Of course there were shocks, and danger, and moments where the rug was ripped out from under the viewer’s feet, and suddenly it wasn’t so fun anymore – like when Eve’s beloved and hilarious mentor, Bill, was stabbed to death in a nightclub by the smiling assassin, Villanelle. But despite all that, you always knew that there would be more fun to come: fun clothes, fun one-liners (who can forget the rat holding a can of Coke), and (dare I say it) some fun murder scenes – inevitable, perhaps, given how much fun the killer is.
The opener of season three still has many of the original’s hallmarks: cat-and-mouse games, obsession, shock murders, genre-defying plots and characters. But is it as fun to watch?
It was always the case that scenes featuring Villanelle (Jodie Comer) were more memorable: a technicolour respite from the drab beige of London and MI6. But we still enjoyed watching Eve, with her dark humour and her merry band of spies, because they were having fun, too, and it was tantalising to watch Eve coming to terms with how she was overwhelmingly, inconveniently, sexually attracted to a female assassin.
At the start of this third season, however, that excitement has been let out like the air in a deflated animal balloon at a children’s party.
In episode one, we learn that Eve (Sandra Oh) survived – although where’s the surprise in that – but is still in pain from the bullet Villanelle lodged in her chest back in Rome. She’s now working at a Chinese restaurant (“hiding in plain sight,” reads the BBC synopsis), living in a cramped flat with thin walls, and paying weekly visits to her traumatised husband, Nico, who’s been staying at a treatment facility.
Compare that to Villanelle’s blood-stained, pyjama-clad journey at the beginning of season two, when roles were reversed and Eve had left her for dead. In Eve’s case, we’re just supposed to accept that tourists found her in the nick of time among the deserted Roman ruins.
Eve’s existence – like her time on-screen – is grey without Villanelle. The only moment of levity is an oddly prescient scene where Eve snaps a photo of a loo roll, captioning it “thinking of you” before she texts it to a mystery acquaintance. (Nowadays it’s the kind of mean stunt you’d pull on someone who forgot to stock up before the coronavirus lock-down.)
Eve’s former MI6 boss, Carolyn Martens (she of the Coked-up rat joke), was previously always ready with biting comments or else anecdotes about her past sexual escapades, but in the season three opener she’s facing inquiries at work and she’s lost her old confidence.
When a smarmy bureaucrat from the Foreign Office (Steve Pemberton) started repeatedly patting her, I was waiting for Carolyn (played by Fiona Shaw) to reduce him to dust with one of her quips – but she didn’t say anything. Perhaps the scene was laying the groundwork for a bigger pay-off, but in the context of this episode it felt unsatisfying and out of character.
Meanwhile Kenny (Sean Delaney), Carolyn’s socially awkward son, is working at investigative news website “Bitter Pill” and returning home every so often to share a battered sausage with his mother. He’s secretly looking into ‘The Twelve,’ a shadowy organisation that deploys assassins for their own means, but he’s also juggling a part-time job in checking-up-on-Eve duties.
The only person in the show who’s currently having fun – or at least pretending to – is Villanelle. I won’t spoil her re-entrance near the beginning of the episode, but it was a complete joy to watch, and over far too quickly, as within the first eight minutes she’s driven away to liaise with an old acquaintance from Russia (Harriet Walter), before returning to the day job.
If new showrunner Suzanne Heathcote meant to to highlight how much we miss Villanelle whenever she’s off-screen, she succeeded. If she intended to lay the groundwork about how dreary everyone’s lives are without the flamboyant assassin, she again succeeded. Like the show’s second season, this new episode suffers in comparison to the heights of season one, in which every character and plot line was given space to shine.
Asides from a brutal twist near the end of the episode, I found myself longing throughout for scenes featuring the impish Villanelle, dressed in a variety of wigs and custom suits. Perhaps that’s the point – the viewer is supposed to relate to Eve’s acute boredom, or Carolyn’s inertia – but if that is the case, I’m hopeful that in the episodes to come, Heathcote spreads the fun a little more evenly. In lieu of loo roll, the more fun the better.
Killing Eve will begin on BBC iPlayer on Monday 13th April – the day after it launches in America. New episodes will then be available to stream every Monday from 6am
The show will also hit BBC One just under a week later, with the first episode on Sunday 19th April at 9pm and new episodes following each Sunday at 9pm
Check out what else is on with our TV Guide