His Dark Materials: Details on James McAvoy’s Missing Season 2 Episode

The Asriel-centric standalone episode featuring James McAvoy would have given some answers to larger His Dark Materials Season 2 plot points.

James McAvoy and Dafne Keen in His Dark Materials
Photo: HBO/BBC

The global pandemic has taken much from us, the least of which may be our regularly scheduled programming. While most late 2020 content had to be pushed to 2021 as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, His Dark Materials was one of the few TV shows that had almost wrapped production when the outbreak of COVID-19 forced workplaces around the world to close. Because of this, we will be getting Season 2 in November… well, most of it.

As we first learned during this year’s virtual San Diego Comic-Con, His Dark Materials was forced to cut an episode from its Season 2 order in order to keep the season release on schedule. Luckily, the planned 8-episode season consisted of seven “regular” episodes and one standalone, set to follow James McAvoy‘s character of Lord Asriel. Production had finished on the seven “regular” episodes and filming had just begun on the standalone (like, they were on set, ready to go) when the call came to immediately shut down and send everyone home.

“Really we did have an incredible piece of luck,” executive producer Jane Tranter said during the SDCC panel. “We were filming when the pandemic hit and we did have to stop filming, but we 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 … Essentially, our adaptation of The Subtle Knife had been completed. So we were really lucky from that point of view.””

It was unclear after the SDCC announcement how the elimination of the season’s eighth episode would affect the serialized story. During a recent BBC press event, we got some idea of how losing this episode made edited together the season as a whole just a little bit harder. Head writer Jack Thorne said that, while the installment was a standalone, it did give some information that answered questions important to the larger plot. Without the episode, the post-production process presumably had to get creative about how to reveal that information elsewhere in the season or let go of specific reveals altogether.

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It’s a shame that we won’t be getting the Asriel-centric episode—at least not any time soon. Asriel, who is a major character in the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights (or The Golden Compass in the U.S.), doesn’t appear in the second book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, on which Season 2 is largely based. Therefore, Thorne wrote an episode in response to the question: what was Lord Asriel up to during the events of The Subtle Knife. While fans of the story can infer a certain amount from where we eventually find Asriel in The Amber Spyglass, the third and concluding book in the series, it would have been very cool to see Thorne’s interpretation of this (with input from book author Philip Pullman), brought to life by McAvoy. To me, this kind of logical expansion and deepening of a source material’s story outside the limits of the voice and character perspective of a book is one of the potential strengths of a screen adaptation.

So, will we ever see James McAvoy’s missing episode? I hope so, though presumably the episode would have to be rewritten should it be including in a Season 3 (which has not yet been announced) or filmed as some kind of special. His Dark Materials has a lot or narrative ground to cover in adapting The Amber Spyglass and spending one of its precious episodes to focus on Asriel at this point in the story doesn’t necessarily make sense. Notably, Asriel does appear in the third book, which means the show wouldn’t have to get creative about including McAvoy, the biggest name star in the cast, in the season. As confirmed by RadioTimes, the elimination of the Asriel-focused episode means James McAvoy will not appear in His Dark Materials Season 2.

Whether we eventually get to see some version of McAvoy’s missing episode or it becomes a fascinating footnote in this show’s history, from where I’m standing, His Dark Materials made the right decision. As big of a McAvoy fan as I am, I would trade one Asriel-focused episode for a new season of His Dark Materials right about now.

Season 2 of His Dark Materials premieres on November 8th on BBC One in the UK, and on November 16th on HBO Max in the U.S. You can read our spoiler-free review of the first episode here.