TV Episode Review: “His Dark Materials: The Spies”

The episode starts with a reminder that “The Gobblers” are kidnapping children—and keeping them in nets, cages and locked rooms—and have been discreet, until the Gyptians started to track their movements. Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter abuses her connections with the Magisterium in order to find Lyra. And, it’s obvious that while Mrs. Coulter wants Lyra back, she’s doing it in a way which presents her in a way everyone can see why Lyra ran away from her in the first place. 

            Lyra Belaqua is rescued and taken into the care by the Gyptians. They have connections to Lord Asriel and are planning to rescue the missing children—as soon as they discover where they are being kept. It is during her stay with them that Lyra learns more about her origins and the alethiometer. Her reaction to the truth about her parents is believable and appropriate. Mrs. Coulter’s reaction to Lyra running away from her is not. Even the Magisterium is horrified by what Mrs. Coulter does in order to find her. It seems that it’s not only the alethiometer that the Magisterium has aversions against. 

            The Gyptians are willing to do more to figure out what’s going on with the missing children than the authorities. They have a plan—and allies—waiting to be carried out. Two of the Gyptians decide that having concrete evidence is better than traveling on gossip, so they continue their investigation against orders. At this point, it’s clear that the Magisterium is involved, but as to the how and the why, viewers will have to wait and see. 

            In our world, Lord Carlo Boreal—the man who works with the Magisterium—continues his search into the identity and the mystery of Dr. Stanislaus Grumman and whether or not he managed to “crossover” from one world to another, a theory Lord Asriel insists is the truth. The results his informer uncovers is interesting and shocking. This scene is essential to the plot of the story because it delves more into the idea of “other worlds” and why it remains a mystery to everyone. Book readers will know exactly what I’m getting at, but that’s all I’ll say, for now.  

            The Spies is the episode in which the plots in London wrap up and the story and the characters travel to the North to rescue the children and to learn why they were taken in the first place. This is the shift in the story in which the audience—both readers and viewers—have been waiting for since the cast was announced. This episode reiterates the dangers Lyra has been shielded from her entire life, but with her recently acquired knowledge, she knows she cannot return to Jordan College without Roger. 

TV Episode Review: “His Dark Materials: The Idea of North”

The episode wastes no time resuming where it left off. Lyra Belaqua arrives in London with Mrs. Coulter, and Roger arrives in London to where the other kidnapped children are being held, including Billy Costa. Both children have no idea why there are wanted, but they have no choice but to go along with their circumstances. But, it’s clear that Mrs. Coulter is NOT to be trusted. 

            Mrs. Coulter is a villain whose motivations remain unknown, for now. Yet, this adaptation presents her in a way that wasn’t seen before in the movie or in the books. It’s obvious Mrs. Coulter is struggling with both the actions and the position she’s found herself in, but she is hard to read by everyone, so she remains a mystery. As of right now, Mrs. Coulter is breaking because for all of her composure, she has moments of rage. Something Lyra experiences firsthand, and it scares her. 

            Meanwhile, the Magisterium is investigating Lord Asriel’s “discovery” and the true purpose of his research. The crypts at Jordan College seem to be a very popular place because everyone finds themselves there eventually. I would use the terms heresy and hypocrisy to describe the Magisterium. While it is obvious the scholars at Oxford wonder about Lord Asriel’s theory about Dust and other worlds, it appears that the Magisterium has some knowledge about it already, and they use it to their advantage. 

            Billy and Roger are minor characters whose roles are emerging into the plot. The Gyptians are searching for the children in London, but they always arrive just too late to rescue them. After they are moved, Mrs. Coulter arrives and a scene from the books is presented for the readers; then again, the viewers see more of Mrs. Coulter’s character in the scene as well. 

            Lyra is known for being an explorer, like her uncle(?), and she knows something is going on with Mrs. Coulter. However, everything is kept under lock-and-key, so Lyra finds another way to get the information she seeks. What she finds leaves more questions than answers, but she knows that she’s not safe, especially with the Magisterium hanging around Mrs. Coulter. 

            The Idea of North is an episode that focuses on world-building and character development. A lot of it comes from the books, but there are several additional scenes that embellish the adaptation further. The episode moves towards the darker side of the story, the same dark side that Lyra was shielded from at Jordan College. We get a look into what is happening in London, in Oxford, and in Oxford (not a typo). Lyra, Mrs. Coulter, Billy and Roger, the Gyptians and the Magisterium are participating in something bigger than they believed originally. And, there is more to come. The plot develops too, but this is the chance to learn how the characters fit into the plot as it continues to develop.

My Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Media Adaptations to Consider: “His Dark Materials”

As a lifelong fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust trilogies (only 2 books out so far in the latter series), I was excited to hear that the BBC was doing a television adaptation of the first book: The Northern Lights/The Golden Compass. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the 2007 movie. I was disappointed in the interference and the “controversies,” which led to the movie having significant scenes of the story cut from the movie. Fans of the series suffered from this poor adaptation of the book. Now, the wait has been worth it (so far) as we get the adaptation that matches both the mood and the tone of the series—His Dark Materials

            The opening scene is from the book—La Belle Sauvage—well, the end of it anyway, when baby Lyra Belaqua is brought to Jordan College by her uncle, Lord Asriel. 12 years later, Lyra runs the routes, the roofs, and the passages of the college with her daemon, Pantalaimon, and her friend, Roger. Meanwhile, Lord Asriel has made a breakthrough in his research up in the far North, and he has returned to Jordan College to give an update to the scholars, and to ask for more funding to continue his research. 

            Meanwhile, the Gyptians, a community of people who make their living on the sea, have been the victims of the Gobblers, a mysterious group who have been going around kidnapping children. You do NOT want to mess with the Gyptians because they work together to protect their own. After Lord Asriel leaves, Lyra gets another visitor, Mrs. Coulter—a “buffer” between the Magisterium and Jordan College. Her interest in Lyra is unknown, but when she tells Lyra that she wants to take Lyra to the North with her, Lyra agrees. However, it is when Roger disappears that Lyra sees the opportunity as a chance to save her friend. 

            “Lyra’s Jordan” is an amazing introduction to the miniseries. Readers will appreciate the inclusion of what was omitted from the movie—characterization, world-building, conflict, etc.—while viewers who are not as familiar with the series will be able to follow along with the story that is being told in this episode. Unlike the movie, the TV show sticks with the grittiness of the story and the ends some of the characters are willing to go to in order to justify the means. The cast of actors not only present the characters as they are in the books, but also they put enough of themselves within them that they stand apart from the actors who played them previously. 

            This episode presented us with the microcosm that Lyra is leaving behind. This is crucial because the audience realizes that Lyra has been sheltered from the governmental influence of the Magisterium and the dangers both orphan and outcast children experience. The events of “Lyra’s Jordan” starts the coming-of-age journey Lyra will have now until the end of the series. As Lyra learns more about her world, so will the audience. For now, this episode is the beginning of a transcending bildungsroman. 

My Rating: 9.5 out of 10. 

TV Episode Review: “Deadly Class: Kids of the Black Hole”

Note: There are some minor spoilers in this review. You have been warned. 

            It’s the buildup to the final showdown and the kids decide to have fun before the big fight, which is during Christmas Break. Chester has gathered his posse at the house he has taken over and continues his torture, with Chico’s head still in the ice. Saya is able to track down Chester to his hideout, which he’s turned into a fortress. Chester is expecting a retaliation from Marcus and his friends for his actions. Marcus has been making plans in order to get revenge and to prove his conviction. 

            When Willie decides not to take any part of the upcoming showdown between Marcus and his former roommate, it’s a reminder to the audience that the characters do have a choice to their actions. Maria and Marcus made decisions because they believed they didn’t have a choice. Saya chooses her friends over the assignment Master Lin gives her. Willie does have a choice and his decision to leave is vital; at the same time, we know that Willie isn’t one to abandon his friends completely. 

            Meanwhile, Master Lin’s efforts to protect his family has reached its end. Yes, he didn’t want his daughter to have the same upbringing and lifestyle as his sister and Saya, but he underestimated the need for his family to be able to defend themselves. It is not clear who tipped off Chico’s father and the rest of the Cartel, but the cliché narrative about the consequences of secrets and making the decision that should have been made in the first place will play out in the season finale. 

            Kids of the Black Holegives viewers the title of the episode. The lifestyle of assassins sucks people into a vortex. And, when presented with the opportunity to avoid that vortex, the decision to either go in, or stay out can be a matter of life and death. And, like with every decision every character has made throughout this season, there will be consequences for all of those involved. 

TV Episode Review: “Deadly Class: Stigmata Martyr”

Note: There are some minor spoilers in this review. You have been warned. 

            The fun ends and the consequences are mounting up in this follow up episode. A student died—due to “unknown circumstances”—and Kings Dominion is investigating because the family of the student wants to know what happened, which is understandable. However, no one is talking and the school, and the student’s crew, is losing patience. 

            The school administration conducts the investigation into how and why the student was killed off campus and why the body has not been found (a change from the graphic novel). In addition, the investigation observes the conduct of all of the classes and since it’s being done subtlety, some of the instructors find themselves in a position of compromise. One class in particular may or may not get a new instructor. 

