Disillusionment flecks Killing Eve like the tiny cloth knobs on a bouclé sweater. Eve’s and Villanelle’s growing realizations that they can’t depend on the institutions they serve give their story lines a bumpy, unpredictable texture. Last week’s revelation about a mysterious, chaos-promoting organization called the 12 feels like a setup for a letdown, as so many TV Big Bads tend to be when they’re all-powerful and opaquely written. Luckily for us, the Moscow-set “Take Me to the Hole!” largely focuses on Eve’s shifting relationship with her would-be mentor Carolyn and strains further Villanelle’s bond with Konstantin — interpersonal stories way more interesting than yet another evil Illuminati.
The hour begins with Villanelle and Konstantin outside of a Russian penitentiary — the same facility, we’ll later learn, where the mercenary had been locked up before. She’s there to kill her ex, Nadia, and meet up with the prison doctor. For the first time, we see Villanelle as a fidgety, nervous wreck: She might be recognized, or far worse, left behind by Konstantin. She asks her handler why he never tried to have sex with her and licks his hand when he caresses her face in an attempt to comfort her, two gestures that feel touchingly human: Who hasn’t annoyed someone in a desperate (if misguided) bid for affection and consideration? Villanelle gets into the back of a truck that’s waiting for her, sneaks into the slammer, and is instantly stripped of her individual qualities. Good-bye, bubblegum-pink coats and sexually inappropriate comments to the people who hold her life in their hands. Hello, drab prison uniform and routine dehumanization.
In London, Eve and Carolyn resolve to visit Moscow to discover what Nadia can tell them about Villanelle (a.k.a. Eve’s obsession) and the 12 (a.k.a. Carolyn’s target). But first, Eve meets up with her husband Niko in an overwrought scene that makes me completely lose faith in what the show’s trying to do with their marriage. Niko’s compassion gradually gives way to condescension, as he first expresses his fears that Eve will end up killed like her two colleagues, then tells her that she’s “getting off on sniffing out a psycho.”
“You’re not saving the world, honeybunch” he says … to a woman who’s worked in intelligence for many years? “Do you want me to hold on to your cape so you can go down on yourself a little bit more?” he asks lewdly. Eve punches him in the face, then shoves him a couple more times. His out-of-character derision doesn’t quite land because it’s so unlike anything we’ve seen before from him; rather, it feels like the show is just trying to get from point A to point B with this story line and indifferent to how to make that transition. Eve’s violence is simply abhorrent. Is this scene supposed to illustrate a badass wife blowing up an unfulfilling marriage to a simp, or an increasingly angry, not-quite-stable woman refusing to be denied her power? Either way, my neck hurts from the tonal whiplash.
Unlike last week, when Eve swanned around her house in the dress and perfume that Villanelle sent her, she’s all business now. That becomes clearer once she and Carolyn land in Russia, and the uncharacteristically giddy older woman talks about feeling the excitement of Moscow in her “buttocks” and practically begs to borrow a lipstick from Eve.
Carolyn is even more aflutter when her Russian contact, Vladimir, and his colleague, Konstantin (!), arrive for cocktails. Eve watches this reunion between former spies (and obvious professional fuck buddies!) with a skepticism, instantly taking a dislike to Konstantin. It’s a genuinely fun moment, with Fiona Shaw, Kim Bodna, and Laurentiu Possa doing a fantastically convincing job of selling themselves as frenemies who’ve battled each other for decades and have gained a strange appreciation for each other. Carolyn can read Vladimir’s poker face and knows how to keep Eve from spilling any tradeable assets, but she also mistakenly believes that the three of them are on the same side. (Like the episode about Bill, this one does a great job of demystifying Carolyn’s aloof allure while suggesting onion-like levels of history.) Carolyn garners an interview with Nadia at the prison in exchange for the information that MI6 gleaned from the Russian sleeper agent who posed as Frank’s mother. But the most fateful scoop may be the one Eve offers for free: An assassin named Oksana broke into her house and demanded dinner.
At the prison, Villanelle wastes no time getting to work. She spots Nadia working in the kitchen and asks to be assigned there. A guard gives her a toilet scrub instead and sends her to the bathrooms, where Villanelle learns from a violence-prone cancer patient named Agniya that the only way to secure an appointment with a doctor is to be on the verge of death. Because basically every part of her jailhouse escapade is foreseeable, Villanelle gets Agniya to beat her up. During her medical consultation, the doctor gives her a shiv, Nadia’s cell number, and instructions to be at “The Hole” by a certain time, when Konstantin will get her out. (Naturally, the handler would have virtually nothing to lose by leaving his troublemaking and too-knowledgeable hireling in solitary confinement.)
Unbeknownst to Villanelle, Konstantin is at the penitentiary too, surveilling Eve and Carolyn’s interview with Nadia. After Nadia walks in on crutches and with an arm sling, the British agents offer her everything she could want: a ticket out of prison, asylum in the U.K., and presumably a life far away from hired killing. Nadia begins to out Konstantin as her recruiter into professional murders, but when the man himself walks into the room, she tells Eve and Carolyn to search instead for Anna, the wife of the man Oksana castrated. Carolyn asks Vladimir to arrange for the things she promised Nadia. She’s refused but undeterred, convinced it’s just a matter of wearing down her former lover.
Over another round of drinks, Carolyn spills that she slept with both Vladimir and Konstantin, and that she let the former take the blame for a secret that the latter leaked. Eve gets Kenny, Carolyn’s son, to drum up evidence for this betrayal, then goes behind Carolyn’s back once more to make a furtive deal with Vladimir: The name of the blabber for Nadia and Villanelle, whom Eve describes as “young women manipulated into this job.”
Does Eve really have such a bleeding heart? The rest of the episode actually makes a strong case for why Villanelle belongs in supermax. She stabs two guards and kills Nadia, though not before Villanelle’s ex writes a note to Eve and slips it outside the door. Villanelle ends up in The Hole, of course, and quickly realizes that she’ll be there for longer than she expected, also of course. Solitary confinement is tantamount to torture and a blight on the very notion of justice, but … doesn’t a sadistic monster like Villanelle belong there? Or are we supposed to believe, despite everything we’ve seen, that she’s a victim of circumstance who deserves a second chance? I’m so confused about where this show is going, and not in the good way.