“Are You Leading or Am I?” is a tepid episode that lays bare the extent to which Killing Eve has lost its way. Sure, questions are answered, threads are tied neatly, and vengeance is doled out, although perhaps not on the worthiest target. Yes, Eve and Villanelle spend considerable time face-to-face musing over what binds them together. But there’s an essential spark missing. Part of the problem is that the show hasn’t quite found anything new and novel to say about Eve and Villanelle — what draws them to each other, their relationship to violence and desire. The show is repeating many of the same beats it has teased since the beginning. That in and of itself isn’t a problem; there can be something scintillating to the push and pull between two wild and wildly different characters who repeat the same patterns. But Killing Eve hasn’t found a way to make that work in the third season, even as it’s ultimately been more focused than the second, composed as it is around the narrative backbone of Kenny’s death. But while that focus leads to some intriguing moments in the season finale, the character work doesn’t wholly track.
Written by Suzanne Heathcote and Laura Neal and directed by Damon Thomas, the season finale opens with Villanelle walking up the stairs of the Royal Albert Hall in London wearing a coat with pink feathers and sequins glittering along the lapels. She’s meeting Carolyn, of all people, in order to take the MI6 job offer she got long ago. But she doesn’t want to kill anymore. “I’m confused, what would you do for us?” Carolyn asks. Villanelle proves useless in answering who killed Carolyn’s assistant, Mo, or her son, Kenny. “What use are you to me or anyone? If Villanelle has retired, what’s left?” Carolyn pointedly ponders aloud. It’s a good question for the show itself, too. Villanelle wanting to untangle herself from the Twelve and her life as an assassin isn’t an inherently worthwhile narrative. Who is Villanelle without death by her side? What does she want out of life? In trying to complicate Villanelle and her relationship to the violence she metes out, the writers have muddled her character. The allure of Villanelle is that she’s a specific, lavish fantasy unmoored from consequence, dangerously chasing after her desires in ways that are often impossible for women to do. Isn’t that what originally drew Eve to her? The fantasy of what life could be if she lived like Villanelle?
Villanelle and Eve muse over their bond when they meet in a dance hall shot through with lights the color of cherries. Eve is wearing a mundane parka, of course, while Villanelle is a vision in her striking cerulean and brick-red patterned suit. They watch couples waltz around the room as they have one of their frankest conversations ever. “Do you ever think about the past?” Villanelle wonders. “All the time. It’s all I think about,” Eve responds.
Villanelle has a lot on her mind. She mentions how she chose this dance hall as a meeting place because it was where she did her first kill in this country. Jodie Comer’s face whirs with emotion as she says this, as if she’s overwhelmed. She looks at the dancing couples and remarks on how happy and carefree they seem, how she desires to feel that way. So Eve gets up and offers her a dance, despite it not being either’s strong suit. It’s here, on the dance floor, as they awkwardly navigate each other’s bodies, that the title of the episode is uttered: “Are you leading or am I?” Eve asks. “I have no idea.” Eve and Villanelle slowly dance with each other, Villanelle losing herself in Eve’s magnificent hair. Before fellow assassin Rhian crashes their meetup, there is a rich exchange between them as Villanelle nods to an older couple:
Villanelle: “Do you want to be like that?”
Eve: “Not anymore.”
Villanelle: “Why not?”
Eve: “We’d never make it that long, we’d consume each other before we got old.”
Villanelle: “Sounds kinda nice.”
Once Villanelle sees Rhian she gives Eve the information about where to pick up what proves to be Konstantin’s most important belonging — she says it’s “freedom” — and urges Eve to go.
When Rhian makes her way to Villanelle, she can’t help but be her ostentatious self. She dips Rhian, aggressively. But Rhian would like to keep things neat and professional as she mentions Helene wants to meet. At a train station, Villanelle and Rhian are at odds. Is that surprising? Where Villanelle is bold, Rhian is utilitarian, preferring comfort over style. “I was trained to be devastating … obviously,” Villanelle says at one point. Their differences go beyond surface level. As Rhian says to Villanelle, who is chirping about how they’re both trained assassins somehow at another’s will, “Autonomy is overrated, sheep are happier than wolves.” I think that’s the true problem for Villanelle. She doesn’t so much want to stop killing as she wants to gain autonomy over her life and destiny. Villanelle whispers, “I’m sorry” before beginning to pummel Rhian. She beats her bloody, strangles her, then kicks her onto the train tracks, watching as an oncoming train gives her a grisly fate. Seems like Villanelle can kill again after all.
The finale is working overtime to bring its various characters together. Carolyn goes to the Bitter Pill office, where the mood is strangely chipper. Bear, Jamie, and Audrey (Ayoola Smart) show Carolyn footage from the office the day of Kenny’s death. Apparently, Bear put in a secret camera to figure out who was pilfering his candy stash. In doing so, he picked up the last footage before Kenny’s death, in which Konstantin visited him, suggesting he’s responsible. (Why the hell didn’t Bear check this footage earlier?) Meanwhile, Eve and Konstantin’s tracks merge when he finds her with what he’s looking for. When Eve looks in the bag it seems to be an innocuous nesting doll. But as Konstantin explains, it has a bar code that opens another safe that has passports, money, and all he needs for freedom. After Konstantin gets a call from Paul, who knows he has been stealing money from the account, all parties converge at Paul’s home. But it isn’t the welcome Eve or Konstantin expects.
