“Tower of the Angels” is a classic turning-point episode, with multiple payoffs to long-running teases and plots, and a much clearer shape for the back half of the season.
This recap of His Dark Materials season 2, episode 4, “Tower of the Angels”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“Tower of the Angels” was one of those classic mid-ish-season episodes where everything starts to come together just-so. What were once teases are becoming reality, various plot threads and bits of worldbuilding are seeing payoffs, the long-term shape of the story is beginning to reveal itself, and the key players are beginning to find their way to each other. This is the point where, if you’re on board, you start to get excited, and if you weren’t necessarily on board before you decide to take the plunge. It was a lot of fun, and in many ways, a good example of what this show has always endeavoured to be at its best.
It’s also the point at which Will Parry becomes as much of a prophesized hero as Lyra, with his own magical world-flaying object to worry about and his own destiny to pursue. I said last week that, aside from maybe Ruth Wilson, Amir Wilson is the show’s stand-out actor, and he proves it here in learning to embrace his future and inheriting the much-talked-about subtle knife from Terence Stamp’s – kneel before Zod! – knife bearer Giacomo Paradisi. He even gets his own little training montage in which he learns to use the shank to cleave the very fabric of reality, which is a lot of responsibility for a young lad to shoulder when you think about it.
Will’s promotion also fundamentally alters his relationship with Lyra. Whereas before they were united in their shared loss of innocence, now they understand each other better, despite their different worlds and experiences, by virtue of both having world-saving importance, both having responsibilities that far outweigh their fears and anxieties. They are, for the first time, really in this together, and you can virtually feel the plot forming around them to accommodate this turning point.
In much the same way that the first season was about the alethiometer, the second is about the subtle knife, but it’s only with “Tower of the Angels” that the show really becomes about the knife – it even got a heavy-handed Lord of the Rings-style prologue about its creation. This was a reminder that for all its human-scale drama and culture-clash banter and metaphors for very real religious institutions, His Dark Materials is a fantasy show, which is why we get to enjoy witches taking on the Magisterium’s fleet of airships in a sequence dripping with expensive-looking VFX.
And this is where all the wider world-building comes in, and there was plenty of lore explanation in “Tower of the Angels”, from a couple of different sources. One was a computerized voice from the ether that shared with Mary – after she had proven her selfless worth by turning down Lord Boreal’s offer of funding despite his appreciation for, ahem, “women with a good work ethic” – the nature of Shadows, Dust, Angels, and the need for angelic vengeance. The other was the much sought-after Stanislaus Grumman, or Colonel John Parry, or Jopari, an intense shaman played by Andrew Scott who lays out to Lee Scoresby the show’s essential warring forces who’re lining up to battle each other. By episode’s end, those two are on their way to Cittàgazze, where Mrs. Coulter already is. The sides are lining up to fight indeed.
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