these scenes and investigate characters, but we won’t discuss what’s in store for any of those characters. So unless you are allergic to knowing anything outside of the bounds of the TV show, you should find our podcast spoiler safe. We’ve got some great listener questions and comments this week sent to ask the authority, all one word at Slate Dotcom. So let’s get into them.
S4: First of all, a number of Kinnear’s listeners wrote to correct my misapprehension that the Hammie voice over at the beginning of Episode four was delivered by Sarafina Pecola. It was, in fact delivered by the Angel Zephania, the voice that also speaks to Marionville and through your computer and the voice that signs on to Lord Israel’s army at the end of this episode. I agree that is a much better choice. That voice over was still Corney, though. Now we’ve got a question from listener Isabel. She writes, I always thought of Lyra and Will as a the same age and be younger than they seem to be in the show. This bugs me, but I can’t quite work out if this is because I first read Northern Lights, age 12 and Laribee being the same age as I was, felt quite important to me. And at the time, a two year age gap felt rather significant. And the media reaction to the series is basically the version is still 12, i.e. it’s basically just my own emotional hang up. Or does it really matter for how we understand dust buyers relationship to her parents? All these big ideas that Pohlman clearly has about adults and children, innocence and experience, all that jazz? It seems to me that looking at the show, we are more likely to get ideas about youth, which might be argued to continue a trend set by the previous BBC smash hit Normal People, which sparked a bit of a deluge of essays about the meaning of being young but not of being a child, which seems a slightly different issue anyway. What do you think about life on wheels ages? Do you think it matters for the messages that are built into the story? Do you think it was more of a practical decision? Perhaps it’s more difficult to work with young child actors or a creative choice. And if the latter, why? It’s a great question, a difficult one to answer without spoiling the third book, I think The Amber Spyglass and the coming third season of the TV series, which has now been greenlit for a season three. But Isabel is right that there is a disparity in the books. Lyra starts out 11 when she meets Will. He’s 12. The kids in the series are clearly older than that and clearly meant to be older than that. There’s a whole thing about Paolo and Angelica razzing Will about how soon he’s going to be Spectre. So, Laura, what do you think about this change?
S5: Well, I. I think that Isabel is right in that some of this is probably inevitable and practical in that very young actors, while they can be amazing and deliver fantastic performances, they often can’t be like the person who’s on screen 70 percent of the time. And in in some countries, there are limits, the regulatory limits on on how many hours someone under the age of 16 or whatever can work. Now, Daphne Keene is 15 years old and a Wilson is 16. So the age gap between them is the same. But I’m not entirely sure that I agree that we’re meant to see them as that much older than the characters in the books. I think the series is really just trying to fudge it. You know, it certainly does not depict certain behaviors or attitudes. We associate more with a 15 or 16 year old. I mean, I think the way the characters are written, it still makes sense that they’re 12 and 13. It’s just that the actors don’t look like they’re 12 and 13.
S4: I don’t know. I mean, I do think that I think you’re probably right that it’s mostly practical. But then I do think they are writing around that practicality a little bit. Part of it, I think, is that they’ve been very explicit, the people making the show about their goal for this to be what they call like a 10 to 90 audience, like they want everyone watching this show at the BBC and at HBO. And I think the closer to 10 year hero is, the less your hero is a teenager and the more she’s a kid. I think you start to lose everyone who’s like between 15 and 25. I think that’s the the sort of audience development expectation when it comes to a show like this. So I think that’s another reason why they cast actors who read a little bit older. And I do think that bit with Paula and Anjelica and Wil talking about how he looks like he might be ready for the Spectre’s, feels like a kind of nod to that. And I sort of also think that making will read a little bit older helps with one particular thing that has never played exactly right. And the books, which is which is the stuff the will is able to pull off in his Oxford before he goes through the window, covering for his mom, dealing with the authorities, bluffing his way into getting information about his dad. Like all that stuff, I think has always felt to me a little beyond a 12 year old, even a 12 year old is capable, as Will obviously is. And I know that in adventure stories, there’s always a note of of children sort of acting beyond the limits of their abilities as an aspirational thing for the child, the younger children who are reading them. But I do think that will, as a 15 year old, actually plays a little more like a will to me than will as a 12 year old was interesting and not to spoil anything, but there are plot developments coming up in that third series that’s been greenlit that right now I’m certain everyone involved in these shows is wrestling with how to deal with. And I would not be surprised if going older with these characters was a decision made from day one to help prepare for that eventuality. And those who read the books know what I’m talking about. Those who are watching the series will likely soon learn. There’s another letter from listener Sam, ever since the twins, the approach of adapting fantasy franchises has been has been, by and large, derivative of what made Lord of the Rings the Harry Potter film successful. His dark materials even set itself up to be wrongly perceived as the next Game of Thrones. As you’ve commented on, there’s plenty that the historic material series indeed owes to the success and approach of these past adaptations. However, beyond the virtues that come with the source material, where do you find this? His Dark Materials adaptation fresh and its approach? What does it do more successfully than the cinematic takes on Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, Laura?
