Each season of Killing Eve has had its own distinctive style thanks to its change in showrunners between years. The first season — still its best — was bold, entrancing, and precise in its balance of darkness and humor. In season two, showrunner Emerald Fennell created a messy but sometimes revelatory tale that echoed the Bluebeard fairy tale in a gorgeously queer context. Season three, with Suzanne Heathcote as the showrunner/head writer, is more focused than its predecessor but it at times lacks the spark that originally made the show enchanting. Yes, the fashion moments are still there. Yes, whenever Villanelle and Eve cross each other’s paths, the show is alight with intrigue once more. Yet I’m not here for spy intrigue or plot mechanics. I want to revel in what the show is trying to say about desire and the way it is written on the human body. The switching of showrunners allows for different women to leave their stamp on these characters and the world they inhabit, but it makes the show frustrating in its lack of cohesion. There are, though, still certain themes and ideas that run through the course of the series, chief among them the price of chasing your desires and the prickly dynamics between women, particularly mother/daughter figures. Both come out in this week’s episode, “End of Game,” which sees characters being pushed to various limits, scrambling to hold on to their privately held desires and finding forms of subterfuge to meet their needs.
Let’s get one of the most important reveals out of the way: Niko is not dead! He survived the pitchfork to the throat from Dasha and is currently recuperating in a London hospital. Eve pledges to find who did this to him and why, but Niko cuts her off with a raised hand before using a machine to speak for him, putting his thoughts in no uncertain terms: “Piss off, forever.” I’ve made it clear that I don’t care for Niko, but I am curious about his place in this narrative. Why jerk audiences around with his presumed death when the character doesn’t quite fit into the show anymore and clearly doesn’t want to be in Eve’s life? Is his presence intended to cast light on Eve’s failures? Or do the writers not know how to properly tie up his story so they’re letting him languish?
Meanwhile, Villanelle faces her own disappointment. She meets with Helene (Camille Cottin), a higher-up in the Twelve who in a previous episode warned Dasha poolside. Villanelle meets her wearing a stunning navy structured suit by Dice Kayek, with broadly extreme shoulders. But she doesn’t seem sleek and in control. If anything, she looks harried and undone from her encounter with her family that turned ugly last week. Helene congratulates Villanelle on becoming a Keeper, but it isn’t how the assassin envisioned her promotion. She’s given an assignment to kill a politician in Romania. “I was told I would be giving orders,” Villanelle says, her anger rising to the surface. “By who?” Helene counters. It’s this understanding that despite moving up the ranks she will be doing the same things she was doing before that leads Villanelle to meet Konstantin at Irina’s hockey game, blaring a horn and making a scene. “I’m coming with you. Your plan to get out? I’m in,” she says with frantic energy. The conversation turns to what happened with Villanelle’s family, a story that is written on her teary and manic face. “You were supposed to grow up and realize she isn’t actually evil. She’s just insane,” Konstantin gruffly advises about her mother. Irina is annoyed at the sight of Villanelle. “He’s a really shit father; you should run away,” Villanelle says to Irina. But what’s more important is what Konstantin says to Villanelle about the price of leaving the Twelve: “You have to leave everything. The clothes, the apartment, and her,” he says, alluding to Eve.
In order to get more information, Villanelle spends time with Irina, finding her later at school after she has a tense exchange with her mother’s new boyfriend. Lounging on a swing set in a brilliantly red Courrèges coat, striped pants, and a pair of white ankle boots, Villanelle is a vision. (Of course, when isn’t she a sight to behold?) Villanelle takes Irina on an open course, letting the 14-year-old wildly drive a car. She learns, all too easily, that it’s Cuba where Konstantin is planning to run off to. After Irina complains again about her mother’s new boyfriend and their love affair, Villanelle gives the kind of advice only she would think makes sense for a kid: “If it’s that bad, kill him.” It is undoubtedly these words that inspire Irina to run over her mother’s boyfriend in the dead of night after he takes out the trash, with Konstantin watching in shock, in the closing moments of the episode.
