So just what is inside that tower that we keep getting mysterious glimpses of? In this episode we find out it’s veteran actor Terence Stamp and a crazy boy in pyjamas who has taken the subtle knife from Tezza to protect himself from the Spectres. And he doesn’t want to give it up easily. Much of this episode dwells on somewhat familiar sorts of mystical objects and venerable teachers that abound in literary and visual fiction. So while Will and Lyra finally discover a way into the Tower of Angels, Scoresby tracks down John Parry or as he is currently calling himself Jopari which sounds like his Twitter name! Some of the intrigue is drawn away from these encounters by an introductory sequence which explains it all to us before the characters learn about it but really it should happen simultaneously. So as the kids gawp at the Subtle Knife we already know all about it . Incidentally Terence Stamp aka Giacomo Paradisi pitches this role just right. The actor can do these sort of roles, which amount to extended cameos, with authority and it works a treat.
The knife itself has to first be won from mad pyjama boy (who is he?) during a terrifically staged and edited fight in which Will sustains an injury that might put you off your cup of tea. However its all part of the ritual that means he will become the next bearer of the knife after Paradisi. I’m not sure why but its all spoken about in such sombre terms that I’ll just go with it. Characters only ever ask why when a plot point needs to be put across. The changes of tone of these scenes are masterful and the special effects match them. As Will tries to concentrate so that the knife slices open matter revealing another world you get a real sense of power.
There’s plenty of rich mythology unveiled this week yet there is also much in the way of small detail especially between Lyra and Will. With their previous mutual distrust fading a warmer friendship is developing in which they can forgive each other’s mistakes and also support each other when need be. As Will is physically and emotionally overwhelmed by the prospect of being the bearer of the subtle knife (not to mention having one and a half fingers less) it is Lyra who picks him up, encouraging him to embrace the situation. Lyra actually seems a nicer person without the alethiometer having to trust her own instincts rather than rely on a device however perceptive it may be. There was even a sweet nod to poor Roger when she walks into the bathroom backwards to hand Will towels.
Trust seems to be the theme of the episode as Scoreseby and John Parry come to an agreement to help each other for the sake of the children. Their dialogue brings out the former’s determination to protect Lyra and the latter’s strange journey away from his own world and family. As photos last season alerted us no less an actor than Andrew Scott plays Parry with exactly the sort of subtlety we’ve seen from that knife. Within a handful of sentences he’s nailed the character and put across his regret and ambition yet there’s still mystery.
The story is better when it develops due to such human thoughts and emotions rather than becoming too hidebound in prophecies and portents which, let’s face it, more often than not could just as easily be called plot devices. This series is balancing the two neatly at the moment.
No trust though between
Mary Malone and Boreal whose ruse she sees through straight away even if it was
for different reasons. This strand can seem like the most ordinary part of an
extraordinary story and you’d imagine lots of repeated scenes of an actor staring
at wavy lines on a monitor would become tedious but it’s not. Thanks to Simone
Kirby’s ability to channel the character’s fascination without dialogue a lot of
the time it has become increasingly fascinating. This week we’re rewarded with the
biggest reveal of all in which Mary has another go at the
Cage and manages to start a dialogue with Dust or as it prefers to be known
Angels. I was feeling that this development takes the series perilously close
to Doctor Who territory. While not in
itself a bad thing this may not be exactly what the audience believe this
series to be like. It is interesting that author Philip Pullman has created a corrupt organised Church clearly based on the real thing while also inroducing Angels into his story.
Visually this is a rich episode from the towering staircases of the Tower, the closeness of the fight for the knife, a harrowing chase through the empty alleys of Cittagazze and a speedy attack on the Magisterium’s airships as the witches get some revenge. It is very impressive how the more limited scenario of the first series has been so vividly opened up as we zip between worlds.