S5: Well, I think the main difference, it’s an obvious one between his dark materials and epic fantasy like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, is that the setting is sort of roughly contemporary rather than medieval. And a lot of what both of those book and cinematic series do has to do with our idea of what the Middle Ages were like. His dark materials is different and that the underlying ethos of the story is both pro science and pro enlightenment. Harry Potter, by contrast, is is basically a school story blown up into what it finally becomes a battle between good and evil. But at heart, for the most part, it’s still basically a school story with a lot of whimsy and a lot of drama among the classmates and not the kind of globe sweeping steampunk ish thing that we’re seeing with his dark materials. I mean, his dark materials definitely feels more ambitious than the source material of Harry Potter. You know, unless you really define Harry Potter by the last book, which which even though I still think his dark materials is more intellectual and more ambitious, but I will say that as a piece of filmmaking know the series, his dark materials is not particularly innovative, and the writing doesn’t always engage that well with Pullmans themes, which are sort of big and chewy. But the underlying themes and the idea of multiple universes, which is not the case in any of those other three, they’re still there and they will increasingly drive the storyline of the series as they increasingly drive the storyline of the books. But I will say that everything that’s fresh about his dark materials basically comes from the books. Ultimately, I often feel like the the Save the World quests in a lot of fantasy series, epic and otherwise can seem sort of overblown and dopey. But in this one, the stakes have always felt totally legit to me. I mean, from the very beginning there was this sense of something really big at stake that is not like throwing a ring into a volcano or gathering horror cruxes or whatever. But no, it’s not it’s not a gathering plot. Coupon’s. It’s it’s really integral to the the whole idea that drives the series.
S4: Right. The themes of the series drive the action of the series and the action of the series is big enough to justify all the build that comes before it, unlike, I think, a lot of these other series, as much as they succeed in other respects. The only thing I’d add is that from a page to screen perspective, I think the main difference between those adaptations and this one is the thing we talk about a lot and a thing that I think we both really like about this, usually about his dark materials usually, which is that this TV series is inventing much more than the adaptations in general have of those other major franchises. You know, Jack Thorne and the people making the show have committed clearly to a couple of very specific decisions about the adult characters and expanding those adult characters roles far beyond what they are in the book. And there seem those decisions through and they appear to be seeing them through this entire series. You know, Peter Jackson barely needed to invent. The problem was that there was such a glut of material about all of those characters that his adaptation was more about editing and winnowing. Basically, that was the case of Game of Thrones as well until the very end when they were forced to invent. And that just didn’t go particularly well at all. And then the Harry Potter movies were so doggedly loyal to the book’s perspective, which is that the stories that mattered were the kids stories and to some extent, Dumbledore story. And the movie didn’t really expand beyond that at all. The movies are still the kids stories here in his dark materials. We have this an interesting choice of a kid’s story being brought in to also include the perspectives and characters of the adults who are given much more than they were ever given to the books. And that, I think, is a pretty bold choice. It’s also a commercial choice. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad or wrong. In fact, I think it’s actually making things better in many respects, especially for a series that, as you say, is not always fully succeeding at at addressing the big. Seems as clearly as you might want them to, and in fact, it might be impossible to do that cinematically. I mean, who knows that the books are so singular in their ability to do that that I’m glad that at least they’ve got this other dimension of storytelling that the series is embracing that gives us the adults something to latch onto as we’re being carried through the story.
S3: And that is a really great point. And I’d also like to add to that that the idea of making the adults complex seems not like a departure from the books, but a development upon the books that is totally in harmony with Pullman’s own ideas about adulthood being a more interesting state and in many ways than the innocence of childhood. And as you will hear later from Jack Thorne, these are all choices that Pullman himself signed off on.
S4: Right. You’re absolutely right. It’s not like these adult characters in this book are like cartoon characters. They’re not a bunch of like Professor Trelawney is running around. They’re the the reason that in the books we don’t understand them as the Lyra doesn’t really understand them. Yeah. And while they sort of do cartoonishly evil or good things, sometimes they feel like people. And expanding those people is in line with the books and also, as you say, perfectly in line with the themes of adulthood that the books are always playing with. All right. Great questions, folks. Thank you so much for writing in everyone who sent us questions, ideas, recommendations. We love hearing from you. We love hearing from you next season as well. So let’s discuss this episode, this grand finale, the episode begins with a scene that I have long found, one of the just absolute silliest in the books, Rucha Scottie listening in on a bunch of cliff guests who are what do you know. They just happened to be gossiping about exactly the plot points that we are all the most interested in. So first of all Laura, what in the fuck are cliff casts and also what do we learn from the scene?
S5: All right. Well, Cliff guests are humanoid creatures that can fly. They have leathery wings. You can sort of see it in the series. They’re sort of bat like the the wings are connected between the underside of the arms and the outside of the legs. They live in the cliffs of Svalbard. So there are two creatures and they in more than one occasion in the in the book series, they menace or attack the humans who venture up there. This despite the fact that they’re supposed to be mostly carrion eaters. I guess they do. They can be predators, too. They also are not like just wild animals. They have a language and a sort of culture and part of their culture. One of the few things we know about the culture is that there’s an extremely ancient Clift gas called the grandfather, whose memory goes way, way back and who predicts that Azriel will win his war if he can get the subtle knife, which is what the gas that Rouda eavesdrops on are discussing. So she gets that piece of information that as a Hatra is what matters. Yes. Yeah. He needs that to win the battle, which I think, you know, we kind of all know that by now. But this is one of the many instances of the of the series kind of repeating these key pieces of information, because there’s just a lot going on and it’s easy to lose track. Interestingly, Ghast seem to be a concept that Pulman borrowed from H.P. Lovecraft. Now, there are our guests with this spelling, GHW in, I think, Dungeons and Dragons and Minecraft. But I think we can be positive that Pulman didn’t get it from there. They’re sort of like ghouls, although they’re not specifically Kaup Cedar’s. It seems like he got it from H.P. Lovecraft because it’s not a commonly used term in Lovecraft. There are these repulsive also humanoid creatures in the novella The Dream Quest of the Unknown Suddath, although Lovecraft’s guests don’t fly and they also can speak as well. Now for the guests in this story, because they feed on carrion, they’re basically like crows or vultures with a who can talk. And so they’re looking forward to this big war, particularly if Azriel loses because they’re going to feast on the corpse. So when they say they’re going to feast on their on their bones for years, they’re not speaking figuratively. They they they’re being literal.
