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'Mrs. Davis' co-creator and Betty Gilpin explain exploding heads and love triangles in Episode 5

The stories behind the explosive Mrs. Davis, Episode 5.

By Tara Bennett
A still image from Mrs. Davis Season 1 Episode 5

You want Mrs. Davis answers? Well, Episode 5 offers them up in a Grail shaped bowl! “A Great Place to Drink to Gain Control of Your Drink” marks the halfway point of the first season and just like Simone (Betty Gilpin) and Wiley need some damn answers, so too do we.

Gratefully, our prayers are answered with castaway Arthur Schrodinger (Ben Chaplin). He first appeared in the Pilot but with minimal context. But Episode 5 is where his whole epic story is revealed, filling in the blanks on Clara (Mathilde Oliver), Mathilde LaFleur (Katja Herbers), Hans Ziegler (Tom Wlaschiha) and that crazy British Knights trainer ad that closed out Episode 4

RELATED: Recap: 'Mrs. Davis' goes to Rome in Episode 4, revealing its most insane twist yet

For our weekly SYFY WIRE exclusive Mrs. Davis post mortem, co-creator Tara Hernandez and actress Betty Gilpin tackle the Sisters of the Coin mythology, some mother/daughter issues and the delights inherent to the Simone/Jay/Wylie love triangle. 

** SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers below for Mrs. Davis Episode 5 **

Two Good Men

A still image from Mrs. Davis Season 1 Episode 5

Betty let's tackle the big love triangle in the room. By Episode 5, we've experienced the positives and negatives of both Wiley (Jack McDorman) and Jay (Andy McQueen). What do you think they individually bring out of Simone that's good for her?

Betty Gilpin, Simone / Lizzie: I think that Jay has pulled a part of her out of her that she didn't know existed. The only thing I can compare it to...I'm not a person of faith, but I have a two-year-old daughter. It feels like having a daughter in 2020, where she made me fall in love with the world, parts of the world that I had written off. Where I roll my eyes at the world or doom scroll, or I'm so frustrated with so much of what I see, and then I am suddenly sobbing at a butterfly. I think that that is sort of what Jay makes Simone do. She just feels this incredible connection to things that she never thought she would feel connected to. And Wiley, I think infuriates Lizzie. [Laughs.] But, it's so spicy and fun. Jay is vitamins and Wiley is whiskey.

The Holy Shoe

A still image from Mrs. Davis Season 1 Episode 5

There's a tremendous amount of mythology unpacking done in Episode 5. First, who came up with the idea of a grandiose Super Bowl ad as a Trojan Horse for the Sisters of the Coin? And was it always going to thread it into the spine of the series as a mystery? 

Tara Hernandez, Co-creator and Showrunner: From very early in the show's development, Damon and I knew that the Knights Templar opening of the Pilot was a footwear commercial. We were delighted that it appeared as a gory, somewhat pretentious, flashback, but was actually an ad. Because algorithms serve us ads all the time. So that was never in question. We also knew that Mrs. Davis was going to see the commercial and misinterpret it as a "historical document" (a la Galaxy Quest) which would inspire her to send Simone off on the Quest. And finally, we knew that what Mrs. D didn't suspect is that the actual Holy Grail was used as a prop in the ad. So what we, and the writers' room, needed to figure out was, why? And so came the Sisters of the Coin mythology, including "The Articles of Care" and why it was essential for them to make this commercial to have the Grail seen. All Sisters of the Coin Grail mythology was developed within the writers' room. 

I love that Clara's name is Mathilde Oliver in real life and Katja plays her mom, Mathilde. Spooky destiny coincidence, or did you stoke the fires by naming the mom thusly? 

Hernandez: Complete and total coincidence! Mathilde, the character, came first. Casting later!

How were you able to get Katja Herbers to appear in the series as she's top-lining her own show, Evil?

Hernandez: We are so lucky that she responded so favorably to the character. Katja is brilliant, and both Damon and I are fans. We always knew it was a long shot, but after Katja read the scripts she was eager to make it work. We also reached out to the [Robert and Michelle] King to ask for their blessing, because we knew it meant rearranging their production schedule on Evil. Again, they were so cool and classy about it, we were able to make it happen. Whatever it takes! 

Mother, daughter dynamics in Mrs. Davis

Talk about how the show, and especially this episode, is chipping away at some complex mother/daughter dynamics. Clara/Mathilde & Lizzie/Celeste are really messy relationships so what did you want to explore through them in the series?

Hernandez: I was always fascinated with Lizzie's past; her history before she became Sister Simone.  As writer Noelle Viñas so beautifully crystallized in dialogue in Episode 4, when Maria is poking at Simone, [she says], "You’re a nun. That means your mother failed you." We were all interested in that mother-daughter dynamic from the jump. As Episode 5 was being conceived, we wanted the Clara-Mathilde relationship to serve as parable for Simone and Celeste. A warning. As mothers, both Celeste and Mathilde have these obsessions that are preventing them from connecting with their daughters. Mathilde is honor bound to uphold the "Articles of Care for the Grail," and in the present story, Celeste wants to find Monty. They've both got tunnel vision, and in the blind spots are their own daughters.

We explored it from the prism of mother-daughter relationships, but I think this goes beyond biology, to female relationships in general. Societal pressures can mean we turn against one another very easily.  In response to our perceived duties, ambition, the patriarchy... whatever it is.  It's a very dangerous cycle. And in Clara's case, we see the consequences are catastrophic. Also, ladies, a simple sorry goes a long way. [Laughs.]

Speaking of Clara's catastrophic consequences, talk about that shocking moment. Did Peacock ever go, "Whoa. No way." 

Hernandez: [Laughs.] Peacock definitely responded with arched eyebrows. But would never exclaim "no way," because they were dealing with us. And they knew better. We had already pitched them so many out there concepts that they knew we were serious.

But in generating that idea specifically, it took a lot of time in the room. We always knew Clara was going to die because the liver transplant is her connection to Simone and Wiley, but we didn't know how exactly she was going to expire. We pitched around a lot of ideas: Is it a time release thing? Does she sip from the Grail and then have eight hours left to live? Does she sip from the Grail and then a piece of lightning strikes a nearby tree which falls and crushes her? Ultimately, it was Damon who said, "I wish it could be quick. Like, she sips and her head explodes." We all looked at each other and thought, "Yeah, why not? It should be that." And since headless corpses have been kind of a morbid motif on this show, we knew it was the right thing. 

Mrs. Davis airs new episodes Thursdays on Peacock