'His Dark Material' Season 2 Episode 2 Ending Explained: Why does Mrs Coulter call Father MacPhail 'Hugh'?
Mrs Coulter in the BBC-HBO adaptation is a wholly different beast than in the books. And the change is an improvement. In the books, she is a villainous but mysterious figure, who you can't quite attribute any motivations to — beyond the big broad ones — power laced with love and cruelty.
The show version makes Mrs Coulter an infinitely more complex character. There is now some understanding of why she is so power-hungry. If she were a man, she would be Cardinal of the Magisterium. Instead, all of Season 1, we have seen her do the bidding of lesser men who hold more power than her, her ambitions and intelligence thwarted at every turn. We have seen her froth in the mouth, raging at everything holding her back from doing what she wants before eventually left to plot and plan in the shadows to achieve her ends. While she plots, we have only seen her speak in a tone of absolute deference, even when she is seething inside while dealing with the Magesterium in Season 1.
But in Season 2, Lord Asriel blasting a hole through the sky also ended up loosening the tethers on her. The Magesterium is at its most vulnerable — its lies are exposed, threatening its absolute power. Sensing the weakness, Mrs Coulter has pounced. In Episode 1, we saw Mrs Coulter call the powerful men of the Magisterium "failures", shaming them into taking action that she wants. Soon after, she convinces Father MacPhail to let her kill the Cardinal after he is wounded, so that Father MacPhail can take his place.
After the Cardinal's funeral, Father MacPhail uses a combination of xenophobia and misogyny to become the new Cardinal by declaring war on the witches. He is now the most powerful man in Lyra's world. But the shameful secret of the old Cardinal's death means that Mrs Coulter has the ultimate blackmailing evidence. This is amply displayed in the last conversation of the episode between her and Father MacPhail. She tells him exactly what she thinks of the petty politics and ambitions of men like him, lacing her words with contempt as she addresses Father MacPhail as "Hugh" — signifying that he no longer controls her.
For the first time in the series, Mrs Coulter can do whatever she wants without restrictions. She tells him she is going after something "infinitely more valuable". She doesn't tell him what or who. But we know it is Lyra. Besides being her own daughter, Mrs Coulter now knows that she is also the "child of prophecy" — whoever controls the 'Lyra chess piece' will be the one who will be ahead of the game.
With the multiverse opening up, Mrs Coulter's horizons have broadened. Episode 2 also underlines that one of her key partners-in-crime will be Lord Boreal, since she has now used (and discarded) Father MacPhail. Boreal has been visiting Will's world, which is our world, since Season 1, so who better to act as a guide of sorts? Mrs Coulter has let her guard down ever so slightly around Lord Boreal.
Till now, both of them have a mutually beneficial relationship. Lord Boreal, who admires her ruthlessness and cunning, is hoping to mix pleasure with business at some point in time while Mrs Coulter uses his attraction to her as a bargaining chip. Who will win in their dealings and when Lyra is the 'prize' in question is anyone's guess.
'His Dark Materials' airs Mondays at 9 PM ET on HBO.