S4: All right. Well, thanks, Grandfather, for that exposition, Dumphy. Appreciate it. Meanwhile, Mary alone takes Paola and Angelica up into the hills where their families are. She releases them, her babysitting tasks over, and then she sets off following her etching in search of something might be connected to those flower petals she keeps picking up. We don’t know. Elsewhere in the forest, John Perry at least Causby are on the run from the Magisterium and Lee volunteers to hold off the troops so John can get away. It’s a key moment for the seriously sacrifice. I really like the way this episode delivered that moment. It was exciting and sad. It also went fast, which I think is important, and it showed us Lee’s proficiency with a rifle, but also his grief at having to use it. And it really makes the most out of Lee’s connection to Hester, which for me has always been the thing I most clearly remember from the scene. Let’s listen to it. Did you count how many fell?
S6: This is my fault, isn’t it? How do you figure? I’ve always stopped you before. He always pushed me only when there’s an adventure on the way. There were always adventures. Laura, what do you think?
S5: Well, I mean, this is a heartbreaking moment in the book. I’m glad they’ve said to keep it and not fudge it and try to somehow work Lee into the rest of the story because it’s so hard to say goodbye to him. I think the series handled it really well also. And I particularly like the things that Hester does, like say, look, there’s one over there, or remind him not to let his mind wander to how bad the situation is. I mean, this is the sort of intuition and dialogue that occurs inside the heads of of people in our universe. And for people with demons, it happens with this exterior part of themselves. And this is like a great example of how in a moment of extremists like this, what goes on in your head, you know, the kind of pinging around the back and forth and self-doubt and the chinning yourself up to keep at it. And it was really well executed.
S4: And then that moment at the end when Hester herself is like, oh, this is my fault. Yeah, this is very sweet and is also a real glimpse into Lee’s character that he worries about the risks that he takes, but he also views them as worth it and that he went into this sacrifice knowing that if he could succeed, it would be worth the thing that he wants the most, which is safety for Lyra. I thought this is really a very, very well done scene, too. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Meanwhile, in the city of Chigasaki, Mrs. Coulter and her Spectre friends find a witch torture out of her. The name for Lyra from the Prophecy. That name that everyone’s been hinting at for it seems like a thousand episodes name is of course, Eve. Everyone knew it was Eve. Let’s listen to Mrs Culter. Process this information with her monkey demon. What are you frightened of?
S1: Her nairo is special, Lyra is Eve, we must prevent before. We have to do whatever it takes to keep us safe.
S4: So, Laura, what is it that Mrs. Coulter actually wants, one troublesome side effect of the complex application of her character is that I no longer really understand her motivations. That was a lot easier when she was a cartoon villain.
S5: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, I think it’s actually true of a lot of characters now that the plot has gotten has so many threads like like often the dialogue basically just consists of people saying we must help him or there’s the word help is just appears so much in here because everybody keeps needing to explain what they’re in it for. You know, like I want to help Laura. I need to get this get the knife bare to take the knife to Laura TasRail. I need to find my father. I need, you know, et cetera, et cetera, that people have to keep restating their motives because it’s so hard to keep track of them. But it is also just fundamentally confusing with this culture in the books. She basically wants to uphold the power of the Magisterium in order to consolidate her own power within the existing institutions of her world, like she may have issues with those institutions, but she’s not looking to overthrow them the way that Israel is now. It seems that Lyra and her prophecy draw are a threat to all of that, to the Magisterium and the power structure of Lyras world. Unlike the original Eve Lyra, Mrs. Coulter vows is not going to, quote, fall, unquote. Theologically, that that really doesn’t make any sense by the Christian doctrine of original sin. All human beings are already fallen, so we can’t fall again. And there’s not a do over on this one. It seems unlikely that, for example, if Lyra doesn’t fall, we’re all going to be going back to the Garden of Eden. So perhaps what Mrs. Coulter of the series just wants is to protect Lyra, as she sees it, by keeping her from doing something that had bad consequences for the original eve. And when we see her towards the end of this, she’s got Lyra literally in a trunk, in a box, taking her someplace where she’d be completely safe. And there is this kind of a helicopter parenting quality to this where she just really wants to freeze Lyra and her current condition, such as merchandises Krunch. So I can buy the kids on there anytime you’re worried that they’re they’re going to do something stupid that is going to ruin their lives. Mrs. Kultur in the series does not seem to really be considering the larger implications for the Magisterium as the misses culture in the books. Does this Mrs. Coulter, she’s already just blown off the Magisterium and she told from MacPhail that she’s after something much more important, although what that more important thing is, besides saving Laura from some kind of undefined peril is still not very clear.
S2: Well, this takes us to our deep dive for this episode because these questions are tough. So we’re very excited to bring on the expert.
S3: We’ve talked a lot in these two seasons about the challenges of adaptation. And so we’re very happy to be joined for this. The season finale recap episode by the chief adapter of his dark materials. From London, we have Jack Thorne, the executive producer, and it’s fair to say head writer of the show and the man who wrote the screenplay for Episode seven. Welcome, Jack.
S7: Thank you very much for having me. I think I might use that title in the future. Chief adductor. I like that. It’s a it’s a nice way of putting it. Yeah. Yeah.
S8: I hope your demon is there, too. Will you tell us about your demon?
S7: Yes. So my demon is a woodpecker and I don’t think we have a very good relationship because our relationship is founded on my insecurity and anxiety. So I don’t think my demon has a name similar to the Golden Monkey.
