Strong on satire and style, sometimes lacking in coherency, Killing Eve’s best writing is cartoonish and absurd, combining banality (hungover work meetings, rustling bags crammed full of greasy croissants) with showy, over-the-top murders. And as a result, the series lends itself best to comedy, rather than the brooding mystery that has served the purpose of lining up the chess pieces for season three so far. When the story does swerve into quiet, psychological thriller territory, it hasn’t always been especially convincing – but this week’s episode feels like a return to darkly cackling form.
Revisit the later stand-out moments so far, and they’re in keeping with the grotesque silliness of Killing Eve’s best, and first, season. They’re also rooted in a skewed handling of normality: everyday boredom popping the high-stakes crime-solving bubble. When Carolyn goes to secretly meet with Kenny’s girlfriend Audrey, against the brutalist backdrop of the South Bank, their hurried intelligence exchange soon descends into farce. “He used to sing to himself when he was on the loo,” Audrey says wistfully. ”S Club 7, mostly.”
And in the most recent episode, Villanelle’s cruelty takes a new turn. After assassinating a mother with a piano tuner early on, Villanelle wanders into the next room to kill the nanny – and forces her to act out a grotesquely comic pantomime where she eventually dies trying to save the baby. Puzzled by how a person can put someone else before themselves, Villanelle proceeds to take the baby out for lunch, before her assassin handler, Dasha (Dame Harriet Walter), one-ups her by chucking the child into a nearby bin. It’s a hilarious, uncomfortable set-up, but you can’t help but stifle a giggle. For this pair of psychopaths, this is just another regular day out.
And now we come to the crucial moment that many fans have been thirsting after since day one – Eve and Villanelle’s first kiss. Taking place in the thoroughly unremarkable surroundings of a London double-decker, the passionate snog didn’t need as decadent a backdrop as some of the programme’s other memorable scenes. “There was something about the bus that just felt so specific to London and to Eve’s daily commute and so random,” is how season three’s lead writer Suzanne Heathcote put it, speaking to Den of Geek. When Villanelle rocks up, she casually swaggers down the aisle like she’s just boarded the night bus back from Dalston Superstore, and greets Eve as if she’s just bumped into an old Tinder match.
While the pair tussle and throw punches across the top deck, the rest of the passengers do what Londoners do best – they leg it, then gawp from a distance. In fact, the only detail that’s missing is one of them whipping out their phone to silently video the whole thing.
Despite the mundane setting, however, this scene swiftly becomes anything but. Within seconds, Eve’s throwing as many poorly aimed punches as she can. Uncharacteristically, for an emotionless psychopath who’s apparently incapable of empathy, Villanelle doesn’t hit back. She doesn’t instigate the kiss, either – Eve does, before promptly head-butting her. Aside from the whole stabbing incident in Paris, it’s one of the few times where we’ve seen Villanelle caught off guard. She’s not thinking ahead; instead, she’s more concerned about whether Eve likes her perfume. “Smell me, Eve!” she yells in the middle of the slapstick fight scene. “What do I smell of to you?!”
— Killing Eve (@KillingEve) April 28, 2020
Ah yes, the smells. Earlier in the episode, ahead of their not-so-spontaneous meeting, Villanelle goes to great lengths to make a big impression: storming into a boutique parfumerie to pick up a new scent. Initially, and removing all context, this is quite a reasonable thing to do. Why shouldn’t she boost up her sensory appeal ahead of an accidentally-on-purpose encounter with her life’s great love? Except Villanelle, as always, approaches it in comically bizarre fashion. “I want to smell like a Roman centurion who’s coming across an old foe, who in battle once hurt him greatly,” she announces with a flourish. “But since then, the Roman centurion has become emperor, and is now powerful beyond measure.”
Past episodes from season three have attempted to delve into Villanelle’s backstory, trying to unearth the factors that might’ve produced such a strangely charismatic psychopath in the first place. Was it nature? Nurture? Like all of the best jokes, she’s a more compelling character when you can’t quite explain her.