His Dark Materials recap: Will claims his destiny at a knife's point
In a pivotal but somewhat rushed episode, several of the characters finally find what they are looking for, along with a few surprises they weren't expecting. It all begins with a Lord of the Rings-style prologue about the history of the subtle knife and the ruin it has caused. The knife, which helped cause the plague of Specters haunting Cittàgazze, is located in the seemingly impenetrable Torre degli Angeli, or Tower of the Angels. Will and Lyra know there is a way into the tower since they’ve seen the shadow of a figure moving behind its windows, but the entrance is hidden from view. Wandering around the city, Pan and Lyra eventually stumble upon a door marked with the same kind of angel that flanks the tower. With Will’s help, they bust the door open and find their way to its main staircase.
As Will is about to face his destiny at the top of the tower, Lee Scoresby finally finds Will’s father a world away with some help from the man’s daemon (who is voiced in a Fleabag callback by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Calling himself Jopari instead of John Parry or Stanislaus Grumman, the man admits that he’s had many names in his time. Though Andrew Scott’s been haunting this show on the edges for over a season, this is our first full introduction to him. He’s marvelous as the mysterious traveler between worlds, achieving an otherworldly quality that fits the character well.
Having finally found the man he’s been looking for, and hopefully the object of protection he has, Lee introduces himself but soon finds out that Jopari summoned him through a ring that once belonged to Lee’s beloved mother. The aeronaut is both baffled and angry by the revelation, and frankly, the fact that John Perry became a shaman was always a part of the book that seemed a little too strange even for a story involving talking bears and witches.
Jopari tells Lee to sit and recounts the creation of the subtle knife. The tool, which was the undoing of the Guild through their greed in abusing it, is also known as Æsahættr, and it can slice not only flesh and spirit but between worlds as well. He doesn’t actually have the knife but wants to find the new bearer since they will soon take up the mantle. In a hitch that Lee wasn’t expecting, Jopari wants to take the knife to Lord Asriel since he’ll need it for the war to come. Despite what Lee said to Mrs. Coulter in the last episode, he admits he doesn’t like Asriel and isn’t thrilled by the idea of giving him the knife. Jopari tells him not to confuse the man with the mission because the two forces of repression and freedom have always been at war with each other. If the right side, the side of free thought, has any chance of success, Asriel will need the knife.
That might be all well and good but Lyra is the reason Lee is here and if Jopari doesn’t have the knife to help protect her, then he sees no reason to stay. Jopari asks Lee if he loves the girl and Lee admits that he loves her like a daughter and more than Asriel ever did. Understanding that kind of parental love, Jopari tells Lee about his son, Will, and how he even became a shaman to try and get back to his family but found his world is now closed to him. Resigned to that fact, he made other discoveries. Gesturing to his osprey daemon, he says how astonished he was to find out part of his nature was not only female but in bird form and beautiful.
If he wants to be a good father now, he has to leave behind a world where his son can think on his own, where he is free, and that’s why he needs to help Lord Asriel. Lee agrees to help him as long as Jopari swears to put Lyra under the protection of the knife. Jopari gives him his word, but he confesses that the knife bearer has their own task, which might put Lyra in even greater danger. Not realizing his son's position, Jopari says he can’t speak to the bearer’s character but can only be guided to them.
Back at the top of the tower in Cittàgazze, Lyra and Will find Giacomo Paradisi, played by General Zod himself, Terence Stamp. Giacomo is the current knife bearer, but it was stolen by the mysterious Tullio (Lewis MacDougall), who comes upon them and starts swinging the knife wildly at Will. The two boys fight, and Lyra tries to help until Tullio throws her off, so she helps untie Giacomo for help. Will and Tullio continue to wrestle, breaking the tower’s window. Tullio loses his grip on the knife, and Pan gets it, but Tullio kicks the daemon and injures Lyra in the process. Once Tullio gets the knife back, he swings it at Will and cuts off two of Will’s fingers in a shock. Instead of helping, Giacomo urges Will to fight, and the stunned boy manages to defeat Tullio and take possession of the knife. As Tullio flees the tower and comes to a bad end via the Specters, Will passes out from the pain.