S8: Seems as though at least you’ve you’ve got a grasp on that. Maybe through me.
S7: Years of therapy, no therapy at all. Therapy is desperately needed. But I’m frightened of therapy too, because my demon wants me against it. I think probably it’s a disaster all the way, sir.
S3: OK, well, Jack, I’m particularly curious about what you found to be the biggest challenges in adapting these books was that the demons, which is what most people tend to assume is going to be the hardest part, or was it particular storylines or characters or ideas that were hard to convey in a dramatic or cinematic form?
S9: The demons are a beautiful thing for for me. I love our demons. The most difficult thing. And it is something I absolutely adore about the books. It’s the density of them. It’s the ideas.
S7: It’s the question you get from the executive. What is Dust’s how can you explain dust? Can you explain this to us, please? Right now it’s those questions, the most challenging and have been the most challenging all the way through, because Villette’s throws ideas into the air and they live there and they’re beautiful. And bringing them down to earth, which is sometimes what you’re required to do is sometimes a brutal like. And just trying to capture that balance, I think, you know, the person I worked most closely with all through this has been Jane Tranter and Jane and I. That has been our question all the way through. How do we do this? How do we explain this? And sometimes we want to resist explanation and sometimes others want to resist it with us. And and that’s that’s been really hard. But it’s beautiful, too. And and I love how difficult Philip makes it for us. He’s amazing at making it difficult. He’s also a genius. You know, it’s a wonderful thing.
S8: How do you handle emotionally writing these characters who are hugely meaningful to people before you have even gotten your hands on them? Like as an example, I literally named my kid Lyra. And so clearly, I have very particular hopes for this adaptation. And the world is full of completely insane people like me like. So how do you think about that or do you just put it out of your mind completely?
S7: My son is named Elliotts. I have good written on my wrist. I understand that. I love that. And, you know, if we’d had a daughter, Lyra would certainly have been on the list of names, though, perhaps. I think I just got started on his dark materials by then. So I think that probably would have been seen as a bit weird. But I totally understand it. I am someone that feels just as passionately and I think it’s an honor and you do face criticism for it and it is daunting. But, you know, I had it before with Harry Potter. You know, I wrote lines for Harry Potter. It’s a big challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I wouldn’t have found love for these books any other way either, because I think passion is it’s a wonderful thing.
S8: I love the idea of you saying your wife. Honey, I know you’re worried that this series will take over our lives, but don’t worry about it. Incidentally, I think we should never could learn.
S3: One thing we definitely have to ask you about right up at the top is our forever favorite subject, which is Mrs. Culter. We’re fascinated by what you’ve done with this character in the series and just how much more sort of built out she is as a character and how much how fascinating she is. And we talked a bit about her ability to control the specters in the last episode of the podcast. But we want to ask you, what does it mean for Mrs. Coulter to hide the part of herself that is human? That’s such an intriguing line.
S9: So right back in Series one, the key scene for me and the moment when the whole show came alive and it didn’t have any dialogue and it was Mrs. Kalter sat by the bus after she just washed Laura’s hair. And you just saw her sat there and you studied her. And you realized from then from that moment in the rushes, you realized from them that this is going to be about looking into someone’s pain. And one of the key questions we asked ourselves over and over again is how did she separate from the golden monkey? What did she do? What did she go through? What was that painful process like? And we know for the witches, it involves pain. But the witches, it’s part of, you know, a personal evolution process that all the witches go through with Mrs. Culter. She did it by herself and she did it because she was aware of the power it might give her. And she did it perhaps as an act of causing herself pain. And once you start thinking about that, her whole character starts to open up. And when it came to the Spectre’s, we felt like it was that side of herself that she was able to access that side of herself as a, you know, maybe a teenage girl, maybe slightly older than that, where she did that to herself, where she went through that separation and where she caused the self. That amount of hardship felt like that was the key to understanding that relationship.
S8: In this episode, you see the tie between her relationship with her demon and her relationship with the Spectre’s in that little standoff between her dream and the golden monkey and the specter right after the witches killed. And she figures how if thinking of the monkey as an individual being in and of itself, how does it relate to this journey that Mrs. Coulter is making? And what is that moment about that little face off between the monkey and the fact?
S7: I don’t want to say too much, because I think that that’s that’s where writing falls down. If you start to explain things and explain what’s inside your head with everything.
S9: That for me, is one of the key moments in the episode. And it was a moment we wrote in about eight different locations because we kept on getting moved all over the place as to where it was going to be and how it was going to work. And that scene kept. Coming back and and Jane and Dan fought for it just as much as I did because it felt like you were saying Mrs. Coulter are doing something which went beyond a level that the government is comfortable with and what she’s doing and what and how far ahead of how far ahead of the scene the golden monkey is in terms of her intent is obviously a really key question.
S7: And I wouldn’t want to kind of go, oh, this is why. Because that would I think that that’s when that’s the good bit of drama, when you don’t know the right intent and you’re imposing your own on it. And so, you know, it’s a good question. I hope for the audience rather than one where I go. This is why. You know. I know. I know why in my heart. Why I think it happens. But, you know, I don’t want to I don’t want to decide for everyone else.
S3: You know, it’s a great answer. I love that.
S10: I disagree. Tell me everything. But OK, that’s a very David Lynch answer.
S9: But, you know, Philip’s got that in him, too, you know, that I refuse to give a full stop to every sentence because that way certainty is not interesting. Possibilities, interesting.
S3: You know, you sort of humanize Mrs. Coulter through really up until maybe the last couple of episodes and in this season. And now you’re kind of dehumanizing her a little bit. I mean, she’s dehumanizing herself. What were your goals for that character in season two?
