His Dark Materials S2E4 “Tower of the Angels”

His Dark Materials S2E4 - A bust of a hand, missing the last two finger, on display in an alcove

The following contains spoilers through His Dark Materials Season 2 Episode 4 on HBO.

Welcome, dear reader, as we continue to review season 2 of HBO’s His Dark Materials with S2E4, “Tower of the Angels.” Leading up to this episode, there was a lot of speculation as whether they would or would not go there. Would Will lose his fingers? This television adaptation has made other minor tweaks, after all. Maybe they’d want to tame it down for the kiddies. But right from the get-go, they telegraphed to us that they were indeed going there, as we pan around the Guild’s treasure trove and settle on a bust of a hand with two missing fingers. Poor Will.

Over all, this was an episode with a lot of action at last. There was the fight between Will and Tullio. The Subtle Knife is finally in play. Lee finds John Parry and they head into the fray. Mrs. Coulter travels to Will’s world. The witches kick ass and zip off into the Anomaly. And of course, angels. We’re more than halfway through the season and picking up speed after cresting the first big hill on this roller coaster ride.

His Dark Materials S2E4 - Pan leans in towards Will's bloody and bandaged hand as Lyra looks on

Will and Lyra

Will and Lyra find the not-so-secret entrance to the Tower and literally bust down the door. So much for being sneaky. We find out that the “ghost” that Angelica was watching in S2E3 was actually her brother, Tullio. That relationship is only barely hinted to at the end, when he finds her and calls out. He has come of age and was using the Subtle Knife to ward off the spectres. Without it, he quickly falls victims to them out on the streets.

Now Will is “the Bearer.” Giacomo, the previous Bearer, starts to give him a little Subtle Knife 101, but Will is still in too much pain from losing his fingers. While he sulks in defeat, Lyra and Pan try to reassure him, and Pan does something stunning: he reaches up to nuzzle Will’s hand. While it’s considered taboo to touch another person’s daemon, we seem to be learning here that daemons may reach out to other humans in affection. Creepy as he is, Lord Boreal’s daemon also reaches out and very nearly touches Mrs. Coulter over their tête-à-tête.

Back at their Cittàgazze home base, Will is soaking his wounds in the bath when Lyra comes to bring him towels, walking backwards up the stairs. Adorably, Pan is also going backwards. She tells him what the alethiometer told her about his destiny, and is clearly worried that now he will have his own agenda. However, Will reaffirms his intent to help Lyra get the alethiometer back, and you can tell she is pleased.

His Dark Materials S2E4 - Zoom in on the basket of Lee's balloon, with Jopari's daemon flying beside them
Adding “aeronaut” to Jopari’s list of accomplishments

Lee and Jopari

When we pick up on Lee’s quest, Hester is proving to be the world’s most unhelpful daemon. First complaining, then spouting off incongruous platitudes, then chewing Lee out for complaining himself and offering up unhelpful medical advice. It’s a little bizarre. They are rescued from their bickering by an osprey daemon, who leads them to their quarry.

We find out that Stanislaus Grumman is actually John Parry, Will’s father. Like Mrs. Coulter at the Magisterium trial, he takes a bit of secondhand abuse about parents leaving their children. Only his abandonment was not exactly on purpose. At least, it wasn’t supposed to last as long as it has. Like Mrs. Coulter in her own twisted fanatical way, he’s trying to make the world a better place for his child, in lieu of being there as a parent.

Parry wants to put the Knife into the service of Lord Asriel and his fight against the Authority. He even drops a casual mention that it can kill immortals. So now, ironically, he is on a quest to find the new Bearer: his son. Should make for an interesting reunion when everyone meets up in Cittàgazze.

His Dark Materials S2E4 - Mary stares forward with electrodes attached to her temples
Mary talks to the angels


Even though there was a lot of action, and the appearance of both the Knife and John Parry, the biggest development in this episode was more cerebral. Mary tries once again to talk to the shadow particles via the Cave. Focusing “all attention on attention itself,” she finally connects and has verbal communication with the particles, where we learn a lot.

Dust is not “sin.” It is angels. Uncountable billions of angels. Poor Mary, who left the convent to get away from this sort of thing. The angels are spirit in what they are, and matter in what they do. What they have been doing is “making,” “stimulating,” and “guiding” human evolution. Why? “Vengeance.”

Per the credits, the angel Mary is talking to through the Cave is Xaphania. I won’t give any spoilers yet, but you can follow the link and get a better understanding of who this particular angel would want vengeance against. She is also the one giving the voice over at the beginning of the episode, telling of the forging of the Subtle Knife.

