His Dark Materials: Ruth Wilson On Mrs. Coulter's Emotional Season 3 Arc [Exclusive Interview]

This post contains spoilers for "His Dark Materials" season 3.

"His Dark Materials" aired its epic conclusion last night, wrapping up the show's third and final season with two episodes. Based on the trilogy by Philip Pullman, the series may begin and end with Lyra (Dafne Keen), but one of the most consistently brilliant aspects of this show has undeniably been Ruth Wilson's Marisa Coulter. Lyra's mother is a complex character, both in the books and in the TV series, but Wilson added so many new dimensions to Marisa.

The indomitable Mrs. Coulter finally meets her end in episode 7 much in the same way she does in "The Amber Spyglass," through self-sacrifice. It's a far cry from the woman we've known throughout "His Dark Materials," but season 3 saw Marisa go through major changes — I certainly wouldn't call her a hero, but she is incredibly complex, and much of that nuance comes down to Wilson's fantastic performance.

The Marisa Coulter of the "His Dark Materials" TV series is somewhat different than one in Pullman's books. When I interviewed Ruth Wilson and James McAvoy for /Film, I asked her how much of that was on the page and how much was in Wilson's interpretation. The actor responded by pulling back the curtain on this enigmatic character.

'It gave me some template of a journey to get to'

After pointing out that Mrs. Coulter isn't in book 2 very much but was in every episode of season 2, Wilson told me about her mentality going into the third season:

"It was like we had to create — you've got more space to put her on the screen and if you've got more space to put her on the screen, then like James says, you either have to make it driving the plot or you have to make it character-based. So it was a, 'Let's dig into who this woman is then, or put her in scenarios that don't exist on the page that Philip gave us the freedom to do.' Which meant you had to explore her more and get more psychological with her. Personally, that's what I felt I had to do with it, is that you had to not explain why she is who she is, but give a few more clues or just explore it.

And then the third book, I always felt that she did, she came good in the third book or she does come good. But there was a moment that I've always clung on to as where the journey goes, when her and her monkey — one, he speaks for the first time in the book. And two, they look at each other's eyes and they work together in the final moments as she goes down. And I was like, 'Okay, I have to get to that point where she loves herself or has accepted herself and is working with herself now, has accepted who she is.' Because I always felt that was what it was about. It was about her own relationship to herself from self-loathing to self-love by the end, [and] in a way, acceptance. So for me, I was tracing that stuff, which has definitely probably taken it away from the page a bit and made it a little bit more psychological. But it gave me some template of a journey to get to."

Into the abyss

Wilson's in-depth response to the question shows just how committed she is to bringing Pullman's character to life. Everyone goes on an emotional journey this season, and while it's Lyra and Will (Amir Wilson) that are at the center of the story, Marisa has evolved considerably throughout the series. Like in the books, she goes from a seemingly irredeemable monster who experiments on children to further her own agenda to a woman prepared to sacrifice herself to save her daughter.

The end of episode 6, "The Abyss," saw Marisa reconcile with her daemon, the golden monkey who no longer wanted anything to do with her. Of course, you can't actually be deserted by your own soul, but that conversation sees Marisa finally find some self-acceptance. It's one of the show's most moving moments and leads directly into what happens to her in the show's penultimate episode, "The Clouded Mountain." (According to Entertainment Weekly, Marisa's daemon originally did break his silence in season 3, but that didn't make it into the final cut.)

When all was said and done, even Metatron (Alex Hassell) was no match for Marisa's ability to suppress her emotions. She did what she had to in order save her daughter, and that moment between Lyra and the golden monkey is heartbreaking as he reaches for her one last time before fading from existence. Marisa may have found her heart, but whether or not she found redemption is another question entirely. It's unclear if she was ever even looking for it, but in the end, her final, desperate act was one driven by love.

Season 3 of "His Dark Materials" is now streaming in full on HBO Max.