There are few characters in HBO’s His Dark Materials more cunning or complicated than Marisa Delamare, who prefers to use her married name: Mrs. Coulter. Your attachment to being a “Mrs.” is a perfect example of how she calmly maintains her power in a misogynistic world full of men who would love to see her dead if it meant advancing her position within the Magisterium.
The TV show His Dark Materials investigated the history of Mrs. Coulter a little, and the CBR website explained the reasons that may have led the character to keep her married name.
In the plot of the series, it was revealed that Mrs. Coulter had her daughter, Lyra, out of wedlock. In Philip Pullman’s original books, Marisa married politician Edward Coulter as a way to improve her social position and was often attracted to men of great influence and power, resulting in her affair with Lyra’s father: the aristocrat Lord Asriel Belacqua. When Edward discovered and tried to locate Lyra, Asriel killed him in a duel but lost his fortune and property under the laws of the Magisterium, which protect husbands who seek revenge against those who engage in adultery with their wives.
Although renowned, Asriel’s social status is low, which is part of the reason why Mrs. Coulter clung to her late husband’s name, despite Asriel being her only love interest in His Dark. The designation also seems to offer her certain advantages that she would not otherwise have, including the Magisterium allowing her to be the rare woman who participates in her business. It also keeps you from having a connection with Asriel and Lyra, who prefers to be Lyra Spellbound. With Asriel being labeled a heretic and Lyra lying at the heart of a witch’s prophecy that makes her a target for all sides of the “Great War”, Mrs. Coulter has a valid reason to avoid being associated with any of them.
Maintaining the status associated with the Coulter name may have kept Marisa in the good graces of the Magisterium, but it would mean nothing if she did not know how to exercise that influence. Mrs. Coulter shows how good she is at this game when she appeals to Father Hugh MacPhail’s craving for power and convinces him to start a bombing campaign against witches, allowing him to gain the momentum he needs to become the new Cardinal after Cardinal Sturrock’s death.
Ironically, the only person who has had the advantage over Mrs. Coulter so far (other than Lyra, of course) was Lee Scoresby, an aeronaut with no real social standing. Lee is imprisoned in the city of Yenisei, but he doesn’t give in to the weight of his threats from Mrs. Coulter and still gets her to release him after breaking his emotional defenses. Their interaction foreshadows the limitations of Mrs. Coulter’s schemes and why her tactics are ineffective against those who are not interested in seeking power and control for personal gain.
As the universe approaches Lyra to her destination, Marisa may come to regret keeping her title as Mrs. Coulter. In fact, by aligning her firmly with the Magisterium, instead of actively seeking to bring down such a dangerous and authoritarian organization, on the contrary, she probably did more harm than good to her and her daughter.