S9: We and hopefully it’s a journey we continue in series three. The whole idea was to see inside the history of her. And it feels like there’s so much we don’t know. And obviously the books, you know, as the books increase, they’re starting to fill little pieces in. But you know what happened to that woman? And obviously the scene with Lee where the idea that the parental relationship wasn’t great and possibly abusive was part of that. And then the scene with Mary, where you saw her relationship with her own academic, you know, the stops that BP puts on her in this world. She is a central character to the books and her enigma felt like it could be explored without doing damage to anything else. And so it was an opportunity we wanted to take to do that in terms of. Her behavior in the last two episodes, I would say from that confrontation with Laura on, she is fundamentally altered and she is aware of danger that Laura perhaps is not. And she has been trying to deal with that danger through the whole of the series. And Laura has cut off a possibility for her. And so. What Mrs. Coulter does is what Mrs. Coulter always does is she she finds another way and the other way, even if the other way involves damage to herself, she’ll still walk loudly through it because she’s not frightened of damage to herself, even though perhaps she should be, you know.
S8: So this episode sees Lee’s climactic shootout with Magisterium troops. That’s always been one of my favorite scenes on the subtle knife. It’s such a throwback scene in what has always felt to me a very modern story in many ways. Why were you focused on in writing that scene for the screen? What what did you want to make sure the audience understood about Lee and his sacrifice?
S9: That it was a knowing sacrifice, that he knew exactly what he was doing and that he did it willingly and again, we tried to lay track for that through the show so that you understood what this girl means to him and again, what his past was that drew him to Lyra. And I mean, the most moving bit for me and is one of my favorite scenes in any book is the relationship between him and Hester in that moment. And one thing I really like about what ended up on screen is that moment with the drift and that that saw Russell brilliance. Russell got some brilliance, but just that sort of like finding a way to do something different with something that we’ve seen a few times before in the show and just doing it in a way that just felt very true and very simple and hopefully very emotional.
S8: Yeah, that relationship between him and Hester is very well drawn, I think, in the series. That’s one thing that that is really that we see throughout, including in that scene between Lee and Mrs. Colter a couple of episodes ago, and then seeing them together at the end, I found very moving. One thing I was really curious about the shoot out, though, is that the sacrifice hits a little bit different in this on screen. When someone gets through right. A soldier gets through when in the books that it truly was the last stand in which he dies, believing he has saved everyone. And the things that go wrong later are not related to him or any perceived failure on his part. How do you think it changes things that someone gets through?
S9: It’s a good question. We’d written a soldier character that was going to travel through the whole show and it never quite work the way we wanted it to, sort of like the girl in the red coat and Schindler’s List was sort of just this sort of figure that was going to be there and just be in a few key situations. It was partly that it just never quite worked from production perspective, but also it always felt a bit cheesy, a bit unnecessary. I mean, it just didn’t quite fit with the rest of what we were doing. So that was going to be the person that, you know, I mean, you know, and it’s the person who got through. I don’t think it lessens the sacrifice. I don’t think it changed that. But it is going to be a question I know that’s asked of us. To me, it brings the two of them sort of closer together that they both, you know, and no one would have survived without the two of them. You know, it took the two of them to do it. And then it took both of their sacrifices in order to preserve the children, you know, and without either, that wouldn’t be that thing. But, yes, it does change it.
S8: And I hope people are going to be OK with that meaning, John and Leigh, that that and that the connection between some of the soldier helps to concretize that in a way.
S3: Yes, interesting. I mean, one of the things I really love about the books is Philip’s willingness to make things tragic. You know, he’s not I mean, Lee is such a beloved character that the temptation is always going to be to spare him, you know, or to have this last minute rescue with him calling Seraphina. But part of Philip’s whole idea of making this about growing up is dealing with the reality that sometimes good people are lost.
S9: Absolutely. Yeah. No, he doesn’t spare us from should feel like hand.
S7: And when you’re writing a show on HBO, it’s on at nine o’clock on the in the UK it’s on eight o’clock and it’s supposed to be a show for the family. And we’re really proud that it’s a show for the family.
S9: And so getting that balance right of not going to into, you know, blood and guts and gore, but also being true to, you know, that sacrifice and that pain and that, you know, and not not sparing viewers and readers emotions is a really complicated part to walk.
S3: Yeah. Now, there’s a whole subplot in the book with this which that John Perry spurned romantically, you know, who loved him. And she returns and and just kills him like boom is dead. And instead, you had this one soldier who gets through who does it. Can you tell us a little bit about that decision and what was behind it?
S9: It was a big, long discussion between a lot of us. And it was about it was about a lot of reasons, but mainly it was about the fact that that wasn’t necessarily the path we wanted for the witches to be.
S7: So I don’t know how to say that. It just didn’t feel quite right for the witches that we’d written and the witches that we were going to see on screen. And it required an awful lot of exploration. And to us, the reward wasn’t worth it. And we liked the idea of these two being together, that Lee and John being together and and facing the same foe and ultimately being felt by the same foe.
S9: But again, I know that it’s going to be one that requires a lot of that will cause a lot of dissatisfaction from some people about disloyalty to the books. It just didn’t feel to us like it was a key component of the book. So it didn’t feel like that was something that we needed to fight for. And every decision was passed through. Phillip, so it wasn’t like he wasn’t aware of it.
S8: You know, I’m interested in that because I agree with you that there’s this sort of sense we get of the witches as being sort of above all, human cares and so connected with the natural world that they are elevated, I mean, literally from us. But yet also so angry about being spurned by a dude that they just kill him. Always seem like slightly weird to me.