Konstantin’s desire to leave the Twelve is complicated by a number of factors that become crystal-clear in this episode — one of which is Carolyn herself, whom he finds waiting for him outside a corner store. “How are you?” he asks, trying to be jovial. “Galvanized,” she responds curtly. Carolyn drives dangerously, speeding through traffic as a way to get under Konstantin’s skin and make him reveal what he’s done with her child. She’s talking about Kenny, since she was able to get his phone records from a friend, Mike. (Even more curious, she learns that these phone records were already sent to her desk. So why didn’t she get them?) Konstantin thinks she’s talking about Geraldine, though, and reveals that her daughter kissed him. That throws Carolyn off for a minuscule moment before she asks, “Why did Kenny call you the night before he died?” Konstantin responds in a panic, “He asked if I was his father! I told him I didn’t know.”
Can anything Konstantin says be trusted? This question is especially pertinent after watching the scene in which Konstantin comes home after his run-in with Carolyn to find Paul in his home. Paul is a slippery fellow, as we’ve seen in his interactions with Carolyn, which leads her at one point in this episode to ask him if he’s working for the Twelve. This seems to be true given his clandestine involvement with Konstantin, whom he advises to track down the killer of Bertha Kruger. Whoever is behind her death is the one who has stolen the $6 million from the Twelve account. Of course, Paul has no inkling that it is Konstantin behind all this.
The reveal about Geraldine kissing Konstantin opens up the episode to explore the prickly dynamic between mother and daughter, in which Carolyn confronts her. Geraldine comes home with groceries to find Carolyn already cooking. Geraldine, frustrated by her mother’s inability to show emotion in a way she finds legible, complains, “I know you don’t like me.” Carolyn would rather have the conversation after dinner, but Geraldine pushes it, leading to a frank monologue from Carolyn that Fiona Shaw nails with her particular blend of steeliness and insight. “You were your father’s. And Kenny was mine. And that was how things were when we were all alive,” Carolyn begins. “I can’t lie, you see. I know other parents do. But I don’t have that gene.” Carolyn cuts her finger while chopping vegetables, which brings Geraldine closer to her. Hands interlock on the wound. “You’re right, Geraldine, all we have left is each other. So you make your stew and I’ll pretend to enjoy it. And while I do, you can tell me exactly what’s been going on between you and Konstantin. Because it seems while I’ve been unable to lie to you, you’ve had no problem lying to me.”
After learning about Dasha from Bear, Eve tracks her down at a bowling alley. “Up for a game?” she asks pointedly. I loved this exchange between the women:
Dasha: “So, why you here? Want to ask about my gold medals?”
Eve: “Oh, I thought it was bronze.”
Killing Eve is at its best when charting the ways complicated, smart women crash into each other in the pursuit of their most ragged, firmly held desires. Eve proves to be a natural at not only bowling but also at getting under Dasha’s skin. “My husband’s still alive,” she says before Dasha bowls, tripping the former assassin up. It’s a confession in the form of physicality. Dasha tries to do the same to Eve, telling her she can’t get to Villanelle anymore, as the assassin is moving up the ranks. “I created her! She’s a perfect killing machine. That’s all she’s there for, that’s all she knows,” Dasha says. “I can kill you anytime.” Of course, we know Dasha’s threat is empty, given that Helene warned her in a previous episode not to touch Eve, that killing her would create more of a mess.
Villanelle proves she’s not a perfect killing machine near the end of the episode, when she goes to take out her politician target wearing a shimmering, tasseled jacket and brunette wig, posing as a stylist before his on-air appearance. She messes up in the process of killing her target, getting stabbed in the arm by hair shears that she leaves behind among a trail of blood. “I’m done with this shit. I’m done with it. I’m leaving,” she says, languishing on her bathroom floor. Dasha is perturbed by Villanelle’s bout of emotional and professional messiness but helps stitch up her wound all the same. In effect, the wound on Villanelle’s arm is aglow with meaning, pointing toward her humanity and, perhaps, her inability to face the fact that killing is all she’s good at.