At Paul’s, Carolyn is already there with a gun in hand. She instructs Konstantin to sit next to Paul. “Do you even know how to use that? Please give the gun to me,” a clearly stressed Konstantin advises Carolyn. On that note, she aims the gun at a bust on an end table and pulls the trigger, fracturing its temple into pieces. Both Villanelle and Eve are confused. After all, they have no idea who the hell Paul is, making this denouement feel both overstuffed with competing loyalties and thinly drawn at the same time. Paul is asked by Villanelle about Helene and by Eve about Niko. He acts as if he has no idea what they’re talking about. Eve and Villanelle’s roles in the most important scene of the finale feels superfluous, which speaks to a narrative problem at the heart of this season: The show has lost sight of not only Eve, but the treasured, complicated bond that she has with Villanelle, in order to focus more on spy intrigue surround the Twelve. When Carolyn brings up the footage she saw proving Konstantin had a hand in Kenny’s death, he quickly starts spinning lies. “Kenny was getting too close to the Twelve,” Konstantin says, going on to mention he offered Kenny a job and that he was trying to help him. He says his fall from the roof was an accident.
Carolyn doesn’t believe him, beckoning him to get on his knees. He wants to say that he would never do anything to someone he once loved. “Don’t say loved,” Carolyn advises. She mentions she did care about him but this was inevitable, as she presses the barrel of the gun to his forehead. Konstantin begs Villanelle to do something. Instead of killing Konstantin, though, Carolyn turns her gun on Paul, shooting him through the head. “It should have been you. Go before I change my mind,” she advises Konstantin. Before he leaves with his package, he asks Villanelle if she will be joining him. “Why not?” Konstantin asks at her refusal. “You’re not family,” she replies coolly. Why would Carolyn let Konstantin go and kill Paul knowing he could provide so much information on the Twelve? “What I’ve come to realize is one cannot destroy the Twelve,” she says to a frustrated Eve. She pointedly suggests Eve go cold turkey and Eve runs off in response, with Villanelle following after her.
Villanelle and Eve share a frank yet tender conversation over a bridge in the closing moments of the finale. They discuss how they both had a hand in killing Dasha. “Isn’t that romantic?” Villanelle says about their mutual killing. Villanelle says she doesn’t want to be in her line of work anymore. Eve wonders aloud about the life she used to live, looking at the passersby as if they are emblematic of who she once was. “You were never like them. You only thought you were,” Villanelle is careful to note. When Eve describes seeing her future, she says she only sees Villanelle’s face “over and over again.”
Villanelle: “Did I ruin your life? Do you think I’m a monster?”
Eve: “You’re so many things. […] I think we all have monsters inside of us, it’s just that most people manage to keep theirs hidden.”
The script is a bit blunt here, as Eve and Villanelle suggest their monsters feed each other. Eve pleads with her to help “make it stop.” So Villanelle tells her to stand up, turn around, and walk in the opposite direction. “Now we walk and never look back,” Villanelle says. So, they walk along the bridge in opposite directions. But that pull between them remains, their eyebrows furrowed, faces swimming with emotions — longing, regret, need. Eve turns around. Then Villanelle. At opposite sides of the bridge they hold each other’s gaze silently before the episode cuts to black.
What are we to make of this ending? Are Carolyn and MI6 really done investigating the Twelve? Will Eve and Villanelle run toward each other or turn away once more? Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer continue to dazzle with the ways they’re able to reflect minute shifts in the rich emotional lives of their characters, but I’m left wishing the writers would utilize these extremely gifted performers better. I hope that whatever shape the next season of Killing Eve takes, it recaptures that spark that once illuminated it, and finds more narrative fulfillment in the tricky, vibrant bond between Eve and Villanelle.
On the Dressing Room Floor:
• Best outfit of the week: The mustard yellow cape-like coat by Loewe that Villanelle pairs with Ann Demeulemeester boots for her trip to the Bitter Pill offices. On that note …
• I enjoyed watching Jodie Comer’s precise, gonzo energy as she struts into the Bitter Pill offices looking for Eve, takes a gander at their billboard lined with death, and remarks on which one wasn’t her doing.
• “Dear Geraldine, I think it’s time you left,” Carolyn says to her daughter, opening up to a blank page in her journal as if she actually took the time to write down what she wanted to say. This is one of the few satisfying moments in the finale.
• Dasha is officially dead. After Konstantin discharges himself despite being advised not to, he visits Dasha. A tense argument erupts between them about Villanelle before Dasha yelps in pain (a heart attack?) and slumps over.