Let’s talk about Eve and Villanelle’s infuriating ending.
Photo: David Emery/BBCA
Have you ever felt a desire so fierce it becomes physical—in the pit of your stomach? Coiled tighter and tighter, ever more desperate to be satiated? At its best – as in its first season in 2018, by the maestro that is Phoebe Waller-Bridge – Kill Eve discovered the complications and delights rooted in desire, the forgetfulness of supreme pleasure, and what happens when gratification is infused with venom. Even its uneven second season, helmed by showrunner Emerald Fennell of Promising young woman infamy, had cartilage. Yet what followed was a scattered third season so forgettable that, even though I recapped everything, I barely remember its specific grooves. Then there was the final season – an insult to the talents of Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer as well as the audience itself.
The fourth installment of the series, but especially its last two episodes, shows how far the series has fallen from the dizzying heights of its premiere. Gone is the delightful fashion that revolves around moments of transformation in the way of fairy tales. Gone is the razor-sharp characterization, replaced by a confusing internal logic that jockeys characters to suit the needs of its threadbare spy plot. Gone is the dynamic presentation, achieved through blocking, editing, and costume and production design. But more importantly, it was the tense game of cat and mouse between Villanelle (Comer) and Eve (Oh) that served as the driving force. Kill Eve is a study in how jumping from different showrunners each season can leave a series without a deep singular voice – and it’s proof that a superficial understanding of representation and the female gaze isn’t enough to create a memorable, cohesive story that doesn’t care about women on screen. It amounted to a finale that gave the once perpetually hungry viewers a paltry version of what they wanted before they even ripped it off.
In its final season, Kill Eve obsessively focused on the Twelve – the secretly powerful international organization that groomed and employed Villanelle as an assassin. Both Villanelle and Eve are determined to see the slippery organization end for both personal and moral reasons. But this hunt has always been the least intriguing aspect of the series, best as a vehicle for the true narrative engine: the jagged lust and burning desire between Eve and Villanelle. We’ve all known enough of James Bond and John Le Carré to know how tired we are. Kill Eve is in the spy department. The Twelve provided the money that accounted for the lushness imbued with Villanelle’s life as an assassin. The Twelve also provided a web into which Oh’s MI6 agent could be drawn, her mysterious supervisor, Carolyn (played with unwavering force of will by Fiona Shaw), giving us a sense of Eve’s dedication outside by Villanelle. But in the final season, Eve is peripheral, with the focus turning more to Carolyn and Villanelle’s former manager, Konstantin (Kim Bodnia), and the game they play. A black-and-white flashback episode in the late 1970s explains that the two were involved with the Twelve when they formed as an anarchist group bent on disrupting the world through chaos. “Don’t Get Attached” teases a series of revelations about the otherwise inscrutable Carolyn – we learn more about her gay father, who was blackmailed by Konstantin and later committed suicide. Carolyn’s reaction to her father’s death cements her cold, work-first nature. Shaw gives Carolyn a curious mystery, but the more the show reveals about her – and her allegiance to no one but herself – the more she becomes a buoy for a spy saga forcing the show’s leads ever further. more disconnected. Watching episodes like this prompted a host of questions: Where’s all the tactile joy? Lust? The insured complication?
One of the most delicious aspects of Kill EveWaller-Bridge’s fledgling season favored detail over spy plotting – for example, fashion (of costume designer Phoebe De Gaye). Villanelle became a window into the kind of magnificent life that Eve never imagined for herself, but deeply enjoyed when she tasted it. Burberry coats in old rose. Chloé fluid tops in aquamarine. A Dries Van Noten patterned suit. And, of course, the Molly Doddard dress in baby pink tulle that made Villanelle look like a poisoned cupcake. It was enveloping. And fashion wasn’t just about beauty; it was about transformation. Consider the elegant black and white Roland Mouret dress that Villanelle gives Eve in season one. When Eve sees herself in a mirror, she is surprised and delighted with the woman she is confronting. But in its final season, there isn’t a single surprising fashion moment; the suit is dull, functional. Part of the series’ energetic spirit and fun was the art of gazing, a frenzy of scopophilia that sparked many conversations about the power of the female gaze. (While I disagree with the essentialist framing, I enjoyed the conversation sparked by the first season.) But in the years since the show’s premiere, the term has become fossilized as shorthand to elevate the visibility of female directors, writers and craftspeople as if any woman looking through the lens would do the affair. When it was revealed in 2020 that Kill Eve had an all-white writers room, some flaws with this approach were worked out. I won’t mince words: The show’s disinterest in Eve’s inner life meant not just bad writing, but a strain of racism.
