‘Killing Eve’ failed its queer fan base in the end, but great acting preserves show’s legacy

Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri (left) and Jodie Comer as Villanelle star in “Killing Eve.” Photo: Anika Molnar / BBC America

Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of “Killing Eve.”

After two seasons of studious avoidance, “Killing Eve” finally and unambiguously acknowledged its lead characters’ romance during its Sunday, April 10, series finale.

This 11th hour, or more literally, 32nd hour (four seasons of eight episodes) development spared the BBC America spy thriller from the hall of shame reserved for shows that pander to queer audiences. Those of us who had waited since 2018 for former MI5 agent Eve (Sandra Oh) and assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) to acknowledge their feelings at the same time, in the same place, were rewarded with about 20 minutes of them having fun and showing physical affection.

The show’s characteristically violent (but uncharacteristically badly staged) final scene then dashed all hopes of the romance ever growing further in a “Killing Eve” movie or reboot — or even as a flash forward in the planned prequel series focused on Fiona Shaw’s Carolyn Martens. Or maybe not all hopes, if the writers revive a biblical storyline introduced early in season four.

Was it better to see Eve and Villanelle show their love only briefly than to never have seen it at all? Absolutely. But the ridiculous delay of this crucial plot point until the series finale highlights the creative timidity of the past two seasons. It tarnished the legacy of “Killing Eve,” a onetime critical and awards darling (Oh won a Golden Globe and Comer an Emmy in 2019).

Jodie Comer won an Emmy in 2019 for her role as Villanelle in “Killing Eve.” Photo: Anika Molnar / BBC America

Oh and Comer remained stellar throughout, their electric chemistry undiminished by the series’ hemming, hawing refusal to acknowledge their characters’ twisted yet fascinating bond as the only compelling element sustaining it through the latter half of its run. Instead, the third and fourth seasons’ respective showrunners (each season had a different female chief) Suzanne Heathcote and Laura Neal took pains to keep the characters apart.

The dearth of joint scenes was so striking that one wondered if Oh and Comer were secretly feuding, as Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi allegedly were when they stopped filming together on “The Good Wife.” But in joint interviews, Oh and Comer share a rapport that seems genuine.

Separating Eve and Villanelle for long stretches makes little storytelling sense. The two attempting a relationship (or at least a drunken night together) seemed like a natural step in Eve’s odyssey from a wisecracking, seemingly content spy agency office worker — married to a good-natured teacher named Niko (Owen McDonnell, who was always more than just a mustache) — to an isolated malcontent beguiled by Villanelle and obsessed with the criminal organization known as the Twelve.

Sandra Oh earned a Golden Globe for her role as Eve Polastri in “Killing Eve.” Photo: Olly Courtney / BBC America

It was never our idea to position Villanelle, who courts Eve by killing her best friend Bill (David Haig) practically in front of her and taunting Niko endlessly, as Eve’s one and only. We started watching “Killing Eve” because of Oh, who has been flawless since “Arliss,” and because we loved series creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag.”

But the first episode’s clear “Black Widow” vibes hooked us. We refer not to last year’s Scarlett Johannson Marvel movie but the 1987 thriller starring Debra Winger as an FBI desk jockey who becomes obsessed with a beautiful female killer (Theresa Russell), who enjoys being chased. That movie captured many a young sapphic heart, although the women did not get together, and nobody expected them to, because it was the ’80s.

“Killing Eve,” by contrast, set up huge expectations when it established Villanelle as clearly queer and Eve as clearly infatuated with her, almost from jump. The role of Eve’s own homicidal urges in that infatuation would become more apparent as the series progressed. The first season obscured that aspect with the flash of its European travelogue cinematography, evocative pop music and Comer’s dazzling way with accents and personas. Waller-Bridge’s inimitable cheeky sensibility allowed us to accept the first season’s queasier elements as part of a piece with the raunchier moments of “Fleabag.”

Jodie Comer as Villanelle (left) and Sandra Oh as Eve face off in a scene from season two of “Killing Eve.” Photo: BBC America

Then Emerald Fennell, the second season’s showrunner, had Eve kill a guy with an ax. He was a bad guy, and Villanelle tricked her into doing it, but she still did it. Although far more heavy-handed than Waller-Bridge, Fennell (who later won a screenwriting Oscar and directing nomination for her film “Promising Young Woman”) always recognized the Villanelle-Eve pairing as the show’s primary allure.

Her season put them together often and featured the series’ best acting, especially from Oh. Season two contains the series’ best moment, when Eve admits to a therapist that her association with Villanelle, although disastrous in many ways, has her finally feeling “wide awake.”

Fennell ultimately copped out, by repeating the first season’s ending, this time having Villanelle shoot Eve instead of Eve stab Villanelle. Then “Killing Eve” just kept copping out.

We get it. It would be a challenge to sustain a romantic story line that would need to incorporate Eve’s and Villanelle’s pathologies. But no one asked for a full-fledged relationship — just the start of something before the series finale.

Fiona Shaw’s Carolyn Martens character will be the focus of a planned “Killing Eve” prequel series. Photo: David Emery / BBC America

Heathcote did not even try, and Neal waited until the last possible minute. They instead gave loads of screen time to pointless new characters, while insisting that quip-ready spy chief Carolyn (an overburdened Shaw) was better in larger doses than small. The absence of other compelling story lines made a lack of Villanelle and Eve even more maddening.

When the romantic moments finally arrived, they made us long for what could have been. The series finale is slapdash in many ways, but the more intimate Villanelle and Eve scenes were crafted carefully. Comer shows her growth as an actor over the past four years — and she started out great — in the range of emotions that play on her face at any given moment.

Sandra Oh appears as Eve Polastri in season two’s first episode of “Killing Eve.” Photo: Aimee Spinks / BBC America

Oh’s performance is similarly multidimensional, with Eve looking delighted, for the first time in a while, by something other than finding dirt on the Twelve. This Eve is reminiscent of the smart, fun woman from the start of the show — when Waller-Bridge’s comedic style allowed for some Cristina Yang spillover. But hints of regret and exhaustion are visible around the edges of Eve’s smile.

She is, in essence, a mirror image of the loyal “Killing Eve” viewers who were made briefly happy before reality set in.

“Killing Eve” (TV-MA) is available to stream on AMC+. The first season is also streaming on Hulu.



‘Killing Eve’ failed its queer fan base in the end, but great acting preserves show’s legacy

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