“I was trained to look devastating.”
What’s the Story?
This third season of Killing Eve, based on the Villanelle novels by Luke Jennings, returns us to the murky world of professional killer Villanelle, or Oksana Astankova (Jodie Comer) and counter-intelligence officer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) as they dance around each other in a non-too-healthy professional and personal relationship.
When it started off, Killing Eve was so fresh, transgressive and stylish that it didn’t play like anything else on television.
The three main selling points were fancy outfits, outrageous killings and a spicy dash of sapphic attraction; but somehow all these seem to have become diluted as the have series progressed.
With Eve having missed her chance to kill Villanelle, and Villanelle botching the opportunity to return the favour, by season three there’s a bit of a hiatus – Eve and her protégé Kenny have left MI6, and are half-heartedly pursuing evil conspiracy The Twelve, Eve’s husband Niko has left her after Villanelle killed his girlfriend, and there, things could have been left, but Villanelle is ordered to perform more killings, and one of them seems to be Carolyn’s son Kenny – or is it?
The scene’s set for another exciting chase around the capitals of Europe – so why do we never get it?
What’s good about it?
There are still great performances from Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh, as well as Kim Bodnia as charming ex-KGB chancer Konstantin, Fiona Shaw as MI6 officer Carolyn Martens, and in this season Harriet Walter as spymaster Dasha. Production values are as high as ever, and we get to see a lot of interesting settings and hear some choice background music. There’s even a Bruce Springsteen reference in the final episode. What’s not to like?
What’s bad about it?
The problem is that while It would be very hard to match the impact of the first season, and the second season certainly failed to do so, no irons have been pulled out of the fire in season three.
Sparks between Eve and Villanelle hardly fly at all – apart from a violent encounter on a bus and a dialogue at the end, they have very few scenes together. Instead we get far too much about Konstantin, Carolyne, and her drippy daughter Geraldine.
What killings there were, are rather bland – two of the most significant ones hardly seen at all – and though there are outbreaks of gratuitous violence – the odd pitchfork in the neck or golf club around the head – it’s become increasingly hard for the writers to risk losing any major characters. Instead minor ones are bumped off with monotonous regularity.
Villanelle’s outrageous fashion sense hardly gets an outing, other than with a marabou stole on a golf course and a patterned number in a dance hall.
As for character development, the problem is that Villanelle must be seen to be sympathetic in some lights – the victim of a murky childhood or an abusive system – but still has to kill off the odd inconvenient nanny, family member or rival, so how are we supposed to warm to her? Her desire to get out of the business waxes and wanes annoyingly with the requirements of the plot. If she did get out, there’d be no show.
The problem’s the same with Carolyn – her apparent lack of feeling, even over the death of her son, makes it difficult to care about her personal journey, or her pursuit of the odious Paul (who was obviously a villain from the start).
The introduction of Harriet Walter as old-school KGB agent Dasha gives the whole series an antiquated feel, as if we were back in the days of Smiley and his Soviet opponents. The 40s music in the dancehall scene is another call-back to older spy tropes. (It does give us the best line of the series though – “Are you leading or am I?”) No, the real villains now are corrupt oligarchs, not KGB dinosaurs.
And we come back to the problem of Eve. Seemingly no longer motivated by the death of Bill, or even Kenny, the near-death of Niko, or obsession with Villanelle, what exactly is meant to be driving her? If it’s purely interest in The Twelve, why doesn’t she push Villanelle harder for information?
The progression of the plot, such as it is – ‘Oh My God They Killed Kenny’, in the words of South Park – is glacially slow, interrupted by diversions such as Villanelle’s trip to settle old scores with her family. Again, while this provides a little more background detail on the character, nothing they did seemed to warrant their fates.
It’s a ghastly prospect, but the fourth season has been confirmed, with one of the same writers. It’s looking distinctly like the success of the first season was a one-off collision of a novel idea and the quirky writing of Phoebe Waller-Bridge – without either of these elements, Killing Eve has become something of a joyless trudge.
Why it’s worth a binge
If you’re invested in the characters since the first series, you’ll be wanting to find out what happens next, even if it isn’t anything very much.
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