Killing Eve’s season 4 delay could help to fix the show’s diversity problem

The BBC series starring Sandra Oh has neglected Eve's character development - but the show's delay and all-white writers-room controversy could be a wake up call.

Killing Eve season 3, episode 4

The fourth season of Killing Eve has been delayed “indefinitely” – as is now the case with plenty of shows, no one involved could have foreseen the havoc that the pandemic would wreak on filming schedules. 

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But while many fans of the series may be anxious about when they’ll next see Villanelle and Eve Polastri reunite on-screen, I’d argue that the delay is the best thing that could have happened for the show. 

Even before it had been written, Killing Eve season four was already mired in controversy. The show faced a huge backlash last month when writer Kayleigh Llewellyn tweeted a (now deleted) screenshot of a Zoom call with her fellow season four writers – and inadvertently revealed that the writers-room was all-white. 

Viewers took to social media to criticise the writers’ line-up, pointing out that there was no East Asian writer included – and that it was no wonder that Sandra Oh’s lead character Eve had felt underwritten in season three in comparison to co-protagonist Villanelle, played by Oh’s white co-star Jodie Comer. 

The show’s executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle was forced to apologise and admit that the all-white cohort was “not good enough”.  “You look at that room and it’s full of brilliant female writers, we’ve got a really strong LGBTQ contingent, but it’s not good enough and we need to do better,” she said.

Speaking separately for Variety’s Actors on Actors issue, Oh said she’s often “the only Asian person on set” when she’s working in the UK. “The development of people behind the camera is very slow in the UK,” she said. “Sometimes it would be me and 75 white people.”

Way back in April, I reviewed Killing Eve’s season three opener, and wrote about how dull and dreary it had seemed whenever assassin Villanelle wasn’t on-screen. That got better later in the season, with bereaved MI6 boss Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw) continuing to steal scene after scene, one bath-meeting at a time.

Killing Eve - Carolyn
BBC Pictures

But viewed within the context of the all-white Killing Eve writers-room, and all the scenes dedicated to Villanelle and Carolyn’s character development (however brilliant) appear in stark contrast to Eve’s own development. 

I watched all of Killing Eve season three, but after a viewing hiatus, most of the scenes that still stick in my mind are the ones that include Villanelle or Carolyn.  Eve was busy following up the season’s main whodunnit storyline – who killed Kenny? – but all the show-stopping scenes or even episodes belonged to those two white female characters. 

Villanelle even got her own stand-alone episode exploring her backstory and (predictably unstable) Russian family, and which seemed to have no bearing on the rest of the season or major storylines. 

Eve’s main motivators for the third season seemed to be her guilt and sadness over Kenny’s death, and her desire to get back together with her boring husband, Niko. The writers did her dirty on both: firstly, because no one was going to remember Eve’s pally friendship with Kenny when presented with his mother Carolyn’s repressed grief. And secondly, well, no one cares about Niko. Sorry.

Killing Eve S3

Killing Eve has become – ironically – afraid of killing off major characters: Niko (Owen McDonnell) somehow survived a pitchfork through the neck. If nothing else, his survival was a wasted opportunity for Eve’s character development – imagine all the guilt and vengeful emotions his death would have stoked up for her. At one point I thought Eve would embark on an affair with Jamie, the brusk editor of Bitter Pill (played by Danny Sapani). But that relationship fizzled out almost as soon as the thought had crossed my mind. 

Killing Eve writes women brilliantly, there’s no denying that. Female characters on the show (whatever their age) are multifaceted; complex; bosses; and both heroic and villainous. 

But the show no longer seems sure what to do with its title character, Eve. While the white female characters are given rich inner lives and backstories to explore, the show’s BAME female lead feels underwritten.

Hopefully the season four delay – and the public scrutiny over the show’s all-white writing team – will give Killing Eve the time and inclination to fix their behind-the-scenes representation, and to put Eve back where she belongs: at the heart of the show. 

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