When the news broke that the fourth season of BBC America’s female-led thriller Killing Eve would also be its last, the announcement couldn’t help but feel a bit bittersweet. The cat-and-mouse drama, with its aggressively female focus, glossy candy-coated aesthetic, and dedication to subverting established genre tropes, is like nothing else on television right now. And even though the show certainly has its flaws, the idea of a media landscape without the complicated dance between former MI-6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and stylish assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is a much more drab and uninteresting place.
Yet, at this point, it’s equally hard not to watch this show and think its end is something of a mercy. Because no matter how enjoyable Killing Eve may be—and Season 4 has all the signs of being visually stunning (these clothes!) and generally entertaining (the black humor!) as its predecessors—it still doesn’t seem to know what it wants from its own story. Or how to define the relationship at its center. And four seasons in, it has become an increasingly insurmountable problem.
While there’s a lot to love about Killing Eve’s snazzy formula, with its snappy one-liners and wide array of complicated female characters, one of its most annoying aspects is its almost pathological need to reset itself at the beginning of each season, a move likely due to its annual change in showrunners behind the scenes. And while I’m as excited as anyone to see a series giving women a chance to run a show and hone their technical craft (Emerald Fennell got a Best Director nomination for Promising Young Woman after her turn at the helm in Season 2 after all!) the frequent changes often mean the show has little to no consistency in tone or identity from season to season.
Case in point: Season 4 begins with Villanelle and Eve once again living separate lives. Villanelle, desperate to prove she can be something more than the monster the world always told her she is, is looking for connection and purpose in religion. (How she arrived at that particular life plan is anyone’s guess, however.) Killing Eve seems as fascinated as ever by the dichotomy that exists within this character, questioning whether she is truly capable of change even as it reminds us what a psychopath she actually is. And Comer, to her credit, does wonders with what she’s given, often conveying Villanelle’s battle against her worst impulses with little more than a slight change in facial expression.
Meanwhile, Eve seems… fine? At the very least, the character is less passive than she was for the bulk of last season, which is a promising start—even if Killing Eve still comes across as generally more interested in Villainelle’s emotional journey than that of the woman whose name is in the show’s title. As Season 4 opens, Eve has joined a security firm, found a (hot) new man-friend/coworker with whom she appears to have a sort of no-strings-attached sexual relationship (sorry, Villanelle, I guess), and is busy trying to track down the mysterious all-powerful shadow group known as The Twelve. She seems relatively unaffected by the various dark and traumatic events she’s recently experienced. (Remember when she almost died? And then sort of helped kill Villanelle’s former handler? Good times.) Mostly, she just looks tired. Which, relatable, but still.
There’s virtually no explanation of how Eve or Villanelle got from the final moments of last seasons to their respective situations when Season 4 opens, and viewers are asked to essentially fill in many of the emotional beats between those moments themselves. (Fanfiction for the win?) The show’s decision to introduce several major new characters—and once again give Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) a ton of screentime to do little besides look great—doesn’t help matters, and quite frankly seems baffling in a world where there are a finite number of hours left to finish this story. (Are there people out there who were actually curious about anything Camille Cottin’s Helene is doing? I would like to talk to you.) Because let’s be real, as we count down to the end of this series, what we’re all here for is the dynamic between the women at its center and how—or even if—their relationship will get any kind of closure.
Season 3 ended with Eve and Villanelle staring longingly at one another across Tower Bridge, the sort of tragically romantic image that indicated the show might finally be willing at least put a name to whatever’s going on between them, if not finally just allow the two women to run off to be in love and do crime together. Instead, Season 4 has taken several steps back, once again separating Eve and Villanelle and putting them into different stories for the bulk of the first three episodes that were available to screen for critics. That’s not to say that Oh and Comer don’t have the same crackling chemistry they’ve always had, or that the strange appeal that defines Eve and Villanelle’s relationship no longer exists (they do and it does!) but it’s somehow more difficult than ever to parse how the show itself wants us to see the two of them.
Sadly, this isn’t exactly a new development. Ever since the series’ first season, Killing Eve has been stuck in a weird holding pattern when it comes to these characters, content to retread the same narrative ground (yes, we get it, they’re attracted to each other) while refusing to commit to a real path forward for this lead duo. And in the final season, don’t we—and these characters—deserve more? Is there a world in which this series can come to a satisfying close without answering this essential question of its existence? Or has Killing Eve just been a years-long experiment in queerbaiting?
None of this is meant a slam on Comer or Oh, whose performances (and insane chemistry) continue to make this show much better than it has any right to be. And, to be fair, there’s a lot to like about this season of Killing Eve. Watching Villanelle try to fit in among the devoutly religious is often hilarious, and there’s something strangely moving in her struggle to figure out what kind of person she wants to be. And Eve has thankfully become an active participant in her own story once more. (Even if some of her choices are… let’s just call them “suspect.”) There’s every chance we’re headed toward an explosive finale, even if some of us (read: me) have probably lost all hope of ever figuring out why The Twelve is such a big deal.
But as one character almost presciently observes early in the season, “I think reinvention is just another form of avoidance,” and, honestly, that might as well be the unofficial mantra of this show. Because Killing Eve has been rebooting its identity and redefining the stakes of its story for years now and, as a result, has never had to truly pick a side when it comes to its most controversial story elements. It’s never had to give a name to the thing that exists between Villanelle and Eve, or look too closely at the reasons for Eve’s slow but deliberate slide into darkness, or answer the question of whether a psychopath like Villanelle is truly capable of real change. Now that the show is staring down the barrel of its own series finale, can the existence of a definitive stopping point help it make the hard choices it’s been so studiously avoiding? Here’s hoping—because that’s the ending this show deserves.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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