It Still Stings: The Slow Decline of Killing Eve

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It Still Stings: The Slow Decline of Killing Eve

Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:

It’s been over a year since Killing Eve ended, and I still find myself marveling occasionally at just how badly the show’s final season was handled.

Killing Eve was, at one point, an excellent show. Its first season introduced us to the bored and somewhat rebellious Eve (Sandra Oh), who finds her job unfulfilling, is often in trouble for overstepping the line, and jumps at the chance to work in a more hands-on role. As she begins to follow her intuition, tracking prolific assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), things escalate quickly into a cat-and-mouse game for the ages.

Rapidly attracting an audience thanks to its complex characters, strong dialogue, and compelling plot, the second season was equally as engaging. Mysteries deepened, brutal violence escalated, and Eve and Villanelle continued their will-they, won’t-they, Will-and-Hannibal-esque obsessive romance.

By Season 3, some critics wondered whether the tale was growing tired, but acknowledged that, although it may not have had the impact it once did, the eight episodes were reasonably good entertainment. Eve and Villanelle questioned the drive behind their relationship; we were given a few more breadcrumbs about the network of assassins that recruited Villanelle; established figures were killed off, with the show’s lack of sentimentality towards its characters perhaps becoming less shocking and more bleakly repetitive as time went on.

Killing Eve was renewed for a fourth season before the third season’s premiere even aired. The BBC was confident in audience loyalty, and despite a more tepid response to the third installment, hype around the final outing was high. This final season bore the weight of the promise of answers to all the questions that had accumulated over the show’s run. Who are the big-bad mysterious organization, The Twelve, and what do they want? Where do characters’ loyalties really lie? And, as many were most looking forward to finding out: would Eve and Villanelle find a way to be together? Season 4 took the bold choice to answer none of these questions, instead opting for a convoluted, unsatisfying, and ultimately infuriating ending that left viewers wondering where it all went wrong.

The first seven episodes of Season 4 feel like filler, yet once you reach the final showdown—what should be the climax of years of buildup—there’s nothing there. We never see who The Twelve are, and we never learn what they’re really about. We’re given a sketched-out backstory of its origins, with a needless twist revealing Fiona Shaw’s Carolyn Martens to have been implicated from the start.

One explanation for why the show headed so confidently off the rails is its rotating cast of showrunners, with a different head writer taking on the mantle for each season. While each writer’s intentions may have been clear when they were writing their respective seasons, by the end, it’s as though someone lost the show’s bible and had to make the best of their scattered recollection of the plot. With each iteration, the threads tying the whole story together seemed to grow more tenuous. It felt as though there was no communication between the different writers, leaving Laura Neal (the series’ last showrunner) to cobble together a final season without any idea on where the path that her predecessors set out was supposed to go next. New characters are introduced and left underdeveloped, episodes go on such long, convoluted tangents that it’s hard to keep track of what the main plot is—if one even exists—and callbacks to events in earlier seasons seem to be included just to remind us that we are, in fact, still watching the same show.

As she tries to let loose at a karaoke bar, Eve remembers all the people she’s lost since her career changed track. Seeing long-gone characters back on screen makes this feel like the finale of a much more lighthearted show, with old favorites given one last hurrah. Just as Riverdale’s finale gave us a glimpse of all the characters we hadn’t seen for a while, Killing Eve points to faces and asks us, “hey, do you remember him? He was in this show when it was still good!”

This strangely sentimental turn is part of the season’s pervasive magical reality slant, an element introduced without explanation that clashes with the show’s established tone and further cheapens the final eight episodes. A significant amount of Villanelle’s soul-searching plot line consists of her speaking to Jesus, also portrayed by Comer. Whether this is a left-field creative interpretation or an indicator that Villanelle suffers from hallucinations is unclear. And beyond the fan-favorite assassin’s come-to-Jesus detour, one of Season 4’s most heinous sins was its treatment of Villanelle and her unfortunate demise. Comer’s assassin, with her glib comments, lack of comprehensible morals, and excellent outfits, immediately captured audiences’ attention when Killing Eve began. In an attempt to, perhaps, make her more complex, the series reduced its strident antihero to a morally-confused mess with a sudden interest in organized religion and a generically troubled past. All we learn from Villanelle’s pilgrimage to her family home is that she has issues with her mother; hardly a groundbreaking explanation for a female character’s behavior.

By the season finale, “Hello, Losers,” it’s difficult not to be glad that it will all be over soon. But when it comes to the final battle itself, the show once again misses the mark. There’s no catharsis as Villanelle axes down her enemies, because we don’t know enough to understand the significance of what we’re watching. Staging the fight in a way that keeps the identities of The Twelve concealed yields lackluster results, something particularly frustrating given the quality of the fight choreography that the show had established. Surely this isn’t the time to start asking the audience to imagine Villanelle’s perfectly executed kills. Was the stunt coordinator unavailable?

Although everything else had been a disappointment, as the episode came to a close, a satisfying and perhaps even happy conclusion to Eve and Villanelle’s relationship felt tantalizingly close. After years of will-they won’t-they, they’re finally landing on will. And then—BANG!—Villanelle is shot dead. While it may have had initial shock value, this would likely have been more heartrending if her character hadn’t been quite so thoroughly decimated. Eve screams in anguish as Villanelle’s bullet-riddled body drifts off into the Thames, and that’s that. The show is over.

Many viewers were vocal in their outrage, one of whom was Luke Jennings, author of the Codename Villanelle novels from which the show hails. In a piece written after the finale, Jennings said he was “taken aback” by what he called the show’s “bowing to convention.” This felt like a final nail in the coffin for the show’s reputation—in the majority of cases, if the author of the source material is vocally opposed to your treatment of their work, you have made a significant wrong turn.

Killing Eve may have technically ended with a bang, but its impact has been negligible. As is the case with many once-great series, it might have been better for the show to wrap after its penultimate season. Questions would have been left unanswered and plot lines unresolved, undoubtedly sparking frustration amongst viewers. But retrospectively, given the messy and inconclusive ending that it eventually limped to, perhaps that would have been for the better.

Lucy Carter is a freelance entertainment and culture writer who spends far too much time looking at a screen. Follow her @lucyllcarter for vaguely coherent mumblings.

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