The Cat-And-Mouse Game At The Heart Of ‘Killing Eve’ Evolves For The Better In Its Hypnotic Third Season

After Killing Eve introduced us to its compelling cat-and-mouse game a few seasons ago, success threatened to become the show’s own worst enemy. The very title of the series, after all, meant that at some point, Jodie Comer’s assassin would presumably take out Sandra Oh’s MI6 agent. The first season finale managed to stave off this threat when Eve pulled a surprise stabbing move on Villanelle, but how long could the show sustain that sense of urgency, and those wild collisions that everyone has come to expect from the central relationship’s gravitational pull? Well, the sophomore season began splendidly, but some folks inevitably expressed disappointment by the season’s end. That’s where it gets tricky. Even though I felt that the show remained better than 90-ish% of current TV drams, the debut season was so on-the-mark that some of the show’s momentum unavoidably slowed. Then Villanelle tried to do what the title said she’d do, and two more seasons were greenlit while no one knew Eve’s ultimate fate. So, gauntlet thrown?

One has to respect the chutzpah involved with greenlighting those additional seasons. It was almost as if BBC America gave the naysayers the finger, as if to challenge skeptical viewers who can’t possibly see how this show could continue. A large (and vocal) contingent of loyalists do remain, and the show’s most prominent pairing has continued to feel hypnotic enough to make people look forward to more. Still, one cannot deny that third seasons are prone to be make-or-break points when many successful series must make some tough choices to stay afloat. Given Villanelle’s harsh decision at the end of the year, the show put itself in an extraordinarily difficult position. Even more so than most other third seasons, which, like I said, is already bound to be a vulnerable point.

BBC America

Let’s make one thing clear: Eve and Villanelle’s dynamic, if both of them are to stay alive — and the trailers made clear that Eve survived what went down in Rome — can only ride the cat-and-mouse game so far. Dragging that out, full-on, through a third season would be exhausting, so there’s no room for a True Detective-style attempt to go back-to-basics in an effort to re-bottle lightning. That method churned out a respectable product for HBO, though not a magical one, and BBC America resists that temptation with Killing Eve. Instead, it tweaks itself to survive through (at least) year four.

Mainly, Killing Eve accepts the challenge by diving inward and reflecting upon itself. It does not struggle to maintain the game. It doesn’t even try to make the cat and mouse get along like Season 2 did. All of that would be too played-out to sustain in an engaging way. And this is where Killing Eve decides to start running a marathon, rather than a sprint. So, the flashier aspects of the show still exist, but they’re fueled differently. This might make the show less exhilarating for some viewers, but overall, there’s a more solid construction. It really was the wisest way to go to keep these characters going and, in the process, to give the people want they demand: more Villanelle and Eve. That’s what we get, but the show also turns into more of an ensemble team effort, which is very cool. Oh, and the writing’s still chock full of biting humor and morbid coping mechanisms.

As always, the show’s stills are best posted without context, but let’s just say that these two are coping differently with their trauma.

BBC America
BBC America

Unfortunately, I cannot say too much about what actually transpires without spoiling a ton of what happens this season. And I can’t wait to talk more about the events that take place with you fine people, but for now, these loose ends will have to do:

– The first several episodes are kind-of The Villanelle Show. That doesn’t mean that Eve isn’t on the scene. She’s definitely around and receives plenty of face time, but she’s muted, worn out in a sense, physically and psychologically, while attempting to recover from what went down in Rome. Whereas Villanelle’s personality grows ever more amplified (she’s got career goals now, y’all) and contextualized, including her own bottle episode mid-season. You may or may not appreciate the additional information — I did, and the payoffs from that episode don’t feel forced or unearned.

– Several regulars who previously haven’t received much fleshing-out get that treatment now, and it’s wonderful to see this show written as more of an ensemble, rather than players rotating around a central pair. We learn more about Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) and Kenny (Sean Delaney). Carolyn (Fiona Shaw)’s also now got a daughter, Geraldine (Gemma Whelan from Game Of Thrones), on the scene, and a newly revealed Twelve member, Dasha (Harriet Walter), is shaking things up real good. Sadly, Eve’s long-suffering husband, Niko (Owen McDonnell), is still very much suffering. There are a lot of threads are floating around in this season! It’s definitely not dull.

– Keeping with tradition, the show’s installed a new lead writer, Suzanne Heathcote, who’s best known for Fear The Walking Dead. That might not inspire confidence, but Heathcote’s experience helps turn this into an ensemble show. There are also some brazenly sharp lines of dialogue on tap, like “when a bullet goes though you, it leaves something behind.” Viewers know that more than one player on this show can benefit from that reasoning. Of course, no one can replace the wit of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s first-season writing, but the show’s still got an admirable edge.

This third season burns as brightly as always even if it does so less intensely. It succeeds by pulling away from a lot of what made the show stellar, but the show mines new potential from secondary relationships and fresh characters. So, Killing Eve is still as mesmerizing as it used to be, but in a different way, with fewer shocks to the system. The show’s passion still exists, it’s just not so in your face as it has been previously. And fans won’t want to walk away from this show’s commitment to keeping the gang together.

The third season of BBC America’s ‘Killing Eve’ premieres on Sunday, April 12 at 9:00 PM EST and will be simulcast on AMC. You can still catch up on seasons 1 and 2 on Hulu.