This critic is now getting to the point with this blog where he is covering new seasons of previously reviewed shows. His thoughts on season one as a fan of the franchise are easily available. With some of the choices made folding in material from later on in the source material throughout the first season the interesting question with the adaptations sophomore effort was how it would go about tackling The Subtle Knife with a certain amount of the groundwork already having been laid previously.
This does bring one immediate benefit ( and answers something initially brought up in this critics review of the first season.) The introduction of Will Perry at a much earlier point in the storey enables the creative team to hit the ground running with The Subtle Knife adaptation. This works as a bridge between both seasons and will play superbly when this adaptation is complete and can be binged at any viewers convenience.
The core strengths established in the first season are all present and correct. From production and visual standpoint, the budget is very clearly on-screen throughout. Daphne Keen and Ruth Wilson still deliver superb work in the central roles. Amir Wilson does a solid job given his increased role and screentime at this point in the narrative. The season is generally an engaging slice of high fantasy that is representative of the sort of treatment the source material deserves. Despite these strengths, the season is not everything it could be. The scripts struggle to cope with the massive world expansions going on at this point in the narrative throughout its seven episodes. This makes the on-screen events come across as fragmented, unfocused and generally frustrating. It’s even more irritating because the building blocks for a potentially fantastic adaptation are still there. Even with the longer format available in prestige TV sometimes source material is just too sprawling to be adapted entirely successfully. This can’t be said entirely for this show until the creative team has had a crack at The Amber Spyglass with the upcoming final season.
In a lot of ways, the second season of the BBC/ HBO His Dark Materials is simply reaffirming the strengths established when adapting Northern Lights for TV. That said the visual medium struggles with attempting to cram this hugely ambitious high fantasy text into seven relatively concise episodes. The jury is out on whether this will be handled better with The Amber Spyglass The complete screen adaptation still has the potential to be solid but as a season of TV, this is something of a step back while still being solid enough to potentially please a large swath of the fans and critics who enjoyed the first season.