WARNING: This review is pretty spoilery. It kind of assumes that you’ve already watched these episodes.

Episode 3 of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is called “What Was Sundered and Undone,” which is a line from the prophecy at the center of the original film. It also serves here as a nod to many of the lead characters’ changing perceptions of the world around them. A lot of blissful illusions are becoming sundered and undone today.

As the third episode opens, Deet’s story (she has to spread the word about the Darkening and find a way to stop it) and Rian’s story (he has to clear his name and reveal the Skeksis’ true nature) are in full swing, but Brea’s and Aughra’s are still taking shape. By the end of the episode, their missions will become clearer.

Brea’s early scenes in this episode give us a good look at the Podling-Gelfing dynamic, including a ritual wherein the Gelfling take it upon themselves to give all the blissfully filthy Podlings a much-needed bath. I suppose one could interpret this as a ruling class imposing their values on another culture, but the way it’s depicted, and the way the puppeteers play it, “The Deterge” is a funny scene that’s reminiscent of something we might have seen on Fraggle Rock.

But it doesn’t take long for Brea to find herself diving into more important pursuits, as she seeks for and finds a magical moth that guides her to a remote castle with a hidden stairway. Naturally, she goes down those stairs. So far, Brea is my favorite Gelfling. She’s a princess, but her inquisitive nature won’t let her accept everything she’s been told. She wants to know what’s in all the books, and what all the old symbols mean, and she’s not going to stop until she knows everything. Come to think of it, Brea is a geek. She’s this world’s biggest Dark Crystal fan.

After the first several minutes, I thought maybe Rian wouldn’t have much to do in this episode. But eventually he manages to speak with the Stonewood clan Maudra and tries telling her the truth about Mira’s death. Which, of course, results in his dad showing up to arrest him and take him to the Skeksis’ castle. 

Fortunately, Rian thinks fast and cuts down a bunch of chandeliers filled with those glowing moths. This was a cool sequence to watch, and like so much in this series, it felt agreeably tactile. I’m sure some of what I saw on the screen was computer-animated, but I was never distracted by it.

Deet the hippie Gelfling and her sidekick Hup also make their way to the Stonewood clan zone, but things don’t go much better for them. Deet, a Grottan Gelfling, is shunned by the Stonewood Gelfling, and Hup is thrown into a hole when he tries to fight for her honor. If you don’t adore Hup after his raised-fist “Podling justista!” moment, I don’t know your deal is.

Near the end of the episode, Deet and Rian meet each other for the first time. I’ve been watching the series with the assumption that our three Gelfling heroes will inevitably join forces, so I thought this was the beginning of that, but Rian immediately runs away to take care of his own problems, so I guess I’ll have to keep watching.

Lest I forget, Aughra’s in this episode too. In a perfectly staged scene, she interrupts the Skeksis’ spa day to confront them about the damage they’ve inflicted on the crystal, and they lie about everything and try to distract her. Fortunately, Aughra’s own reflection speaks to her from the crystal and gives her a homework assignment: To heal Thra, find the “Song of Thra.” I know I already said the Podling bath day felt like something from Fraggle Rock, but this “Song of Thra” thing really feels like Fraggle Rock. Which isn’t too surprising, as there was always a little bit of Aughra in Fraggle’s Cantus the Minstrel.

Other than the Chamberlain, Aughra is the most vivid and memorable character from the movie who appears in this series. Thanks to the excellent voice performance by Donna Kimball and the incredibly expressive puppetry by Kevin Clash, I’ve never questioned for one second whether this is the same character. 

I’ll confess I haven’t read any of the Dark Crystal comics or novels that elaborate on the world of the film, but I’m intrigued by the reality that Aughra is bonded to Thra, or even some kind of physical and spiritual extension of Thra. I look forward to getting to know her more over the course of the series.

Having said that, I hope they don’t try to explain too much of what we know from the film. In this episode, we get our first look at the Scientist Skeksis’s mechanical eye, which we now know was necessitated by the peeper beetle chowing down on his real eyeball in the last episode. The peeper beetle was a wonderfully disgusting illustration of Skeksis cruelty, but as many times as I’ve seen The Dark Crystal, I can’t say I ever needed or wanted to know how the Scientist ended up with an artificial eye. I’m crossing my fingers that future episodes don’t venture into Solo territory that way.

