His Dark Materials: 2.04 Tower of the Angels
"Well, this was a mercantile city. A city of traders and bankers. We thought we knew about bonds. We thought a bond was something negotiable, something that could be bought and sold and exchanged and converted...But about these bonds, we were wrong. We undid them, and we let the Spectres in."
Tower of the Angels opens ominously with a history lesson about the Cittàgaze, the guild that created the Subtle Knife and how it was used for all the wrong reasons. The arrival of the spectres, attacking people in the streets and the subsequent revelation that Lord Asriel's actions made the situation worse, makes for a forbidding introduction to an important episode.
Being the prestige BBC Sunday evening drama that it is, His Dark Materials certainly doesn't hold back in its high calibre casting. This week, Terrance Stamp stepped into the role of Giacomo Paradisi, bearer of the Subtle Knife, and mentor to Will. There was a lot to cover in one episode and Tower of the Angels saw him saved by Will and Lyra, guiding Will in the abilities of the bearer and ending his life on his own terms. While I would have happily seen this narrative stretched out across a couple of episodes, the shortened seven-episode season two run means that storytelling is at a premium. Stamp gave a memorable one-episode guest performance that served the role of Paradisi well.
There was a lot going on this week. Boreal stepped up his game, attempting to gain access to The Cave before Mary saw right through his deceit before laying the cards on the table with Mrs Coulter. Given his own game that he has been playing, I was surprised that he told Coulter about Lyra and the second world he had found her in. Even more surprising was the ending, which saw Boreal and Coulter come closer to Lyra as they entered the spectre-haunted Cittàgaze. Having bit very much in the background last series, Boreal is quickly becoming another fascinating member of the cast of villains and I'm interested to see him bounce off the equally ruthless Coulter as they team up ahead - assuming he survives the spectres of course. As someone coming into the series without detailed knowledge of the books, there's something appealing about coming into the story with no knowledge of what is coming up.
Equally as fascinating was Mary's forbidding discovery in the cave. Finally opening up her mind, she made contact with the shadows, that confirmed they were indeed Dark Matter and Lyar's Dust. The idea that they are angels too, shaping and interfering in human evolution out of vengeance is a creepy concept and one that taps into her own identity. A former nun, turned scientist, what does this divine intervention in humanity mean for her? Perhaps more intriguing, is their dark agenda and their connection to the tower in the Cittàgaze. There's plenty of mystery to unravel in the coming three weeks.
We also had the long awaited debut of Andrew Scott as Will's father Colonel John Parry. He goes by many names - Doctor Stanislaus Grumman and Jopari. I wasn't sure quite what to expect and what his connection to the witches would be; as a shaman he has his own magic. Is he from Will's world or Lyra's? The presence of his own bird demon suggests the latter. Teaming up with Lee Scoresby to find Lyra, I'm excited to see how their involvement progresses the story and what will happen when he reunites with son and learns Will is the new bearer of the Subtle Knife.
Poor Will goes through quite a lot this episode. Taking charge in the journey into the Tower of the Angels, he looses two fingers in a brutal fight with the teenage boy. The fight at the top of the tower added plenty of excitement. His training in the arts of the Subtle Knife did seem to go by far too quickly - a bit more time spent in a Luke and Yoda-esque training episode with Giacomo Paradisi would have certainly added some depth to his character, certainly as Amir Wilson is now top billing Dafne Keen.
It seems everyone is converging on the Cittàgaze. Coulter and Boreal have entered the city and after the dramatic revenge attack on the Magesterium fleet of air ships, Serafina and witches are on a collision course with this new realm too. The attack of the teenage boy that fought Will was a dark, grim reminder of the dangers that lurk ahead, promising some exciting episodes to come...