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His Dark Materials hit HBO back in 2019 as the first season of an adaptation of Philip Pullman's beloved and controversial novel trilogy. The attempt at adapting the first book, called The Golden Compass, for the big screen didn't result in a film trilogy, but a second season of the HBO series was announced before Season 1 even premiered. The show was slated to return in 2020 with the next eight episodes, based on The Subtle Knife, but production shutdowns throughout the industry raised some questions. Well, there's good news and bad news about the episode count, but some very good news about a Fleabag reunion in the new season.
The cast and executive producers of His Dark Materials gathered for a [email protected] virtual panel, and they shared some major updates on the upcoming second season. Executive producer Jane Tranter addressed the question of whether His Dark Materials Season 2 had finished filming and whether it would be able to premiere as intended. Tranter revealed:
The good news is we have managed to keep going the whole way through the lockdown. We have the most amazing postproduction team, and we are currently — touch wood — completely on course for transmitting when we would have transmitted. We had an incredible piece of luck. We were filming when the pandemic hit, and we did have to stop filming, but were in a peculiar situation where our main unit had wrapped just before Christmas 2019. And we had one standalone episode that we were filming in March, and it was separate from the other seven episodes, because it was standalone which Jack [Thorne] had written with the blessing and with input from Philip Pullman, which looked at what Asriel had been doing between going through the anomaly at the end of Season 1 and when we see Lord Asriel at the beginning of Book 3, The Amber Spyglass.
According to Jane Tranter, only seven of the eight episodes that were intended for Season 2 had been completed by the time productions had to shut down, including His Dark Materials, but those were the key seven episodes. The eighth episode sounds like it would have been fascinating, especially to book fans who didn't get Lord Asriel on the page at all in The Subtle Knife. That said, if one episode was going to not be completed, best that it's the episode that could life right out of the season!
Jane Tranter elaborated, saying that the His Dark Materials team played "detective with The Subtle Knife and figured out what Asriel might have been doing" between the first book/season and the third. So, while an Asriel-centric episode during Season 2 might have been a treat (so long as fans were more receptive to a standalone episode for His Dark Materials than Stranger Things fans were), the unfinished filming won't prevent the show from releasing or leave it incomplete.
The executive producer went on to indicate that having to cut the eighth episode that would have centered on Asriel doesn't necessarily mean the story won't be revisited. Jane Tranter said:
For us, it meant that we could continue postproduction on the seven episodes that make up The Subtle Knife and just put the Asriel standalone episode to one side and maybe at some point in the future we can revisit it as a standalone. But essentially, our adaptation of The Subtle Knife had been completed. We were really lucky from that point of view.
Despite some additions to The Golden Compass that actually pulled from The Subtle Knife, the first season of His Dark Materials was pretty faithful to the source material as far as TV shows can go. Moving fully into The Subtle Knife territory should also mean a lot more of Amir Wilson as Will Parry, especially once he meets Dafne Keen's Lyra Belacqua. Lin-Manuel Miranda's Lee Scoresby was still separated from Lyra at the end of Season 1, but he'll team up with somebody to try and recover her (and presumably Will): John Parry, played by Fleabag's Andrew Scott.
Andrew Scott appeared in a photo back in His Dark Materials Season 1 but will appear in the flesh in Season 2. Also appearing on the panel, Scott even promised a Fleabag reunion, although he definitely won't be playing a priest this time. In fact, as John Parry, he'll be partnered with a daemon. Scott revealed the Fleabag connection to his daemon, much to the delight of the other actors in the virtual panel:
This is the first time we’re revealing this, but my daemon is going to be played by somebody who is very close to me in real life, which is a young performer and a writer called Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I’m really thrilled about that because it’s all about companionship and friendship and loyalty and that’s what I feel about Phoebe in my real life, so it’s wonderful that that’s happening.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge might not appear in the flesh on His Dark Materials, but she'll lend her voice and play Andrew Scott's daemon. While their dynamic on the HBO fantasy show will undoubtedly be very different from Fleabag, Scott is clearly excited at the opportunity to work with her again, and seems quite thrilled to be part of the His Dark Materials cast. The rest of the cast were pretty excited as well, with Lin-Manuel Miranda literally doing a spit take. Take a look:
His Dark Materials will return for Season 2 in Fall 2020, one episode short of the original eight-episode order but telling the full Subtle Knife story and featuring a bizarre yet pretty perfect Fleabag reunion. If you haven't caught His Dark Materials just yet, you can find it streaming on HBO Max now. The first season also ran for eight episodes. If fall is too long of a wait to find out what happens next for Lyra, Mrs. Coulter, Will, and the rest, you can always check out Philip Pullman's novel trilogy.