Mrs. Coulter Is One of the Best Villains on TV
February 12, 2021
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The HBO series His Dark Materials, based on the novels by Philip Pullman, recently concluded a strong second season. Fantasy author Erin Lindsey was particulary impressed with the show’s lead villain, Mrs. Coulter, played by Ruth Wilson.

“The performance of Mrs. Coulter and the way that she’s written are just so brilliant in this series, I can’t get enough of it,” Lindsey says in Episode 453 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley agrees that Mrs. Coulter is a highlight of the show. “She’s such an interesting character because she’s very icy, she’s very evil, but she loves her daughter at some level,” he says. “She’s in incredible control of her emotions, but obviously has a lot of very strong emotions, and she has these flashes of humanity, but then is also very ruthless.”

Like many characters in His Dark Materials, Mrs. Coulter has an animal companion—a “daemon”—who represents her soul. Science fiction author Sam J. Miller found Mrs. Coulter’s relationship with her daemon—a sinister golden monkey who never speaks—to be particularly memorable.

“There were scenes that I found super hard to watch, the way they are communicating her self-harm and her relationship with her daemon, which is so horrific and disturbing,” he says. “That was probably the most emotionally engaged I felt the whole season.”

Writer Sara Lynn Michener says that Mrs. Coulter recalls many complicated women who have risen to power within patriarchal institutions. “She has decided that she is going to play this game better than everybody else in order to beat it, and because of that, there are things that she has decided to kill within herself that she shouldn’t have, and there are things that she has sacrificed in order to have strength,” Michener says. “It’s deeply tragic. There’s so much to say about and think about with this character.”

Listen to the complete interview with Erin Lindsey, Sam J. Miller, and Sara Lynn Michener in Episode 453 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Erin Lindsey on controversy:

“I suspect that this [Catholic] church would be positioned differently than its predecessor in terms of how it would see [shows] like this. It’s speculation, but Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are famously rather different in their approaches to almost everything. … Another piece of the puzzle too, frankly, is that when you’re talking about controversy and culture wars, what registers on the radar is orders of magnitude more dramatic than something like this. I think we’ve been so whipped up in culture war conversations that are just so much bigger and more important than this one—however institutions or individuals feel notwithstanding—that this probably felt like such a minnow, when we have bigger fish to fry.”

Sam J. Miller on visual effects:

“With a lot of the visuals in the first season, I could tell they were CGI, and in some cases the CGI was not as good as it could be, or disappointing, or I could tell when corners were being cut—especially the polar bear fight. But it never bothered me in Season 2. I thought that they had really upped their game. … The sets of Cittàgazze were so gorgeous, and so much of that was real stuff. Although I will say that I had a moment of rage in one of the behind-the-scenes things. The guy who designed [Cittàgazze] talked about how, ‘I went to 140 locations, and I couldn’t find one that was right, so we decided to make our own.’ And I’m like, I want the job where I go to 140 —140!—awesome old cities, and then say, ‘Nah, I’m going to make my own.’”

Sara Lynn Michener on Mary Malone:

“It was absolutely how I had pictured her from the books, because she’s this wonderfully motherly scientist, and that’s the sense that I got from the character in the book, and so to see that come to life was really extraordinary. This whole series is wonderfully cast. Her character is fascinating, and I love that there’s that connection to the tenuous relationship with people who are curious about religion and curious about big questions, and the natural fit of somebody starting off as a nun and becoming a physicist, which makes perfect sense to me, having been raised religious and departing from that when I was a teenager. So yeah, I loved the character.”

David Barr Kirtley on character deaths:

“I remember watching the Lord of the Rings special features, and Peter Jackson talking about this issue where the story is that Boromir is going to get killed in this battle with a bunch of random Uruk-hai, and Peter Jackson is like, ‘I felt like we needed to have one particular Uruk-hai who’s a character.’ And so they built up this Uruk-hai with the white hand on his face to be this character that you recognize, so that when Boromir is killed and Aragorn fights this orc, it’s not just some random orc that you’ve never seen before. And I wonder if we needed something like that here, where one of the Magisterium soldiers has been built up—and it wouldn’t have to be huge—so that it’s not just some faceless stormtrooper, it’s somebody that we’ve seen in a couple of scenes before.”

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