Speaking of future episodes, episode 4 is called “The First Thing I Remember Is Fire,” a quote from Kira in the Dark Crystal movie. There’s not actually any fire in this one, but the three lead Gelfling certainly go through some traumatic experiences of their own.

Brea has it relatively easy. She has to look past her life-long prejudices and realize that all Gelfling are equal before she can solve the puzzle under the castle, but once she does she gets a new sidekick: a rock creature named Lore who’s just been waiting for someone like Brea to come along so he can help them. 

I’ve seen rock monsters in fantasy stories before, but Lore has a cool design, and he seems to be part magic, part machine. He can’t actually talk, he can only place his needle of a finger on a spinning wheel in his arm and play back prerecorded messages. He’s Thra’s first record player! I didn’t expect to see a character like Lore in this show, but I’m happy to see him.

The introduction of Lore adds one more character to an already crowded cast, but the producers aren’t done yet. In this episode, we also meet the Archer, our first Mystic. He’s a lot more energetic and spry than any of the Mystics we saw in the movie, which makes sense, as they were all old geezers then.

The Archer, as his name implies, is also skilled with a bow and arrow, and it’s fun watching him use it with his four arms. He doesn’t give Aughra a straight answer, but he does point her in the right direction: Thra itself will teach her the Song of Thra! Huh. Seems kind of obvious in retrospect.

Meanwhile, the Skeksis continue to be disgusting and evil. The dinner scene in the Dark Crystal movie is often said to be a favorite of the filmmakers, so I guess it was inevitable that this series would feature a new variation. With more Skeksis at the table, plenty of slimy foodstuffs, and the benefit of today’s HD visuals, it’s a worthy successor to the original. It also features a new Skeksis, the Ornamentalist, whose puppeteer Alice Dinnean also provides her flamboyant voice. I’m glad a few of the puppeteers’ voices remained in the final product. (See also: Victor Yerrid as Hup!)

Much like a Republican politician denying that climate change is a problem, the Emperor insists that the Skeksis’ careless actions with their natural resource (the crystal) are causing the Darkening. He doesn’t care about the Darkening, he just wants to know how he can keep guzzling Podling essence to stay young. Especially after his finger breaks off (foreshadowing for his eventual disintegration in the movie?). It’s interesting that the Scientist seems to have some reservations about fulfilling the Emperor’s requests — not because he’s not evil but because he knows of the dangers. But in the end, he follows orders anyway.

And yet, despite all the puzzle-solving and answer-seeking and scheming that goes on in this hour, the episode really belongs to the Hunter.

Skeksis have always been creepy. Skeksis have always been scary. But when the Hunter is called upon to track down Rian, we encounter a Skeksis who is frightening on a whole new level. Until now, Skeksis have mostly moved slowly and deliberately, whether because they wear elaborate costumes, or because they’re lazy, or because they’re large heavy puppets. 

The Hunter is different. He moves like a predatory animal going in for the kill. When he’s jumping around trees, in a series of shots where he’s fully animated, he’s so fast he’s hard to follow. But even when he’s a puppet (performed by Kevin Clash), he’s still surprisingly fast and surprisingly powerful.

The Hunter’s pursuit of Rian, much of which takes place as lightning flashes and Deet and Hup watch helplessly, is genuinely thrilling. It must be difficult to film an exciting action scene with puppets, but the shaky camera and the quick cuts and the ominous score and the looming threat of the deadly, ravenous gobble plants all add up to a doozy of a chase.

When the film The Dark Crystal was made, Jim Henson and Frank Oz and their collaborators were innovating left and right, but they faced a lot of limitations. This series shows us what happens when many of those limitations are replaced with possibilities. A ten-episode series allows more time to explore characters and build a world. Advances in puppet techniques allow for puppets that can be more expressive than ever, and also more mobile. Computer animation allows those puppet characters to do just about anything in that imagined world. 

It’s impossible to imagine a scene like the Hunter chasing Rian happening in 1982, but when it happens in Age of Resistance it feels like an extension of the movie — creative people using every trick at their disposal to make something dazzling, but with even more depth. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Speaking of which, what am I doing writing this review? I have to watch the next episode!

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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com

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