As Killing Eve careers towards its end, with the arrival of the 4th and final season, fans of the show are inevitably questioning how the thriller will leave our star-crossed protagonists Eve and Villanelle.
Since MI5 agent Eve (Sandra Oh) first crossed paths with psychopath assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), in a dimly lit bathroom, their sexual chemistry has lit up the screen, and the internet. The classic cat-and-mouse thriller that followed has meandered all over the world in the following three seasons, and has seen the unlikely pair fight, flirt, kiss and attempt to murder each other.
As Eve tries to catch – or not catch – killer-for-hire Villanelle their attraction and influence on each other has grown to a fever pitch of tension that must surely be resolved in one way or another. Neither Eve stabbing Villanelle nor Villanelle shooting Eve, has severed their connection or killed their intense attraction, so the question is how will season 4 finally deliver the full stop on the twisted “espionage love” (as described by creator and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge) here
When Luke Jennings created indulgent, volatile assassin Villanelle in Codename Villanelle – the novella that Killing Eve is based on – he knew she needed an antagonist, and so he created Eve, a woman who was the opposite of Villanelle in every way. He knew that a character as outlandish, violent, and overtly sexual needed a more relatable counterpoint.
Just as Holmes needed Moriarty to challenge him, Villanelle needed Eve to match her in wits and drive. The chase between a catcher and a catchee which becomes all-consuming is a common tale, and many such male nemesis pairings have a homoerotic undercurrent that is picked up on by the audience. With Killing Eve, the story is the same, except there’s no undercurrent. It’s all current.
Captain Ahab never masturbated while thinking of Moby Dick, at least, I don’t think so. Yet from the first time Villanelle sees Eve in a public bathroom, there is an over-riding sexual element to their magnetism. Villanelle compliments Eve’s hair, and shortly afterwards we see Villanelle pick up a tourist with similar hair to Eve, making her cosplay as Eve for some sex play. Her obsession with Eve goes far beyond the agent’s ability to track her OTT kills, and Eve’s feelings follow.
And while Eve’s situation may be more subtle, it quickly becomes clear that her matching obsession with Villanelle goes beyond the intellectual. The clues are laid early on that Villanelle will present to Eve something entirely new in her world, with Eve’s dull, mundane and unfulfilling home life with her husband, Nico, being spelt out as a counterpoint to glamorous Villanelle. Something which is driven home when Villanelle delivers a suitcase full of designer clothes she has picked out for the object of her affections, and which Eve finds herself wearing, admiring them and her own body.
Villanelle’s objectifying eye on Eve very quickly begins to change how Eve sees herself, as she is drawn into her mental games. Eve has been underestimated and overlooked for most of her life, yet with Villanelle she is the star of the show – both at work where her ability to track the killer makes her rise to the top, and as the object of Villanelle’s obsession.
And that appears to be the source of a magnetic draw between them. Each woman sees something in the other that they desire in themselves. Villanelle admires the “normality” of Eve – the fact she’s clearly an extraordinary woman who yet somehow is in every other way ordinary and everyday. She envies Eve’s ability to have the mind as sharp as her own, yet be able to be part of life and society in a way Villanelle can only ever imagine. And Eve admires Villanelle’s seemingly care-free existence, and the way her brilliance is expressed in such flamboyant, impressive ways.
Naturally, an attraction such as theirs is not an easy one. The psychosexual draw they have to each other can never be simply played out, although – spoiler alert – in the sourcebooks, they have no problems putting their sexual tension to bed. Repeatedly. But it’s clear their sexual connection cannot go the way of traditional TV relationships. There’s no easy happy ending here.
Over the seasons the end game for both characters has changed, with Eve no longer pursuing Villanelle but moving on to those who hire her (“The Twelve”), and Villanelle no longer wanting to tease yet evade Eve’s capture, and instead show Eve she can be different.
And in a way, that represents the difficulty in deciding how their relationship should end up.
The last season of a TV show usually represents a perfect opportunity to get the central pair together and leave them in their “happily ever after”, yet the question for Eve and Villanelle is not will there be a happy ending, but can there be?
For other show-runners, there’s a fear that once the couple get together that the audience will lose interest, but with Killing Eve the issue is, would the couple lose interest? Is it simply the chase, the untouchable nature of their attraction that keeps Eve and Villanelle interested? If they got together would that forbidden fruit become rotten?
The influence they have had on each other is evident at the start of season 4 – with Villanelle trying to live a good life as a Christian, while Eve is riding around on a motorbike, shooting people who don’t give her what she wants. Eve has also split with her husband, and been involved in several casual sexual relationships, one of which was fueled entirely by Villanelle’s voice in her ear.
Yet do these changes now mean their hold on each other is weakening? Villanelle was attracted to Eve’s ordinariness, while Eve was attracted to Villanelle’s lack of conscience. Now that Eve has discovered her own power and is living it, and Villanelle has discovered a conscience that she’s trying to appease, does that mean the attraction will wane?
What constitutes a “happy ending” for the pair is different in everyone’s eyes. Some fans hope that Eve and Villanelle can find some happy medium together, tempering each other’s worst traits and supporting their best, living together in some “normal” life. Others see Eve fully embracing her Villanelle-ness and the pair becoming a world-leading assassin partnership, killing in the streets and the sheets. Alternatively, many will be happy just to see the sexual chemistry finally consummated, with Eve and Villanelle scratching the itch that has been teasing them for 4 seasons, before moving on with their lives, having learned from each other.
At the end of season 3, before their failed attempt to part ways forever, they both admit they bring out the worst in each other, but is an Eve who can easily kill without remorse, and a Villanelle who wants to be cut free from her obligation to her murderous bosses really the worst versions of themselves, or in fact the best?
As we head into season 4, there’s no clear picture of whether Eve and Villanelle will get one of these “happy” endings, or if the writers feel that the only way to sever their attraction and set them free from their obsession, is for one – or both – of them to die.
Whatever ending they give Killing Eve’s tempestuous two, there’s no doubt that their attraction to each other is the central issue – way above whether The Twelve can ever be stopped – and that the show-runners (a different woman every season since Waller-Bridge took a back seat) will ensure the relationship is given its dues. Killing Eve is not Sherlock, it’s not a show where two canonically heterosexual men have ambiguous scenes made to tease the queer fanbase, without any intentions of ever actually exploring that aspect of Sherlock and John’s relationship. Eve and Villanelle’s sexuality has been explicitly explored in the show since page one and must play a part in the denouement.
Killing Eve is built on the multi-layered physical and mental attraction the two women have for each other, and how radically that attraction changes their lives and perception of themselves. It’s a connection that can’t be untangled easily, either from the fact they are essentially on opposite sides of the law, or from the fact their lives will never mesh. Their sexual and emotional grip on each other can’t be removed from the bigger picture, but nor can it be ignored – by the characters or the writers.
At the start of season 4, Eve and Villanelle come face to face across a fish tank, in homage to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. The foreshadowing is clear, that their relationship is inevitably doomed, but it’s possibly a misdirect. Fans certainly hope the Killing Eve writers will avoid that cliche and have these two brilliant women resolve their attraction, in such a way that their love for each other does not end up a weapon to bury into each other’s chest.