In the final season, Eve takes a back seat not just for espionage – too often staying behind everyone else – but for the games other people play, their stories, their lives, their needs. Eve came to live a narrow existence entirely focused on taking down the Twelve due to everything she lost. This reality is alluded to in a karaoke scene, in which she witnesses people no longer in her life, like Bill (David Haig), Elena (Kirby Howell-Baptize), and her former husband (Owen McDonnell). As the show became more grounded in the Twelve, Eve’s desires outside of spying began to fade. Oh is a remarkably lucid actor; beautiful, with a clarity of emotion that pierces the soul. But no actor, however skilful, can redo or make readable what the scriptwriters do not lay out or leave room for development. The season has Eve doing a number of twilight acts: shooting Konstantin, blinding the assassin and former Twelve Gunn sidekick (Marie-Sophie Ferdane) – who has her own sexually tense dynamic with Villanelle – watching Villanelle kill the haughty and cold Hélène (Camille Cotin). The Helen who became a proxy for Eve’s desire for Villanelle – kissing, slipping into a bath, striving to recreate the same orgasm-rich dynamic that Eve had before with Villanelle. Instead, the feelings that audiences wanted to explore with Villanelle are mapped onto another.
Comer and Oh have remarkable chemistry. As Villanelle, Comer is wild and ravenous, bruised and bruised. She and Oh are able to foster a lively emotional and sexual sport with a specifically feminine touch: do these women want to kiss? or kill? As the seasons pass, Eve and Villanelle lose interest in each other in devastating ways, but the final episode, “Hello, Losers,” brings the characters together again. Using Hélène’s phone, Eve is able to discern where the Twelve are meeting – on a boat with a wedding as a cover. Traveling together again, Villanelle and Eve soften. At the home of an extremely sweet couple, Villanelle brushes the bullet scar on Eve’s upper back, remnants of a wound from the wrong end of Villanelle’s gun. They look at each other with envy and implicit understanding. But of what? Eve continues to feed Villanelle’s candies from the van they steal from the couple. They eat curly fries, teasing their different tastes in condiments. Finally, we get what audiences have been wanting for a long time – a real, passionate sex kiss. In the middle of a desolate road, Villanelle kisses Eve on the cheek. Eve grabs his hand, pulling him to her. They kiss with warmth, passion and curiosity as the music swells with whispering sweetness. They laugh in shared pleasure and I assume they’re having fun in the van, but we don’t see it. Eve and Villanelle’s relationship was once the TV equivalent of biting into an overripe, bruised plum and letting the juices run down your chin. Years later, that fruit rotted. Villanelle and Eve manage to board the boat with the members of the Twelve. And while Villanelle kills them all in an anticlimactic scene under royal blue lighting, full of CGI gore and bad blocking, Eve officiates the wedding above as her cover. When they then kiss on the bridge, it’s a moment of respite. “I did it, Eve.” “Don’t you mean we did it?” Eve lovingly retorts. But the rescue quickly stops when an unseen sniper shoots Villanelle in the shoulder, forcing them to jump into the cold waters of London. As they try to find a safe shore, Villanelle is shot over and over and over again, a halo of blood enveloping her. And so a series about queer women obsessing over each other ends in a Bury Your Gays trope. Eve swims furiously towards the dying Villanelle, but she stays out of her reach, as Carolyn watches from a dry perch, clearly the one who spawned this blow. Eve is unable to even touch Villanelle’s fingertips before she sinks to the bottom of the sea, her blonde hair obscuring her face. Not long ago, Eve was told, “You have to find a new ordinary. Whatever happens next, you can choose. But nothing has been a choice for her. She is a pawn, for the scriptwriters and the characters of the series . His story is finally left a hanging thread. Now, the show is planning a spinoff of Carolyn’s backstory, making Eve’s sloppy, claustrophobic ending all the more insulting. Its history is a closed circuit without the electricity that once made spectacle a strength. Just as Villanelle remains out of her reach, so does our understanding of who Eve is and what lies for her on the other side.