In the sixth episode of HBO & the BBC’s His Dark Materials, “The Dæmon Cages,” Lyra (Dafne Keen) and Pantalaimon (voice of Kit Connor) learn exactly what’s been happening to the missing children, and they do something about it.
It doesn’t take long for Lyra to be reunited with Roger (Lewin Lloyd) now that she’s finally wound up at the Station where the Gobblers take children. After being stripped of her personal effects and adopting the persona of “Lizzie,” Lyra is taken to a dining hall full of prepubescent children in identical uniforms, including Roger. The reunited friends are careful not to acknowledge each other overtly, although their dæmons speak briefly.
Shortly after Lyra is seated, one of the girls at her table is called away by Dr. Cooper (Lia Williams) and Sister Clara (Morfydd Clark). The terrified girl and her dæmon are taken into a room with a heavy, metal door. Sister Clara is left outside and stands composedly in the hallway as a power surge dims the lights. Although her posture remains perfect, something plays across her face when the lights go down. Horror?
Later, Lyra has mysterious “measurements” taken by Dr. Rendal (Amit Shah), Dr. Cooper’s partner in the research happening at the station. While she stands in a cage so he can take photographs of her, something like X-rays, she asks him as many questions about what’s happening as she dares. Their session is interrupted by the fire alarm going off, apparently a frequent occurrence, and everyone is evacuated to a courtyard for roll call.
Lyra uses this as an opportunity to speak to Roger, planting herself near him in the lineup. She tells him they’re breaking out, then sets the wheels in motion by causing some chaos with an impromptu snowball fight. As the guards, doctors and nurses try to restore order to a yard full of exuberant children, Lyra and Roger sneak away to attempt escape– or at least to get their bearings.
Roger leads Lyra to the area of the Station that the children are kept out of, reasoning that its being off limits suggests that the exit may be there.
First, they find a room full of cages holding the dæmons of children who have been taken from the dining hall and never seen again. The dæmons are not right, lying limply in the cages or banging themselves against the walls mechanically. It is here that Lyra tells Roger about Billy Costa when they find an empty dæmon cage with his name on it. She explains how she found him, and that although he died, he’s proven that it’s possible to escape.
Next they find the room where the remaining dæmon-less children are being held. They are vacant– empty shells lying or sitting on beds, their heads shaved.
The fire alarm goes silent, and Lyra and Roger sneak into the ordered lines of children returning to the building. She tells him that the next time the alarm sounds, it will be her signal that it’s time to escape and urges him to get the word around that when that time comes, everyone must put on their snow suits and be ready to go.
The doctors are nervous. They know that Mrs. Coulter’s (Ruth Wilson) airship has been seen in the North and that she’ll be descending on them soon. Although they’ve improved the survival rates of children who’ve had their dæmons severed from them, the children still aren’t responsive after the treatment. They decide to accentuate the positive when she arrives, hopeful that their work will be allowed to continue.
Indeed, she appears the next day. Lyra convinces the other girls in her dormitory to help her hide by telling them the truth– that Mrs. Coulter is her mother and that she’s severing children from their dæmons. Since Mrs. Coulter begins her visit to the Station with a tour of the girls’ dormitory, it’s a good thing that Lyra is secreted under a bed, clinging to its underside so she can’t be seen by any observant golden monkeys.
Her relief doesn’t last long, though, as she is the next child selected at meal time for intercision. The severing of “Lizzie” from her dæmon is intended to be a demonstration for Mrs. Coulter of how the work is proceeding. Lyra manages to stall Dr. Rendal by shouting about how Mrs. Coulter won’t be happy if they don’t let her out of the cage within the severing machine. He delays long enough for Mrs. Coulter to arrive in the control room to observe, and Lyra calls out to her, first as Mrs. Coulter and then as “mother.” It works, and Mrs. Coulter, recognizing her, deactivates the machine in the nick of time.
She takes Lyra back to her room and gives her an infusion of chamomile and a line about why she didn’t try to keep and raise her, now that the secret of their true relationship is clearly out. Lyra pretends to bond with her mother, disarming her effectively enough that she’s able to escape the room and lock Mrs. Coulter in it before sounding the fire alarm, rallying the children to escape.
Roger has done his part, so all of the children mobilize immediately to don their snow suits and prepare to leave. Lyra finds him and sets him the task of convincing the catatonic children without dæmons to come away with him. She goes to the room where her clothing is to retrieve it and her alethiometer before destroying the horrible dæmon severing machine.
She’s interrupted by Sister Clara, the ultimate Stepford nurse, who insists that being separated from one’s dæmon is a good thing. Lyra intuits that Sister Clara has had “the treatment” and asks what her dæmon’s name was. This question forces Sister Clara to remember her lost dæmon, Nicolas. The memory kind of short circuits her, and Lyra is easily able to walk away from the encounter.
During her brief encounter with the machine earlier, Lyra overheard the doctors say that leaving its doors open during operation could fry it, so she starts there. Then she goes to the control room and hits every button and turns every knob before pulling the lever to turn it on. The effect is beyond her expectations, starting with an implosion that disrupts the structure of the building and climaxing with an explosion that Lyra narrowly avoids being killed by.
Now that the machine is destroyed and the children are ready, it’s time to go. The staff and guards have mobilized to stop them, but fortunately the Gyptians appear at the perfect moment, allowing Ma Costa (Anne-Marie Duff) to get some revenge for Billy by snapping Dr. “I was just doing my job” Rendal’s neck.
Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg) saves Lyra, then is unceremoniously pulled into the fray by her. The Gyptians and guards are fully in battle in the snowy courtyard when Lyra reaches them, and it doesn’t look good for the Gyptians. Fortunately, the witch Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) flies into the action just then and easily kills all of the guards and staff.
In the aftermath of the battle, Mrs. Coulter (who has gotten out of her room by following her golden monkey through the vents) sneaks away and the Gyptians organize the children for the long journey home. Ma Costa tells Lyra that she has more to do, meaning that she still needs to free her father, and they part ways.
Lyra, Roger and Iorek join Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Hester (Cristela Alonzo) in Lee’s balloon to continue North in search of Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), and the Gyptians head south. As the Gyptians go, John Faa (Lucian Msamati) worries aloud to Ma Costa that the parents of the dæmon-less children might not want them back because of their horrifying state, and she assures him that if that’s the case, they’ll be welcome in the Gyptian community.
In the balloon as everyone sleeps, Hester perks up, alerting Lee Scoresby as Serafina Pekkala swoops in to tell him how important Lyra is and that he is indirectly responsible for the fate of the world by being responsible for her. He laments that instead of being offered money for his trouble, he has somehow been tricked into acting out of love.
The witch departs, and the balloon continues silently North through the night sky… until something new makes noises that rouse the aeronaut and his dæmon: cliff-ghasts. The abominable snow sloth creatures are swarming all over the balloon, so Lee and Iorek fight them off with their gun and strength, respectively. They’re mostly successful, but the fight leads directly to Lyra falling out of the balloon and into the mists below.
Meanwhile, back on our world, Will Parry (Amir Wilson) and his mother have a peaceful evening where he watches old interviews with his father on YouTube and his mom sleeps. Boreal’s flunky watches the house, content that the paranoid Elaine (Nina Sosanya) knowing he’s out there is enough for now.
Point of confusion: The doctors say that the “treatment” has left them with only five surviving children and that the post-treatment children are unresponsive. There are more than five children in the dormitory for post-operative zombies, though, and Lyra identifies the responsive and obedient Sister Clara as an alumnus of the program, so… what’s that about? Did I miss something?