So far, this season of Killing Eve is the one least concerned with an overarching plot. Eve and the Bitter Pill team still haven’t dug into Kenny’s phone; Villanelle still hasn’t reached the ambiguous ‘Keeper’ position; the Twelve continue to step in the shadows; and there’s no ultimate villain… not really.
But although these are drawbacks, writer/show-runner Suzanne Heathcote permits the characters to step forward into front- and centre-stage. Much of the dialogue in this season has been less to serve the plot and more to follow theme and emotion, unloading more intriguing nuances to these archetypal personalities.
Episode five is the most potent example in season three. The plot barely shuffles forward, but Villanelle’s character is thoroughly and thoughtfully examined as she visits her estranged family in a rural, Russian sweet spot. Don’t look for Eve or Carolyn or Konstantin or Dasha this week. Much to her probable pleasure, episode five is all about Villanelle.
Heathcote improves upon her lukewarm writing in episode one, providing a tight and tense character study of TV's most fashionable assassin. Villanelle's very extended family fills a quiet house in the middle of a mostly empty village, signs of life epitomised by men riding donkeys and lorries carrying rolls of trees.
Villanelle isn’t Villanelle here: she’s Oksana. Her mother, Tatiana (Evgenia Dodina), and brother Pytor (Rob Feldman), are still in the picture, but her father is notably absent. Tatiana's remarried and had a son, Fyodor (Dimitrij Schaad), who’s had a son of his own, Bor’ka (Temi Blaev), who’s really, really into Elton John. Given this restrictive setting, away from the glitz and glamour of capital cities, Villanelle’s vivid look this week is borrowed from Bor’ka: a short wig and heart-shaped glasses, à la the Rocket Man.
Happily, this family isn’t treated with the difficult details of a Russian novel: Heathcote makes these family connections easily accessible. Each family member, except for the stepfather Grigoriy (Pedja Bjelac), unveils few indications of insanity, but with such absorbing subtlety. Bor’ka purposely bangs his head. Fyodor and his girlfriend Yula (Natallia Bulyina) believe lizards exist within human bodies and that David Icke is a prophet. Pytor takes out his anger by battering old sofas.
But the most enticing is Tatiana, the quiet matriarch who, initially, treats Oksana/Villanelle with overbearing love. Dodnia plays the mother with such ambiguous and frightening suppression, layering her character by doing very little.
Thankfully, Heathcote doesn’t answer all the mysteries surrounding Villanelle’s past, which only intensifies the friction around her unexpected presence. You don’t know who to trust with the truth, culminating in a final confrontation towards the end, in one of the best scenes of the season so far.
Stranger than her perturbed family, Villanelle actually has fun without killing anyone. A harvest festival opens up nearby, looking a lot like a British village fête but with dung-throwing. Villanelle displays a few signs of humanity, showing emotions she’d never usually feel.
Although the reunion doesn't cast her in a new, empathetic light, the final shot causes some hesitation, even some sympathy, as director Shannon Murphy (Babyteeth) lingers on Villanelle in close-up. This really shows the depth of Jodie Comer’s performance; it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
Killing Eve season 3 drops on BBC iPlayer every Monday at 6am. Episodes also air on BBC One at 9:15pm on Sundays
|What||Killing Eve season 3 episode 5, BBC review|
11 May 20 – 11 May 21, ON BBC iPLAYER
17 May 20 – 17 May 21, ON BBC ONE