            Maria, feeling both guilt and relief, decides she doesn’t need her medication anymore. This is a bad idea for several reasons the most obvious being that her behavior keeps changing and everyone at the school is watching her. A combination of emotions and mental health, including trauma, is not good for Maria. At the same time, Marcus’ former roommate, who survived the fire also, continues his desperation to gaining what he believed Marcus “stole” from him. Now, that someone outside of the school knows about the events in Las Vegas and the school’s existence, Marcus and his friends have to figure out a way to make another problem go away.

            In all, Stigmata Martyrreminds viewers that there are rules, consequences and conduct associated within a school, even ones for assassins. The fighting sequence on the school grounds was one of the episode’s highlights as well as Billy’s temperament in one of his classes. Marcus, Saya, Maria and Billy handle the circumstances in their own way, which makes us realize that they’re slowly becoming desensitized to murder. Yet, the friends will need to be desensitized in order to be ready for what’s about to come. 

Media Adaptations to Consider: “Deadly Class”

PLEASE NOTE: The following a few spoilers from this series. You have been warned.

Television has joined movies with the many media adaptations of books of numerous genres. TV has turned popular graphic novels, YA, contemporary and classic books into a format worth watching. Game of Thrones has been successful for HBO, The Walking Dead and Preacher have been popular on AMC, and the CW has adapted many of the D.C. Comics into 1-hour episodes: Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, etc. The SyFy Network has done the same thing with The Magiciansand Nightflyers. Now, that channel has decided to adapt, Deadly Class, a graphic novel series by Rick Remender and Wes Craig.

            2018’s San Diego Comic Con premiered the trailer for Deadly Class. Upon learning this news, I wasn’t at SDCC, I was both shocked and excited. I was excited to see one of my favorite graphic novel series make the transition to TV. Yet, Deadly Classis not a “positive” homage to the 1980s like Stranger Things. As both the title, and the cover of the graphic novel suggests, this is a dark and gritty story that takes place during the forgotten reality of America’s recent history.

            Pop culture has people remembering the 1980s with Michael Jackson’s music, John Hughes’ movies, video and arcade games, and MTV. However, history points out that the 1980s had Americans dealing with the Drug War, the long-term effects of the end of the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War, the rise of the AIDS Epidemic, Reaganomics, and the Reagan Administration. The last one is emphasized in this series as a cautionary tale of how funding cuts hurts more people than help them. Thus, we get the story for Deadly Class.

            Marcus Lopez Arguello, played by Benjamin Wadsworth, is a homeless orphan who is suicidal. Traumatized by both his parents’ deaths and his foster care experience, Marcus holds his rage inside until it bursts into flames, literally. Afterwards, Marcus finds himself on the radar of both the police and the headmaster of an elite school. Obviously, Marcus chooses the latter and becomes a student at the Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts. There, Marcus must learn to survive his classes and his classmates. And, Marcus gets regular assignments such as reading The Anarchist Cookbookand killing people. 

            The Pilot of Deadly Class has been on the SyFy website for a few weeks, but it officially premiered on January 16th. Judging from the Pilot, the TV show is a direct and excellent adaptation of the series. The tone and the characters are aligned with the presentation found in both media formats. However, it needs to be said that both the graphic novel and the TV show presents the darker side of humanity through angry, but privileged adolescents. I read the first 4 volumes, back when they were released, which covers the first arc of the story, and the only “spoiler” I can give is: DON’T GET TOO ATTACHED TO THE CHARACTERS! Deadly Class is a story about students who are learning to become assassins. Not all assassins live to an “old” age, so what makes you believe all of the ones in training will survive to graduation?

            The Russo Brothers are the producers of Deadly Class, and with the work they’ve done within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m not worried about the adaptation faltering. In fact, I expect the characters to become more rounded than in the graphic novels. The casting met my expectations—Benedict Wong and Henry Rollins—and it looks like the first season will spend a lot of time exploring the backgrounds and the circumstances of all the characters, and how they grow into the roles placed on them. This TV show looks very promising, and I know I won’t be disappointed. So, if you’re looking for a TV show with a realistic storyline, with the violence of Game of Thronesand Romein a high school setting similar to The Magiciansand Battle Royale, then Deadly Classis for you!

            I will be writing weekly reviews of each episode for the first season of Deadly Class, but I’ll only do video reviews for both the season premiere and the season finale. This way, I can give my feelings on both the shows’ growth and whether or not it remains faithful to the books. That being said, I’ll continue to re-read the first arc of Deadly Class, and I hope you enjoy the series as much as I do.