So much for teenage dreams of becoming a YouTuber, footballer or cardiovascular surgeon. Will Parry (Amir Wilson), with no say in the matter and two fewer fingers, is now the bearer of the Subtle Knife, a blade which can slice open portals between dimensions. It’s hardly the sort of job he would have discussed with his careers officer at school or his dad John (Andrew Scott), if he’d been around instead of becoming a trans-dimensional shaman.
His Dark Materials season 2 episode 4 places the estranged Parrys at its centre, their journeys of self-discovery running in parallel, featuring the show’s most impressive action sequences yet and a sexual-tension-free Fleabag reunion.
The long-teased arrival of John Parry (or Jopari as he’s known in the new world, played by Fleabag’s Andrew Scott) is the first of two major debuts this episode. Scott makes the transition from Hot Priest to Hot Shaman with mystical ease, as he and his daemon (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) welcome Lee Scoresby to his remote home. Jopari, perfectly dressed for Coachella 2021, informs Lee they must help Lord Asriel and his cause by delivering him whoever carries the Subtle Knife.
In Cittàgazze, that very blade is the focus of Lyra and Will’s planned heist of the Tower of Angels, the booty needed to uphold their bargain with Lord Boreal. All that stands between them and recovering Lyra’s alethiometer (the golden compass by which she reasons truth) from Boreal is finding a way into the foreboding structure which looms over the empty town.
The reason for Cittàgazze’s deserted streets is given in the episode’s opening mini-horror film, which narrates the history of the knife’s existence. Its misuse in the service of greed is detailed, and how Lord Asriel’s experiements allowed the lethal spectres to overrun the town. These airborne oil slicks ripple with menace as they cruise the narrow streets, devouring the town’s adult inhabitants, and are set to invade some viewers’ nightmares.
Will’s bound to have a few bad dreams, too. During a fight to retrieve the knife from a jittery teenager, the weapon slices off two of his fingers. The knife, also known as Æsahættr (that’s the name of Grimes and Elon Musk’s next kid sorted) gifts its owner immense power. As bearer of the Knife, Will has found his life’s purpose, a theme which runs throughout the episode – nun-turned-physicist Mary Malone has begun communicating with angels and Jopari has pledged to aid The Bearer, unaware it’s his long-lost son.
There’s now an unstoppable drive towards conflict, the episode ending with a thrilling sequence which showcases the imagination of the effects team, as Serafina Pekkala and her witches overrun Magisterium airships. Many of Lyra’s allies are converging on her, but so too are her enemies.
For now, the plans of Lord Boreal and Lyra’s evil mother Mrs Coulter remain known only to them. A family reunion is on the cards for John and Will, but will there also be one for Lyra and her mum? Ruth Wilson’s performance and the script have given the series’ arch-villainness a poker face to upstage Lady Gaga’s. As for Lyra understanding her purpose in life, this won’t remain a mystery to us for much longer.
Even darker material
- Screen legend Terence Stamp plays previous knife bearer Giacomo Paradisi – and in this role he rejoins the Pullman-verse. In the 2003 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of His Dark Materials he provided the voice of Lord Asriel.
- Jopari’s daemon is Sayan Kötör, an osprey – how tempted were the writers to change her into a guinea pig for yet another Fleabag nod?
- When Mrs Coulter caught sight of a spectre in Cittàgazze, there was no hint of panic. Game recognises game.