Killing Eve’s best bit has always been the relationship between assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and MI6 agent Eve (Sandra Oh). The last time we saw them together, in the final scene of season three, the imaginative killer was instructing the woman who had tried so many times to stop her to join her in facing opposite ways and to “walk and never look back”. As they marched to different ends of Tower Bridge, it seemed like season four could be following them in separate worlds. But the pull between them was too strong and neither could resist turning around for another look.
Months later, where season four picks up, the same issue arises. The pair have been trying to get on with their lives without each other or their cat-and-mouse game, but at least one of them can’t keep it up. Villanelle has given herself a new persona: Nelle, a Russian woman seeking salvation in the most traditional way possible – in the church. With her baptism looming, she sends Eve invite after invite and picks out the best seat in God’s house for her to sit.
Eve, though, is uninterested in attending. Since walking away from Villanelle on the bridge, she’s been focused on tracking down the person at the top of shadowy organisation The Twelve, with the intention of “cutting the head off the monster”. Just as Villanelle is now trying to mute the darker sides of her personality and become a good person, Eve has undergone a transformation of her own that lets out her own layers of badness. That switch is made evident immediately, as she seeks out handler Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) in the season’s opening scene and surprises him with her unlikely actions.
Living their lives mostly apart, though, makes the first two episodes of the series feel flatter than you’d expect of a show renowned for its wild twists and exhilarating energy. As they unfold, there are flashes of its typical dark humour and inventive bouts of violence, but these are few and far between. Even Eve’s mission – which could be packed with tension – feels like it’s had the fizz taken out of it.
Elsewhere, the secondary characters’ storylines don’t do much to regain the excitement of the first seasons. Former MI6 head Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) has been shuffled off into a cultural attaché role and, wanting to be back on top, heads off to Moscow to find new allies. We’re introduced to a new recruit of The Twelve’s in Pam (Anjana Vasan), an icy mortician who could add new life to proceedings but isn’t given much initial screen time.
There are big hints that things won’t stay quiet for the rest of the season. On Villanelle’s path to redemption, she becomes desperate to hear from Jesus himself and, when she finally does, the form he takes suggests her old ego is still burning brightly. Here’s hoping that flame returns to setting things ablaze, or Killing Eve’s last season could end up as nothing more than a damp squib.
‘Killing Eve’ season four streams on BBC iPlayer from February 28