His Dark Materials S2E4 - Boreal's snake reaches out over his and Mrs. Coulter's hands touching
Inappropriate contact, one way or another


While he is explaining his past to Lee, Jopari says, “Imagine my astonishment to learn that part of my nature is female.” That’s really interesting. One of the things that Philip Pullman set up in Lyra’s world is that daemons are always the opposite sex as their human. So women have male daemons and men have female daemons. Given that, you would think their world would have less sexism, rather than be so deeply entrenched in it. However, that is not the case.

We see this most evidently in the Magisterium and the witches. Men versus women. Authority versus freedom. Since witches are real in this world and actually have the powers attributed to them, the church is forced to tolerate them. Luckily for them, the witches tolerate the Magisterium as well, and stay out of “human affairs” even though they observe the atrocities committed by them and some in their ranks long to take action. When the détente is broken, the anti-witch (really anti-woman) rhetoric is vitriolic, and the actions that follow equally so.

Lord Boreal shows this sexism at play on a more personal level. He fairly well shocks Mary with his compliment (to his mind, no doubt) that he’s “always admired women with a good work ethic.” He dismisses Lyra as already being trapped, when in fact he doesn’t really have her at all. He also seems to think he has some sort of sway over Mrs. Coulter. Notice though that when she arrives for their meeting, she makes a point of telling the server that it’s *Mrs.* Coulter. Maybe the way her monkey daemon slammed that poor guard’s snake daemon on the ground in S2E3 was a preview of things to come.

His Dark Materials S2E4 - Lyra in the foreground is smiling, with Will in a bathtub fuzzy in the background

Quick Takes

A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:

  • Tullio was to have a role in the standalone Lord Asriel episode that had to be cut. That episode apparently would have given more background into his relationship with his sister Angelica.
  • Jopari is a fusion / twist of “John Parry.”
  • I think I’ve said this before, but they really need to consider publishing the missing Asriel episode as a graphic mini-series in the interim between Seasons 2 and 3. That would be a perfect solution.
  • The witches really do seem nearly invincible in this series. Much more so than in the books. Four witches versus four Magisterium gunships (maybe more?), and they just rip through them in less than a minute, leaving a trail of fiery death in their wake.
  • The stained glass window in the top of the tower says “Dormi con gli Angeli,” which translates (per Google) to “Sleep with Angels.”
His Dark Materials S2E4 - Mrs. Coulter looks right over her shoulder, with a mural of Cittàgazze behind her
Mrs. Coulter sees a spectre

Best lines of the episode:

  • “I’m three inches thick in jimson weed!”
  • “Fight, boy! Fight!”
  • “Not given up. Just made peace with my limitations.”
  • “Like him? Who does?”
  • “Good. But you do realize that Lyra has a tendency to escape traps.”
  • “Oh, so, in fact, you don’t have her at all?”
  • “Very well Carlo, take me to another world.”
  • “We’ll do it. Together.”
  • “Just leave the winds to me.”
  • “Looks like our shaman is all hat and no cattle.”
  • “So dark matter is conscious?” “Evidently.”
His Dark Materials S2E4 - Will pulls at a glowing line in front of him as Lyra and Giacomo look on
Will learns how to close a window between worlds

In The News

Here I try to point you to a few of the more interesting and informative news items over the last week related to His Dark Materials.

I don’t have a lot this week, so I thought instead I’d use this turn to recommend a couple of good podcasts for His Dark Materials that I listen to. All of these are British, and thus on the BBC schedule (playing eight days before they air on HBO):

  • Dust Busters – Jake and Louisa are a couple of ten years, where he is the HDM expert and she is the HDM Their chemistry is great and they are probably my favorite of the three podcasts.
  • The Dark Material Podcast – Iain and Amy are another couple, giving both reviews of the series and also working through the books chapter by chapter.
  • Her Dark Materials – Friends Faye and Rachael are also reviewing both the series and the books. They describe themselves as “two gingers from the north of England.” They tend to be funnier, but are also well connected on Twitter with cast and crew, so sometimes they are also the most informative.

That’s all for this week. Please let me know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episodes, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below. Remember that 25YL will provide continuing coverage of His Dark Materials throughout Season 2 and beyond.

All images courtesy of HBO

Written by Brien Allen

Brien Allen is the last of the original crazy people who responded to this nutjob on Facebook wanting to start an online blog prior to Twin Peaks S3. Some of his other favorite shows have been Vr.5, Buffy, Lost, Stargate: Universe, The OA, and Counterpart. He's an OG BBSer, Trekkie, Blue Blaze Irregular, and former semi-professional improviser. He is also a staunch defender of putting two spaces after a period, but has been told to shut up and color.

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