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His Dark Materials Opens a Window ... to a Familiar World

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the second episode of His Dark Materials, "The Idea of the North," which premiered Monday on HBO.

Even if viewers were unfamiliar with Philip Pullman's acclaimed series of fantasy novels, they knew from the "heretical" discovery of Lord Asriel Belacqua in the premiere that His Dark Materials at least touches upon the concept of parallel universes. But while the stodgy scholars of Jordan College were scandalized by the very idea of "a city in the sky," we learn with this week's episode that at least one character moves between two world with some regularity. What's more, the transition is jarring.

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Played by Ariyon Bakare, Lord Carlo Borea is introduced about midway through the series premiere as an agent of the ruling Magisterium, delivering information about Asriel's controversial discovery to Father MacPhail (Will Keen). He arrives at Jordan College in "The Idea of the North," intent on examining what Lord Asriel presented as the frozen head of explorer-scholar Stanislaus Grumman, said to have crossed between worlds (again, heresy). When The Master (Clarke Peters) denies his request, Boreo and his serpent daemon enter the college's crypt, where the remains of its scholars are interred, in search of Grumman's thawed and treated skull. However, Borea quickly determines the most recent addition to the collection isn't actually Grumman, and whispers, "We need to cross."

Viewers who weren't paying close attention may have become confused, the scene shifts from the crypt to outdoors, and then to a long-abandoned atrium or greenhouse. There, he climbs steps to what appears to be a distortion of light, steps through and then disappears, leaving behind the quasi-Edwardian/steampunk-1950s Oxford, and emerging into a decidedly modern version of the city. That "distortion" is what His Dark Materials refers to as an opening or portal between parallel worlds, typically opened with a subtle knife, a blade the can slice through the fabric between universes.

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We know from this episode that Boreo has traveled to this world -- that is, our world -- enough to have acquired a car that accumulated parking violations in his absence, and to enlist the aid of unscrupulous native to help him in his search for the real Stanislaus Grumman. In turn, this assistant has not only picked up details of parallel worlds, but also about daemons, the physical manifestation of a person's inner-self, which takes the form of an animal (he's unnerved by Boreo's serpent, and amused by the photograph of Grumman's osprey).

So, yes, parallel worlds are central to His Dark Materials, as hinted by the opening credits of the television adaptation. There's an entire multiverse at play, with Lyra's world and our world (Will's world of the novels) joined by a multiverse of others, including the Land of the Dead and the Republic of Heaven. And this second episode opened a window to just one of them.

Airing Mondays at 9 ET/PT on HBO, His Dark Materials stars Dafne Keen as Lyra, Ruth Wilson as Marisa Coulter, James McAvoy as Lord Asriel and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby.

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