Killing Eve, a show about a stylish assassin hunted by a frumpy MI6 agent, made it easy to fall a little in love with a serial killer. Vibrant clothes, a bumping soundtrack, and a coy smile from Villanelle made it hard not to smile even as she graphically murdered her way across Europe, taking glib satisfaction in the creativity of her kills. As much fun as this was, it was also a problem, as by Killing Eve’s third season, the show had excessively minimized the titular character’s screen time to wallow in the winsome depravity of its villain. Now, in season 4, Eve, played by Sandra Oh, is once again the focus of the show, and it’s so much better for it.
What made Killing Eve’s first season so compelling was how focused it was on Eve. Villanelle (Jodie Comer) was like butter, wonderful in moderation, but too rich in excess. Oh’s performance and the scripts made Eve not just a straight man to Villanelle’s flamboyant lead, but a true rival. Eve wasn’t good at killing, and her reaction to being stalked involved fleeing into a bathroom and defending herself with a toilet brush, but she was every bit as charming and interesting as Villanelle. There was something dark about her obsession and how it affected those around her. Something perverse about her intellectual attraction to Villanelle. But as the show went on and Eve descended further and further into Villanelle’s orbit, she started to disappear. By season 3 Eve was gone from the story for whole massive chunks of time and was even absent one entire episode.
Season 4 makes the focus on Villanelle at the cost of Eve feel purposeful. The story appears to pick up sometime after season 3 with Eve in a very different place. The indecisive and nervous desk jockey who liked to croon Disney songs at karaoke and sleep in after drinking too much has been replaced with a focused killer — a killer who jogs. What’s more: we have no idea how Eve got to this point in her life. BBC America sent myself and other critics the first three episodes of the fourth season, and we see a lot of old loose plot threads get snipped off in those episodes, but there’s still no answer for why Eve has become so focused and so driven, or why she seems to passionately hates Villanelle’s guts.
It’s fascinating to watch Eve practically seethe in her interactions with Villanelle. She’s furious, but there’s this queer thread of real care and concern too that feels like a loved one interacting with an addict. Oftentimes, in my experience, you find yourself caring for the addict, unable to turn off that affection, but knowing that you need to keep a distance, to protect yourself from their destructiveness and not enable them. In one scene she’s speaking with an acquaintance who asks her, out of the blue, how Villanelle is, and instead of tensing Sandra Oh softens. Something like relief flickers across her face. She may be mad, but she can’t turn the care off.
Villanelle can’t turn off the care she has either — but it’s warped her. Where Eve seems healthy and whole and thriving, Villanelle is twisting in the wind and focused obsessively on Eve and being redeemed in her eyes. Her arc thus far this season mirrors one of an addict, too. In season 3 she’d effectively hit rock bottom after murdering her own mother, and broke down not long after when she took another life. She was looking for support from Eve, even as she ran from her, but when your addiction is murder, how do you pull out of a tailspin? Villanelle is trying to figure that out as she actively pines for Eve and pretends that whatever fractured their relationship between seasons is behind them.
But while Villanelle is making amends and trying to avoid murdering others, she’s no less interesting. The show still manages to find a way to revel in the chaos Villanelle delights in creating. Jodie Comer never lets Villanelle become muted, and there’s no equating “murder-free” with boring. If anything, it makes the character more interesting.
Eve is still the more central character though. She’s the one moving the plot, and she’s the one who’s had a bigger journey off screen, and she’s the one trying to protect Villanelle even as she’s furious with her and heartbroken by her. The show is called Killing Eve, and whether that’s because Eve will be dead by the finale or so transformed she might as well be, she’ll be experiencing that change as the main character. Eve is back, and I can’t wait to see who she shoots next.
Killing Eve premieres tonight, Sunday, February 27, on BBC America.