S3: I think it’s just his idea that that sexual passion is this and, you know, this titanic force that Will and Laura don’t understand. Like, I feel like almost the whole point of that scene in the book is the witch saying to her, will, you wouldn’t understand this, you know? And it seemed like I mean, I actually I’m really happy with this change because it felt like a bit of a forced authorial intrusion right there to say, oh, and by the way, there’s this thing that you don’t really understand yet. And that’s why all of a sudden your father gets killed in front of you by this sort of, you know, what was that Glenn Close movie where she goes to this interaction? Yeah. Yeah. It just felt like, you know. And we didn’t really have that established that the witches were so driven by these by sexual passion in this area, so it would have felt like really coming out of nowhere.
S7: I think I’m pleased you guys think so. I hope others agree the bit that makes me most nervous. I’m so happy with that final episode and with everything that happens in it. But sometimes we’ve had to step away from the book.
S9: Sometimes it’s just happened because things haven’t worked.
S7: You know, the the fish, the fish skeleton, which we’ve found and it just didn’t quite work onscreen and everything else. And I felt so bad about that and torn up about that because I was like, that’s what we wanted to and we’re sorry we weren’t able to deliver that.
S9: This one was was a discussion and it was got into very consciously biases going. We think we can do something slightly different that still upholds the same values as the books got. And that thing of when you’re doing an adaptation of trying to be as loyal as possible. And some people think you shouldn’t be that loyal and some people think you should be even more loyal, is is the most difficult thing. And the one thing I can say to you most truthfully is we never took a decision lightly.
S7: You know what I mean? Know, it wasn’t like we went, oh, no, we just do something else. It was always talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, until we come to an agreement as a collective about what what our solution might be and why we should take that solution.
S8: Yeah, I think that reads. I mean, I don’t I don’t get the impression watching us that any of these were cavalier decisions. And I’ve liked some of them and not liked others, but they all seem like very deliberate decisions made to tell a specific version of the story that feels right to you guys. And that seems like the adapters job.
S9: What decision, if you most disliked out of interest and Danny’s got you there?
S8: Oh, yeah, it’s got me pinned. I’m trying to think back.
S7: I feel like because I think I’ve got to be honest, I couldn’t face listening to you guys beforehand because I knew I was doing this interview. And I just like as an anxious person, I was like, I’m not going to listen to this, because I knew before we started series two that I was going to do this. And I was just like, I’m not going to go there. I’m not going to go in that hole.
S10: That’s so interesting. I think there are things in season one that I’m not remembering right now because it’s been a while since I’ve watched it in season two. The thing that the ad that that most drove me crazy was the LA Mrs. Colchicine. I just didn’t love the addition of that backstory to Lee particularly. I thought it worked perfectly for Mrs. Colter, but thought that for Lee it felt like it felt like an odd choice to suggest that these two share that kind of particular history when we’ve never seen any kind of darkness of that sort. And Lee and when I sort of feel like his purpose in the story in some ways is to be a counterbalance to her. And Laura made what I think is a really good argument about that scene and the Mary Malone scene, serene for Mrs. Colter as examples of lives that Mrs. Coulter might have led counter lives that she is now witnessing and that help her come to terms with or grapple with these issues from her past. But I fell in love that but at the same time as a dramatic choice, it’s like a real dramatic choice that you make when you’re trying to adapt and expand these books. So it doesn’t make me angry that you did it. I just didn’t love it.
S7: That’s very fair. If I was defending it and it sounds like your dad a much better job defending it than I would.
S9: The thing I’d say about Lee is as someone that when I was twenty four, I went to move to a town in which I knew no one and basically didn’t see anyone for seven and a half years. And I worked, but I didn’t really have a relationship with the outside world. And writing allows you to be that secluded writing allows you to kind of close in on yourself. And the thing I felt about Lee was that decision to take to the air, to be on your own and to have adventures where you don’t necessarily have a personal stake in them and you are avoiding friendship and yet keep getting drawn to friendship. I mean, the first time we meet Lee, he’s there because of Yorick, feels felt to me like something that was driven by something not being quite right, something not being quite fixed inside him. And that that is a lot of the reason why Lara means so much to him, because he sees a spirit that isn’t broken in the same way that his is.
S7: And it doesn’t mean that he’s not joyful and it doesn’t mean that he’s not free and it doesn’t mean that he’s not able to live a really good life where he does real good for other people.
S9: But he is someone that is afraid of people, I think, and afraid of relationships. And I thought it would be nice to spend the beats seeing into that, as well as presenting alternatives for Mrs. Coulter, as well as seeing other paths that we might take.
S7: I mean, not saying anything about abuse and what the. Different paths that abuse people, abuse people can take, but there is something about lead and that choice he made that for me was fascinating.
S8: Was that trip in your 20s? Was that to Scotland to work on the show?
S7: No, it was it was to loosen, which is a town outside London. And it was just I was just on my own and a half. I was doing lots of different jobs, but I was seeing people maybe once a week. And the rest of the time I was on my own with some box sets and it was fine, but I wasn’t necessarily that healthy. And I’ve done a lot of fixing myself since then, though, the woodpecker still still lives on.
S3: The woodpecker still doesn’t speak.
S8: That actually leads me to my next question, which is about the scenes between Lyor and. Well, in this episode, we have that lovely scene in the cave, which comes basically straight out of the book where Pann comes to talk to Will. And then we have this funny conversation between Pann and Lyra about how soon he won’t change his form anymore because life is changing. And he asks, is it? Well, that’s changing you. And he’s clearly intrigued by this possibility. He’s also scared by it. And I’d love for you to speak a little bit about why you why you think it is that this both scares and intrigues Pan. And what that time in your life was like that when when, as it were, your demons started to settle.
