In the penultimate episode of “Killing Eve” Season 3, Eve (Sandra Oh) slams herself into a seat opposite her former boss Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) and immediately starts demanding answers about Villanelle (Jodie Comer). She doesn’t get far before Carolyn cuts her off with an exhausted sigh.
“Oh, Eve, what a blinkered approach,” she says. “Do you ever think of anything else?”
The answer, of course, is no — and it’s become, as Carolyn expresses so succinctly in this scene, exhausting.
Eve’s fixation on Villanelle (and vice versa) has been the pulse of “Killing Eve” since the beginning. It’s fueled them both to burrow deep into their own darkest impulses and face each other, eyebrows arched in curiosity and more than a little lust, as if staring into a mirror. Oh and Comer barely had to share the screen for their electricity to crackle through it. In its best moments, “Killing Eve” teased the tension between the two with an expert eye for how to draw it out without pushing it too far. But the show pushed past its own natural endpoint once it was renewed for a second season, and the result was a disappointing retread. After Phoebe Waller-Bridge left, Emerald Fennell’s second season tried — and often failed — to recapture the dynamic by repeating it relentlessly. It defaulted to so many of the tricks that had worked to brilliant effect in the debut season that they lost what made them interesting in the first place.
The third season, helmed by Suzanne Heathcoate, did something different — well, at least with Villanelle, who took a hard look at her life and past in order to move forward. Eve, however, was essentially stuck back in season 1.
This season saw Eve circling the drain. After Villanelle left her for dead in the second season, neither she nor the show has any idea what to do with her life next. Her fed-up husband has skipped the country, her job at MI-6 is long gone, and her only friend dies suddenly in the premiere. Left with nothing, she turns to the only solid thing she had before it all fell apart: her obsession with Villanelle. Since Villanelle believes Eve to be dead, she’s free to move on and into new, richer story avenues. But Eve has nothing else, and so goes back to Villanelle, over and over again, hoping to find something new. It’s not a coincidence that the next time we see Eve after Carolyn rolls her eyes at her is when she’s thrown herself into a dumpster to find a scrap of evidence that Villanelle still cares. Meanwhile, Villanelle pushes for a promotion, investigates her family history and confronts her most pointed fears about herself (albeit reluctantly). Oh’s performance is still a thrill to watch, but this season, she’s stuck with a remix of Eve’s greatest hits while Comer gets a splashy showcase of new sides to play. It almost feels like “Killing Eve” did, in fact, kill Eve, paving the way for a Villanelle show that frankly has far more propulsive energy to it.
When Villanelle and Eve finally do come back together in the season finale, the episode (“Am I Leading Or You”) tries hard to get them back to their baseline of mutual infatuation. And yet, it can’t quite square that endpoint with the scattered season that preceded it. Villanelle’s glad to see Eve, but Eve’s painfully, desperately relieved to see Villanelle. Though the final moments have them each unable to (literally) walk away from each other, it’s clear that Eve’s investment in their relationship far outweighs Villanelle’s at this point, and even clearer that the series itself has far less of a handle on Eve’s ongoing story than Villanelle’s, which has progressed and transformed as Eve’s has withdrawn and regressed.
What first made Eve and Villanelle’s cat and mouse game so magnetic was the fact that, despite its turbulence, the longing between them was always equal. For whatever “side” they were on, they shared a fascination with each other that no one else could rival or understand. If “Killing Eve” wants to keep itself afloat for another season (or more!), it needs to find that balance again — or at the very least, give Eve something more interesting to do than pine for it.