clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The ‘Killing Eve’ Finale Delivers a Shocking Payoff, but Questions Remain

Long-brewing tensions between the show’s two antagonists are intensified in the final episode, though their bond is as frustratingly ambiguous as ever

BBC America/Ringer illustration

“Just you and me. Please. Just you and me.”

Killing Eve understands what it’s about: the messy entanglement between two women who can’t help wanting what they want. For Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), that means immersing herself in every detail of the gifted young contract killer she’s chasing more out of personal interest than professional obligation. For Villanelle (Jodie Comer), the assassin, that means “normal stuff: Nice life. Cool flat. Fun job. Someone to watch movies with.” She just wants that stuff while fulfilling her natural urges as a murderous, self-described psychopath. Basically, she wants it all.

But Killing Eve fits its not-so-subtly coded romance between a restless, dissatisfied woman and the girl whose total freedom she envies into the contours of an espionage thriller. It’s a genre notoriously heavy on plot, which Killing Eve has largely eschewed in favor of the elegant simplicity of its central dynamic. Eve chases Villanelle, and Villanelle chases Eve right back. What few gestures showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge makes toward a grander design are largely in the service of their relationship, rather than vice versa: Someone has to point Villanelle in the direction of her targets, so Killing Eve, based on Luke Jennings’s Villanelle novels, has a shadowy organization known as the Twelve. “If you went high enough, you’ll find we work for the same people,” Villanelle posits to Eve at the season’s halfway point, and the show itself seems to agree: Everything above the duo’s pay grade blurs together in a generic face-off of institutions; everything that involves them directly pulsates with an addictive specificity.

Still, the spy thriller comes with certain expectations, and going into Sunday’s finale, I worried that Killing Eve had simply procrastinated on its plot, only to jam it all into a single hour and dump it on the audience in a pent-up deluge. On the heels of the revelation that Eve’s MI6 boss, Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw), had secretly met with Villanelle in a Russian prison, were we in for an hour of double crossings and twists? Would Killing Eve turn the beautiful simplicity of its premise into a mess of convolutions? A continent-hopping manhunt typically comes with an international conspiracy at the end of the rainbow.

Fortunately, Killing Eve wants what Eve pleads for when she and Villanelle are finally face-to-face: the two of them, in a room, alone. That’s what this eight-episode first season, the best to air on TV this year, has been building to, and that’s what it delivers in the slippery, shocking, bloody, and erotic final scene. The Twelve can wait; so can consequences. We’re here to see what Oh and Comer can do without any distractions, and Killing Eve is here to give it to us.

Last week’s penultimate episode centered on a confrontation between Villanelle and Konstantin (Kim Bodnia), her handler turned assignment. The scene epitomizes Killing Eve’s signature blend of observation and acidity, with Konstantin telling Villanelle everything she wants to hear — he loves her, he’s proud of her, she’s more of a daughter to him than his actual daughter — as a stalling tactic before he hurls a glass in her face and runs away. It also gets the Villanelle-Konstantin climax out of the way, because as compelling as it might be, it’s clearly secondary to the chemistry between Villanelle and her pursuer.

“God, I’m Tired” picks up with Villanelle having kidnapped Konstantin’s young daughter, a de facto sibling with the jaded insouciance to match. Villanelle has always been disconcertingly childlike, favoring over-the-top pink dresses and demonstrating a decided lack of impulse control. So it’s fun to watch Villanelle and Irina (Yuli Lagodinsky) scream at and riff on each other, even as Villanelle has a gun pointed at Irina, a defenseless kid. Using Irina as bait, Villanelle gains entry to the apartment of her former French teacher, Anna (Susan Lynch), the infatuation that serves as precursor and prototype to the one she currently shares with Eve. Years ago, Villanelle castrated and murdered Anna’s husband in a demented attempt to get rid of her romantic competition, a sort of anti-origin story that flies in the face of Eve’s, and our, expectation that there’s some explanation for how Villanelle is — a trauma, or a turning point. But Villanelle has always been like this, long before she was paid for it. So much for rescuing a damaged soul.

Villanelle has returned to Anna’s place to find the passport and cash she stashed in the lining of a coat. Instead, she finds the note Eve left when she got to the emergency stash last week: “Sorry, baby.” Villanelle should be angry or distraught, but she cracks a smile. She’s more happy to have found a worthy adversary than concerned about what to do next. Even Anna’s suicide doesn’t truly faze her.

Retaining her taste for the finer things in life despite the circumstances, Villanelle summons Eve and Konstantin to a literal Russian tea room. Telling Konstantin he’s “a good person, I think — but I have to do my job, and you understand that,” she unceremoniously shoots him. Worse yet, she spurns Eve’s offer to abscond together. Villanelle won’t meet Eve halfway, so it’s up to Eve to go to Villanelle, which she can do once she conveniently gets a call at the airport informing her a colleague has tracked down the mercenary’s Paris apartment. Eve takes one look at the boring path — the one where she goes home to her husband in London, Carolyn shuts down the investigation, and everything goes back to normal — and takes the objectively stupid one instead.

Improving on Villanelle and Eve’s first extended encounter, the tense dinner scene from Episode 5, is a near-impossible feat. But Waller-Bridge, who wrote the Damon Thomas–directed finale, manages to pull it off with a showdown that cycles through every one of Eve’s conflicting emotions toward her archrival, quarry, and crush. There’s anger: When Eve first shows up, she takes out her frustration on Villanelle’s empty living quarters, trashing the closet and ransacking a fridge stocked exclusively with champagne. (The scene is also a perfect inverse of Episode 5. Then, Villanelle invaded Eve’s space; now, Eve infiltrates Villanelle’s.)

There’s attraction: “I think about you all the time,” Eve confesses when Villanelle shows up. “I think about what you’re wearing, and what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with. I think about what friends you have. I think about what you eat before you work, and what shampoo you use. What happened in your family. I think about your eyes and your mouth and what you feel when you kill someone. I think about what you have for breakfast. I just want to know everything.” She barely blinks when Villanelle admits she masturbates to Eve a fair amount. And when Villanelle points out, one eyebrow raised, that destroying someone’s bedroom isn’t typically a sign of affection, Eve gives a matter-of-fact response that could double as the logline for the show: “I know it’s not conventional.”

Finally, there’s clear-eyed conviction: When Eve successfully lulls Villanelle into letting her guard down and going in for a kiss, she plunges a knife into her stomach. The beauty of Oh’s performance and Waller-Bridge’s script is how Eve inhabits all these emotions at once, even when they’re at odds with one another. No sooner has Eve landed the blow she’s been waiting an eternity to strike than she instantly regrets it, screaming reassurances while she runs into the kitchen in a comically hapless frenzy. Maybe it’s Villanelle’s heartbreaking protest of “I really liked you!,” her first response to getting a knife in the stomach; maybe it’s that Eve just doesn’t want this game to end. Luckily for everyone involved, it isn’t. Villanelle escapes, and Eve ends the season where she began it — in pursuit.

“God, I’m Tired” leaves countless balls in the air. Can Villanelle keep working for the Twelve now that her cover is blown? Where does Eve stand with British intelligence? Whose side is Carolyn really on? But viewers can wait for those answers. What they couldn’t wait for was some payoff to the long-brewing tensions between its two antagonists. The bond between Eve and Villanelle remains as frustratingly ambiguous as ever, but it’s been escalated to a new level of both violence and mutual understanding. Rather than having them team up or split off from each other, Waller-Bridge keeps her characters locked in an intensified version of their unsteady equilibrium. A cat-and-mouse game might prove difficult to sustain in seasons to come. For now, though, Killing Eve knows exactly what it is.