S7: It’s that thing of growing up and falling in love and and or maybe not falling in love. We’ve been very careful to stay away from the love words. I think that thing of feeling, a calmer feeling, a drive to be with someone feeling a feeling for someone that isn’t necessarily fraternal, but it’s something else. And I think Pann senses all that and concealer and can feel that in terms of what that time was like for myself. And I think it’s terrifying for as well as exciting, you know, and I think everyone knows that feeling of just kind of like that person over there is amazing.
S9: And I really want to sit by them and talk to them all day rather than do maths. And yet I’m not going to because I have, you know, self-hatred that will prevent me from doing so. And yes, my time that wasn’t a good time for me.
S7: So so I didn’t have a or. Well, I just had myself and, you know, I tend to write in a lot of my stuff that I’ve written that’s original. I tend to write a best friend and everyone always well, I get asked a lot why I’m writing, why I keep writing about young people. And it’s because I remember that time very, very clearly. And the reason why I remember that time very, very clearly is because I was watching other people rather than living myself. So I just studied I just studied how other people were and how they did it and how they made friends and how they got girlfriends or boyfriends. And I’ve sort of tried to get that brain is stuck with me to this day.
S8: That’s exactly what. Well, does. Laura, you wrote a profile of Philip Pullman. Do you know it was what was his adolescence like?
S3: You know, he did not talk to me about his early loves. He talked to me about a beloved teacher that he had who was the person who encouraged him to look beyond the little town that he was living in and aspire to Oxford and how important she was kind of a Mary Malone figure. But he didn’t actually, I didn’t get a lot of his love life in in that in that interview.
S7: We haven’t had a conversation where we’ve sat down over, you know, beer or hot chocolate and discussed, you know, the first girl that broke our hearts times. But that really might be and I’m not sure he’s I’m sure he’s desperate to spend that time with me. Yeah.
S3: I have to admit, I spent a lot of time talking to him, and I was I would be completely terrified to ask him about the first girl. I still and he is a very warm guy, although he gets kind of testy when you bring up C.S. Lewis. Anyway, this episode ends with Azriel, you know, exhorting the Angels to join his cause. And I think not insignificantly. He’s echoing Mrs Coulter’s language to her demon, which is either you’re with me or you’re against me. And this is really well, this is our first appearance in the season, even though, of course, everybody’s always talking about him. He’s that guy. And in the book are we get of him are reports from various sources about the army that he’s building. And this choice to have him appear and make this big speech is a different way to show that and really kind of a visually really striking one. What does the scene do for you? What were you what are you after and do you think you got it?
S9: So this was a speech or a version of a speech that I had in the aborted episode.
S7: So the episode that you may have heard of that was going to be the S real censored episode. And that was about the that went into the origins, the knife that explored a bit more of its Gaza and Israel’s journey and what Israel was intending to do and what as new and what Israel didn’t know. And the key a key moment was, was him. You know, these people were being massacred by these factors and it was about the town in chaos. It was about that and how he found a way through that and found a way to help people in that. And he knew that angels were interested in him and he knew the angels had been following him.
S9: And he exhorted to them to come and help. And it felt really powerful in that moment. And we wanted Azriel in the episode. We we had a day where we could do something that was safe, where we could afford to do something. And it felt like just seeing that piece of that felt like an interesting question without necessarily an answer to it yet, but with the promise that an answer was going to come. And that felt like a really exciting way to end.
S7: The series, I hope it is, I love what James did, and, you know, James leaves nothing on the table. James is one of, like, you know, the inverse. And James, we’ve got the bravest people around in terms of they will just go. And if others are going with them, you know, that moment again in Syria where he killed Benjamin and she just went for Monkey on him and it was like who was expecting that? And it was like, that’s amazing that she did that. And similarly with James, where James just goes, I’m talking to an angel, OK? I’m talking to an angel and just goes to be Wagnerian for for God’s sake.
S3: Thank you, Jack Thorne, for for coming and telling us so much about your work on this series and and what we can hope for in the future and what your ideas were behind some of these amazing scenes and changes and fidelities and and all of this. It’s been really great.
S9: Well, it’s been lovely talking to you. Did it throw you Azriel speech at the end or did you think it was perfect?
S3: I thought it was perfect because all through, you know, there’s there are the there are all these sort of vectors. The characters are all after different things. And then on the background, there’s like, what is Azriel doing? At first it seems like what he’s doing is fighting the Magisterium. That’s what everybody assumes. And it’s only in these last couple of episodes that we learn that he’s fighting the authority. But I think for a lot of the viewers, they don’t necessarily know what the authority is. And so the idea that he is is sort of joining this, you know, he’s well, he’s instigating this massive cosmic battle really needs to be asserted, you know, and and shown. And at first I was like, well, we don’t actually see Rouda Scutti meeting the angels and following the angels. We just see them in the sky.
S8: But then afterwards, when the angels only fully appear to Azriel, that felt like the right choice to me because it just really tells you that the story is going to go up this huge notch, an epic ness, which I think is really works for you right through me a little because because there’s like something manifestly comic about James McAvoy standing there shouting and no one, which is what, you know, the actual scenario was and shooting it, but as they like, suitably epic and to this season and a way to tell people new to the story, this is getting way bigger than you ever expect. It’s going to get in season three. It seemed like a right the right visual choice for visual storytelling. Great. Thank you.
S7: Sorry to be a nervous writer that’s constantly asking you questions about your opinions. It’s just you’re the first people I’ve talked to watched episodes. So now except for all the studio heads.
S10: Great news, Jack. We got some doubts about.
