Image Credit: BBC America
While the two previous seasons of Killing Eve burst onto our screens, Suzanne Heathcote’s third season has been more of a slow burner. This season has been criticized by fans and critics alike as being slow and even boring, with the Independent going as far as branding it ‘tired to the point of lifelessness’. But this novel change of pace is exactly what the show needed.
After all, for how long can Eve and Villanelle chase each other across scenic European cities in a murderous yet sexy game of cat-and-mouse? The series, originally penned by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, exploded the spy thriller genre when it debuted on our screens. But such a subversive and fresh series would begin to fail in its mission if it were to carry on recycling its own tactics. There’s nothing conventional about Eve and Villanelle’s twisted relationship, but the love-hate chase cycle could not continue without becoming worn out. Besides, it would be impossible for the pair to continue pursuing each other in this manner, given the catastrophic impacts they have both had on each other’s lives.
The season sets itself up to deal with the fallout of the disastrous Rome operation, as Eve and co’s decisions finally catch up with them this season. Despite her best efforts to move on from MI6 and her psychopathic object of desire, Eve’s world continues to crash in around her as she finds Kenny mysteriously dead (queue cheap South Park punchline). The mystery of who killed Kenny becomes the main occupation of the series, providing the impetus for Eve to get reinvolved with the Twelve.
Though death is inevitable where the Twelve are involved, Kenny’s demise leaves a gaping hole in the series’ cast. In previous seasons, he’s served as a moral compass for Eve, and by the start of this season, he seems to be the only ‘decent’ person left. The introduction of insufferable side characters like Geraldine and Paul only sharpens the blow of his loss. This is my one gripe with this season’s writing; where in the past, supporting characters have flourished into fan-favorites, here they are both dispensible and flat. Even the loveable Mo’s assassination didn’t make me shed a tear.
This is somewhat made up for in the painful journeys of our key players. Lacy Baugher concludes that Eve gets ‘nothing that might even charitably be called an arc of her own this year’ but if anything, this season works to expose the ineffectuality of Eve’s decisions, and the control that both MI6 and the Twelve continue to exert over her life. Eve optimistically concludes ‘choices. It’s all about choices’, as she cheerfully embarks to Poland to patch things over with her ex-husband, Nico. But choices can only get you so far; she watches, paralyzed, as Nico is pitchforked by Villanelle’s handler, Dasha. Though the showrunners could never have predicted the circumstances under which Killing Eve has been aired, the show’s commentary on the powerlessness of the individual at the hands of larger forces is uncomfortably resonant in the time of lockdown. Just as Eve’s attempts to take control over her life are thwarted at every turn, Villanelle’s efforts at promotion beyond a mere killing machine are thrown back in her face.
The biggest success of this season is by far its subversion of Killing Eve’s typically seductive settings and style. Heathcote openly mocks the escapist, continental aesthetic that the show is so renowned for throughout this season. When it is revealed (to no one’s surprise) that Eve is alive, we find her passively shoveling packets of instant noodles into her shopping basket at a Korean food store, and folding dumplings in a restaurant. Has Eve retreated far across the globe, back to her mother’s roots in Korea? No - we are in New Malden.
Certainly, we are still invited vicariously into Villanelle’s cultured life in Barcelona, but as the assassin becomes increasingly disillusioned with her vocation, the glamour soon begins to fade. Villanelle’s Russian hometown is dirt-coloured and barren, and yet this is where we see Villanelle at her most vibrant: winning dung-throwing competitions and singing Crocodile Rock at the top of her lungs. When she is sent on yet another glamorous murder mission to Romania, the classic pastel overlays used to identify location simply spell out ‘This. Is. Bullshit’. Villanelle is tired of this cycle of killing and glamour, and we should be too. If watching Jodie Comer slowly losing it in the wake of Villanelle killing her mother is boring, then we have become entirely insatiable as an audience. To call the season tiresome is to entirely miss the point; our heroines are tired, trapped by their past mistakes, and struggling to find ways to evolve.
And, indeed, by the season’s finale Eve and Villanelle fail to grow past their obsessions with each other. The force at Killing Eve’s heart is still the chaotic and impossible love between our two protagonists; Heathcote brings softness and vitality to this forbidden romance which seemed implausible in previous seasons. I would go as far as to brand their confrontation on London Bridge one of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever witnessed.
It would be far more poignant to conclude the lovers’ story here, as it remains unclear how this romance can survive beyond this season. It’s been made clear throughout that what we are witnessing is an impossible romance. Happy queer endings are few and far between on our screens, and as mesmerizing as this assassin - MI6 agent dynamic is, it’s no recipe for success. While it is refreshing to see Killing Eve evolve, there’s only so much life that can come from a series about killing. Season 4 has already been confirmed, but where can we go from here? As much as *Killing Eve’*s fanatical following may crave still more, this heart-rending finale would have been a perfect conclusion.