If there was one major criticism I had of last week’s episode of His Dark Materials was the fact no storyline was resolved. Characters were set in motion to go were they needed to be. That is a necessity of a story, you cannot have conflict and resolution all the time. This week, in the episode entitled Tower of the Angels we see the dividend. So far season two of the adaptation of Philip Pullman has been quite exciting if at times frustrating. The story roughly follows that of the second book in the trilogy called The Subtle Knife. This weeks episode sees the cast enlarged with Andrew Scott as Grumman after several short scenes last season. We also get Terence Stamp as Giacomo Paradisi playing the current bearer of the Subtle Knife.
Tower of the Angels starts with Lee Scoresby finally locating the explorer Grumman after a long trek through the wilderness. Grumman calls himself Jopari and has become a Shaman. Lee is obviously not happy with the man he finds. Instead of collecting a weapon he can use to defend Lyra he has found a man who he does not trust. Grumman warns Lee not to criticize Asriel too much for what he has done as there more important things to consider. With a little speech Grumman makes it clear either the Magisterium wins or those on the side of freedom. The speech leaves Lee mostly cold and instead he makes it clear his only concern is Lyra. After more unflattering comments about Lord Asriel abandoning Lyra Lee entices Grumman to journey with him to find the knife. Lee forces a promise on Grumman, he must ensure Lyra is protected.
The Subtle Knife
In Cittàgazze Lyra and Will are on a quest to force their entry into the tower to find the Subtle Knife. They discover an underground residence that provides entry into the tower. Once at the top they find a man called Paradisi who warns them the knife was just stolen from him. A young man enters the tower and forces Will into a fight. After a struggle Will finally overpowers the young man but at the cost of two fingers. Paradisi shows Will how the Subtle Knife works. One edge of the blade is extremely sharp and will cut through anything, the other edge is more ‘subtle’ and with the right enticement can cut a portal to another world. Paradisi also shows Will how to close portal, with his remaining fingers, and warns him to always do so with a new portal or they will be used to flood world with evil.
The young man Will fought is soon after killed by a spectral being. Paradisi commits suicide to evade the same fate. Will and Lyra have an intimate discussion on what just happened, it is clear Will is in a funk over the loss of two fingers but has also become more resolved. He wants to help Lyra get her Alethiometer back, as he wants it to answer questions regarding his father. Yet, they agree there can be no trade with Lord Boreal, so they will have to steal it. Meanwhile Boreal has teamed up with Mrs. Coulter. This comes off as a match more unlikely than what it seems. Boreal admits he has bene using a portal to travel between worlds. Together they travel through the portal to Cittàgazze to find Will and Lyra. They fully intend to take possession of the Subtle knife and Lyra.
Little issues remain unresolved
How they exactly manage to get to Cittàgazze remains unclear as I thought the portal was between our Oxford and that of Lyra’s world. Lyra and Will have made a long journey together in just four episodes, but the question is if their close bond will hold through their trials. In one instance in this episode Will intuitively strokes Pantalaimon which shocks Lyra a that is again custom. But it was Pantalaimon who agreed to it. As person and daemon are considered one it is obvious she has feelings for Will. Doubtless that could be an asset, but also a liability considering Lyra’s destiny. As for Lord Boreal and Coulter I see the beginnings of a four-way standoff, which I don’t think Lord Boreal will survive.
While all this is going there is the storyline of Mary, the physicist in Oxford. I was initially skeptical of its value. I considered she was merely there to urge Lyra on. Yet her storyline is more of a reflection of us. With all of the elements of fantasy it is sometimes hard to take anything seriously. Mary believes there is a connection between Dust from Lyra’s world and Dark Matter. But her research faces obstacles. Mary is running out of money and has to suffer ridicule from her colleagues. She receives an offer for funding from Lord Boreal but refuses when it becomes clear its source is the military (which is a lie). In desperation Mary uses the Cave in an attempt to communicate with Dark Matter. This time she succeeds and has a revealing conversation with something claiming to be an angel.
Tower of the Angels was effective
Tower of the Angels was thus very effective at progressing the various storylines. It feels as if the characters have ended a long journey. Will has found the knife, and in doing so became a man, something that will be a problem when he confronts his father Grumman. Mary is at the cusp of a breakthrough with Dark Matter, but I believe her story will end in tragedy. Lyra still has a journey ahead of her. She was a choice to make. Either stick with Will and the knife or betray him and hand the knife to Lord Boreal in return for the Alethiometer. While as the viewer I might favor she stick with Will I am uncertain as to what the best choice is. And what does Lord Boreal want with the Subtle Knife? There are three more episodes to go in this season for some resolution to these stories.