S4: The episode ends with John Perry and Will Perry finally meeting, as we discussed with Jack and this version, father and son get a little more time together than they do in the books that they talk about football or shaving or how to calm down your mom when she starts freaking out? Absolutely not.
S2: Will wants to, but his dad has a mission. That’s.
S11: If you’re the nice bearer, you have a task ahead of you. The fate of many worlds may rest on you. For me, there’s a war coming. Well, the greatest war there ever was, you must go to Lord Azriel and tell him that you have the only weapon in all the universes that can destroy the authority. All right. But also, I hate it. Anything to do with any of this, you’re the knife bearer. Well, if you don’t use it against them, they’ll take it out of your hands and they’ll destroy us now. Absolute power.
S4: I’m sorry, but you must do this, you must die. The book makes a point here that I think the series doesn’t quite make clear, which is that John Perry is breaking his vow to Lee the same Lee who just laid down his life for him. There’s this moment in this right near the end of the subtle knife during this meeting when Wil asks, But what must I do? And Pullman writes, And then Stanislas Gruman. Joe Perry. John Perry hesitated. He was painfully aware of the oath he had sworn to leave Scoresby, and he hesitated before he broke it. But break it. He did. You must go to Lord Azriel. He said his telling will that he has to put himself in danger and probably therefore put Liara endanger the exact thing he told me he would not do so in the book. Will discovers this information right around the same time that he discovers that Lyra has been taken, and he also discovers that there were other creatures accompanying them on their journey who witnessed Lyra being taken, did nothing to avert it, and are now trying to tell Will what to do in the book ends with him in a kind of despair at this moment, clearly uncertain about what to do. Laura, how do you think of how that episode ended with Lara captured by Mrs. Culture and Will seeming to act not only with grief but with it seemed to me, with the kind of impetus to follow those instructions. Did you read it differently?
S5: Maybe. I mean, one thing it’s worth remembering is I don’t know if Joe Perry knows that Lyra is with Will. So if he is breaking the root of the betrayal. Yes. I mean, he may be he’s just he’s just deciding not to mention Lyra at all, despite his is that I don’t know. But, you know, well, he’s basically, you know, to go back to the question that we had earlier about the Lord of the Rings thing, which is basically Frodo here. He’s the seemingly ordinary person who’s charged with taking a magical object on a quest to save the world. And the weird thing about this is that for will the authority, whatever exactly that is, doesn’t seem to be as big a threat as the Magisterium is in Lyras world. I mean, Will’s problems are his mother’s mental illness, the lack of an adult to step in for her and and basically parent him when she becomes incapacitated. And then also these government agents who are harassing her to get his dad’s letters. So it’s not clear how destroying the authority is going to help Will in his situation. He he really needed to have that long conversation with his dad to instill some kind of motivation in him. In the series, in the books, there’s a lot of talk about him needing to assume his father’s mantle. That’s what his mother wants him to do. And in the series, we just see him literally taking his father’s jacket and took a series of really concretize at this point. Yeah, but he’s also angry with his father for deserting the family. And John Perry is killed. Before we can even resolve that, I mean, my heart just really goes out to him because he’s constantly having these huge responsibilities dumped on him by this mostly absent dad. But I would argue that we don’t actually know what Will’s plans are when this episode ends. He doesn’t know that Laura has been abducted by her mother. What we do know about Wil is that he basically cares about two people, his mother and Lyra. And my guess is that he will try to find Lyra before he decides that he’s going to seek out Azriel or he may motivate the quest for Azriel. But if someone tells him that the only way to rescue Lyra is to, you know, get help from Azrael so little to Chonburi Perry that the relationship between them, between Will and Lyra is far more likely to help Lyra than any promise that John Perry himself made to Lee. I mean, he doesn’t really he didn’t really need to make that promise because I think Will is probably pretty committed to protecting Lyra. Right. So finally, what we get instead of an ending where we see the characters making decisions are two main characters will in light will looks like he’s definitely thinking about it. He’s put on his dad’s jacket. He’s holding the knife. But, you know, he doesn’t have all the information yet. Lyra is literally unconscious. However, mass culture knocked her out in a trunk. And instead of getting a sort of moment where these characters are affirming, yes, this is what I’m going to do, what we get at the end is more. Voiceover This time, Azriel making his pitch. We find out to the Angels. And I think that pitch is meant to just sort of bind all of these mixed motives together for this big confrontation that’s going to come in. The third part of the series, like Azrael is basically stating what the the big goal is or what the reasoning behind the big goal is for everybody that we know, whether they’re joining his side or opposing his side. Which I guess helps dealing with the fact that there’s like the witches who want to save Lyra and bring her back to her world, will who we don’t know quite what he what he wants to do. Lyra has been kidnapped. It’s a little confusing what everyone’s what everyone’s motivations are.
S2: And this idiomatically to make that choice to end. Azriel seems like the Cirie is telling us, the viewers, this is of all these things, this is the one that matters the most for season three.
S5: Yes. Thank you, Dan. You put that better than I did.
S2: I hope none of you missed the little post credits teaser from a character we have seen before, but not for quite a long time from Roger. We will learn more about that in season three of his dark materials, which the BBC and HBO have just greenlit a few days before we recorded this podcast will be back to talk to you in a year or so whenever it finally premieres. Thanks so much for joining us for this season of the Authority.
S3: Yes, thanks so much. And you can still continue to communicate with us about this on Twitter. I’m at at Magician’s Book and Dan is at Dan Kois and we’re always on email and ask the authority at Slate Dotcom.
S2: Our producer is Phil Cercas, Slate’s editorial director for Audio. Gabriel Roth, I’m Dan Kois. I’m Laura Miller. And remember, without stories, we wouldn’t be human beings at all.