Will eventually wakes up, and poor Terence Stamp doesn’t have much time to do anything except dump a lot of exposition and provide some of his natural gravitas to the proceedings. Giving Will some plum brandy to dull the pain, Giacomo tells Will they don’t have long, so he needs Will to concentrate. As he removes his glove, Giacomo reveals he lost the same two fingers as Will and that this injury now marks him as the new bearer of the subtle knife.
Before Will knows it, Giacomo is telling him all there is to know about the two-edged weapon. One edge of the knife, which reminds Lyra of the blade at Bolvangar, can cut through anything, even Specters. The other side gives the knife its name and can cut an opening into another world. Giacomo tries to show Will how to cut a window into another world, but whether it’s the blood loss or the pain, Will can’t concentrate enough to focus his mind at the tip of the knife, much to the old knife bearer’s frustration.
Having experience manipulating the alethiometer, Lyra realizes what Will is going through and tries to build his confidence. When Pan draws close to comfort the young man, such an intimate act shocks Lyra, who wasn’t prepared for her daemon to behave that way. Will worries he did something wrong, but an embarrassed Lyra says no, Pan just wanted to provide comfort.
After taking Lyra’s advice about accepting the pain and focusing past it, Will takes up the knife again and, with some encouragement from Giacomo, manages to make a cut into another world. Once he learns how to close it, Giacomo tells him the four rules of the knife: never open a window without closing it, no one else must use it, don’t use it for base purposes, and keep it secret because it cannot fall into the wrong hands. In other words, as the new bearer, Will cannot give the knife to Lord Boreal as planned.
The knife will protect them, but Will must protect it first. Giacomo bids them both farewell, and though Will knows that the Specters will get him without the knife's protection, Giacomo knows he has fulfilled his duty and wants to meet his destiny privately. Outside the tower again, Will and Lyra see the Specters swirling around its windows, but before they can get Giacomo, he poisons himself and dies in peace. Considering how important Will becoming the knife’s bearer is to the larger plot, it’s a shame that all the scenes in the tower, and with Stamp especially, felt very rushed.
Later that night, Will is soaking in the tub and realizing the weight of his new role. After bringing him clean towels, Lyra seems to understand the same thing and what that means for the alethiometer. So she’s relieved when Will tells her that they are just going to have to steal it back from Lord Boreal.
As they wish each other good night, both help and danger are on the way. Will’s father is coming via Lee’s balloon and Lyra’s mother via Lord Boreal, who has shown her his secret pathway from their world to Will’s in a twisted gesture of romance.
In fact, Lord Boreal is a busy bee this episode flitting back and forth between worlds like he’s crossing the street. Before he meets up with Mrs. Coulter and informs her he knows Lyra’s location, he visits Dr. Malone under the guise of Charles Latrom. He offers to fund her project but once he mentions defense funding, she kicks him out of her office, much to the dismay of her research partner, who isn’t quite as ethical.
Despite her frustrations, Malone attempts to contact the shadow particles again, and this time, it works. As she sits before the Cave and clears her mind, the computer commands her to ask a question, and she’s stunned by the answers. Using the voice of actress Sophie Okonedo, the mysterious being tells Dr. Malone that not only are dark matter and Dust the same conscious beings, but they are actually angels. They have always been there, stimulating, and guiding humans. When Dr. Malone asks why they have intervened in human evolution, she gets one ominous word: vengeance.
Vengeance is also on the witches' minds as Serafina arrives at Ruta Skadi’s lands and apologizes for their destruction at the hands of the Magisterium. Hundreds of witches are now dead, and it weighs on Ruta’s conscience. Serafina tells Ruta that her daemon Kaisa discovered that Lyra has passed through the anomaly. They agree to join together, and Ruta warns that the anomaly is well-guarded, but Serafina says she isn’t frightened. Ruta will get Asriel and finish what he started. And they vow that the Magisterium will pay for what they’ve done.
As the Magisterium’s airships guard the anomaly, the witches rain hell down upon their forces, taking out soldiers with ferocious and deadly speed. With the ships burning in the sky, Serafina and the others slip through the anomaly, and Will and Lyra will soon have another powerful force rushing to their side.
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