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'His Dark Materials' 2.04 Review: Tower of the Angels

'His Dark Materials' gets deep into lore and daddy issues and it's amazing.

Will Parry looks at an old man who caresses his face
(Image: © HBO )

Our Verdict

'His Dark Materials' delivers a series-best episode.


  • ✨Andrew Scott hive activate!
  • ✨Bad dads (and surrogate dads) unite to become better dads!
  • ✨Amir Wilson needs all the awards please.
  • ✨Far less Magisterium nonsense this week, thank goodness.
  • ✨Just a really, really great episode of fantasy TV.
  • ✨The witches finally came through.

This post contains spoilers for His Dark Materials.
Check out our last review here. 

If you're a fan of Fleabag then you're in for a treat this week as we finally get to meet The Hot Priest and Fleabag. Of course in this world they're Jopari (Andrew Scott) and his daemon, Sayan Kötör (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). But before we get to that exciting reunion we've got some catching up to do. 'Tower of the Angels' begins with a hefty but magical exposition dump explaining the origins of the artifact known as the Subtle Knife. Fans of the series the show is based on will recognize it as the title of the second book, and if you've been paying attention to this season you'll know that it's also the big maguffin, though up until now it's just been called "the knife."

Turns out that it was a magical weapon forged from hope that became corrupted by men who chose to use it for their own gains rather than for the good of everyone. Its corruption led to the creation of the ghastly creatures known as Spectres that haunt the Cittagazze and have turned all the adults who once lived there into zombies. We also learn that the Spectres have expanded their number vastly since Asriel (James McAvoy) created a hole between worlds, the one which Lyra (Dafne Keen) walked through and found herself in the Cittagazze and where she met Will (Amir Wilson). Speaking of those two beautiful children, they're on a mission to find the knife after Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) stole Lyra's alethiometer. Boreal directed the kids to head to the Cittagazze--which he can't locate--and look for the "man in the tower."

It's no coincidence that we learn so much about the Subtle Knife at the start here because this is an episode that sees three key threads come together in the pursuit of the weapon. Lyra and Will are hunting for the knife and for Will's father John Parry (Andrew Scott), who it just so happens is now a shaman going by the name of Jopari. Lee Scorsby (Lin Manuel Miranda) is on the hunt for a man known as Doctor Stanislaus Grumman, who--shock horror--is another alias of John Parry. While Lyra and Will search for the man in the tower, Lee discovers Jopari and Sayan Kötör but doesn't find the knife. In fact, Jopari wants Lee's help to locate it and then give the weapon to Lord Asriel. Of course, Lee is less than happy about that seeing as he blames Asriel for abandoning Lyra and putting her at risk. After all, the aeronaut is only seeking the knife as he has heard the rumors of the power it has to protect anyone who holds it, a power he wishes for Lyra to be able to wield now that he knows of the prophecy she's at the center of. 

Andrew Scott is honestly a blessing and his performance as the long-lost father and reluctant magic man is a powerful one. He's filled with regret, acceptance, and a humility that juxtaposes with Lee's overt confidence and sometimes arrogance. The pair make an unexpected connection over the children that they love, though, and Manuel-Miranda once again showcases the emotional range that he teased with his showdown with Coulter (Ruth Wilson) last week. The pair eventually come to a deal: Lee will help Jopari find the knife as long as he promises to keep Lyra under its protection once he locates it and becomes the bearer. Sounds like a nice plan, but sorry boys we've got bad news... someone else has already found it.  

Yep, dear readers, the best baby Will Parry has found the Subtle Knife and become its bearer. While his absent dad is plotting on the ancient artifact, Will and Lyra have tracked down the man in the tower. As you might have guessed it was not John Parry, who is currently drinking with Lee Scoresby in Lyra's world. Instead, they found Giacomo Paradisi (Terence Stamp). The old man had lost the Subtle Knife to one of the Cittagazze boys who was hoping to use it as a way to escape the Spectres, but Will bested him in a fight and after losing two of his fingers claimed the knife as his own. Luckily, the young boy had Paradisi to tell him the ways of the knife and its uses. It was incredibly powerful to see Will take ownership of this power and the responsibility that it comes with. He's a rare working class hero and a truly great one. I love Will Parry. In an incredibly smart bit of storytelling we learn how the knife can cut "windows" to new worlds and enable people to move through them just before we see one of the windows in action. 

Our man Lord Boreal has been very busy this week. Not only did he pay a visit to Mary Malone (Simone Kirby) and try to get her to agree to share her studies on Dust--which she wasn't into at all--but he also managed to meet with Mrs. Coulter. In a shady collaboration, he promised to deliver Lyra to her when she returns with the knife. This, of course, meant sharing how he had been travelling between Lyra's world and ours. In a wonderfully narratively satisfying turn of events, Boreal has been traveling through a "window" that was left open by a previous bearer. It's a great signifier of the quiet and dangerous intelligence at the core of Boreal. Whereas Asriel spent years trying to learn how to venture into the other dimensions, destroying his life and potentially the universe while doing it, Boreal has been slipping between worlds unseen without the knowledge of any of his adversaries or until now his allies either. So the unexpected pair slip through the "window" into the Cittagazze and after Lyra and Will. 

Despite how much time we spend on the topic of the knife and those who are after it, we also learn that the witches have finally committed to their war and they have a plan. But before we see them do the impossible, we return to Mary who is also about to accomplish something she'd never dreamed of. Thanks to Lyra, the particle physicist is now aware of the fact that Dust/Dark Matter can communicate and tonight she manages to achieve just that. When the Dust begins to speak it commands Mary to ask it questions and she does. It's a powerful moment that sees her complete her life's work, but the answers that the Dust has are not the ones that Mary expected. The Dust claims that it is millions of angels and that throughout history the angels have intervened with human life for one reason only: vengeance. It's an ominous reveal and one that will surely come into play as we move into the final few episodes. 

As the jam-packed installment comes to an end, the witches put their plan into action: killing the Magisterium guards and flying through Asriel's tear in the sky and into another world. Thrilling!

Rosie Knight is an Eisner-winning journalist and author who's been writing professionally since 2005. Her career has taken her around the world and, although she hails from London, she currently resides in Los Angeles where she writes full time. She began as a professional poet but transitioned into journalism, starting at the Eisner-winning WWAC in 2016. Since then she has written over 1500 articles for digital media sites including What to Watch, Nerdist, IGN, The Hollywood Reporter, Esquire, Den of Geek, DC Comics, /Film, BuzzFeed, and Refinery29. She also writes comics including The Haunted High Tops and Cougar and Cub. When she's not writing she spends far too much time watching horror movies and Hallmark films.