‘Killing Eve’ Boss on Villanelle’s Desire for Normalcy and Eve’s Big Choice
Article from The Hollywood Reporter.
Head Writer Laura Neal explains how that twist could impact the starring duo’s relationship going forward, what makes Eve’s relationship with Hélène different, and what assassin-in-training Pam reveals about the show’s central characters.
While the title of Killing Eve has always had multiple layers, it takes on yet another one in the latest episode of the show’s final season.
Eve (Sandra Oh) finally chooses to have Villanelle (Jodie Comer) arrested after the former assassin takes Martin (Adeel Akhtar) hostage to get professional mental health help. It’s something Eve hasn’t yet done in three seasons of the spy series. The potential fallout, then, could rock Eve and Villanelle’s entire relationship and re-ups questions about a show that’s as much about rebirth as it is about murder.
“You can take she show’s title literally, or you can take it figuratively,” Laura Neal, season four’s head writer, says when discussing the third episode of the final run, titled “A Rainbow in Beige Boots,” with The Hollywood Reporter. “But the figurative interpretation does feel like Eve is on a journey of rebirth, and we’ve seen that from season one across the show to season four. It feels like what she’s trying to do is dig down to the core of herself and let that Eve be free; let that Eve be born.”
Coupled with Eve’s moves with Hélène, Pam’s (Anjana Vasan) first murder and Villanelle’s own “come to Jesus” — or “Vesus” — moment, the BBC America thriller’s leading characters and its coterie of other killers are neck-deep in a deadly game of chess that, if survived, could lead to a true metamorphosis.
Speaking to THR below, Neal breaks down some of the most significant moves in the cat-and-mouse saga and how they could finally change the game for its leading duo.
There are two lines in the first two episodes that stand out as foreshadow-y: When Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) tells Eve she won’t come out of this alive — to which Eve responds, “Thank God.” And when Villanelle is asked how she can be so good all the time, to which she says, “I have no choice.” What do they tell us about these characters and their journeys this season?
In terms of the “Thank God” line, there’s something about Eve which is determined to come out of this a different person in whatever way that looks like. There is something about the Eve of episode one, where she has lost everything. There’s nothing of her previous life that remains intact, and for her, that’s both dark and nihilistic, but also really freeing because she has no one and nothing to answer to. That’s an exciting revelation when she says, “Thank God,” because it’s like, “Oh, this is Eve cut loose. This is an Eve with no boundaries.” That’s a line that Sandra and I had a lot of discussions about. We came up with it together, and all those questions were about Eve’s headspace and nihilism.
For Villanelle, the “I have no choice,” for me, is about Villanelle feeling like she can’t go back to her old life again. She can’t go back to The Twelve, she can’t be an assassin for hire. She has seen that there’s more to life than that, and she can’t go back there. For her, in her head at that moment, the only way out of that is to change who she is so that she wouldn’t be attractive to The Twelve anymore. She can’t be lured back into that lifestyle.
Villanelle brutally murders again, followed by her coming back to Eve and admitting that she hasn’t changed before essentially taking Martin hostage for therapy. Eve responds by having Villanelle arrested. That feels like Eve declaring she and Villanelle are not the same. Is that fair?
I think that the work of the series is each of those two characters working out exactly what it is about the relationship that means that they cannot escape each other. Both of them go through different stages along that journey. You’re right that, at that moment, Eve is saying, “I’m not like you and I don’t need you, and I don’t want you around.” What feels interesting to me about that is the power flip. The power dynamic between them in that moment, and immediately after that moment, because I think it’s right that Eve should have done that in season one. If she were any of us and given the opportunity to put Villanelle away, we probably would have done it. Eve chose not to. There’s something about finally doing it and having power over Villanelle that feels thrilling to me. But, is that really what she wants? Is a world without Villanelle a world that he wants to exist in?
Then on the flip side for Villanelle, what she gets out of a relationship with Eve is that she knows she has power over her. She knows that Eve needs her, even if it’s in an undefined way. Then when Eve makes that decision at the end of episode three, I think Villanelle, for the very first time, thinks, “Maybe she doesn’t need me.” What does that do to Villanelle’s psychology? It felt like a really good turning point in their relationship and one we’ve not seen before.
As Eve attempts to disentangle herself from Villanelle, she entangles herself with Hélène and they have a similar cat-and-mouse feel. How is that relationship different?
That relationship is one of my favorite ones of the season, and we loved writing for Camille Cottin, who plays Hélène. We’re huge Camille Cottin fans in the writers room. There are definite similarities between the Eve and Hélène relationship and the Villanelle relationship. I think what’s different about it is that it’s Eve, actually. Eve is meeting Hélène in a very different psychological place to the place she was in when she met Villanelle. Eve is a different person now, and she has doled out destruction and chaos. She has received it. She has plunged herself into a world where she has been forced to confront her darkest desires and motivations. Now she’s coming out of the other side of that, and that’s the moment she’s meeting this woman.
That feels so interesting to me because, what would have happened between Eve and Villanelle if Eve had been who she is now when she met Villanelle? How does Eve interact with this extremely dangerous woman in a way that is different from Villanelle, or similar? So, it’s a point of comparison. It also allows us to explore, what is it about dangerous women that attracts Eve? What is it that is so intoxicating? Exploring that with a whole new character and a whole new dynamic feels exciting, but it also feels like Eve is practicing for when she next encounters Villanelle. There’s an element of acting out a kind of conversation with Villanelle through Hélène.
We’ve seen Villanelle act emotionally, like a light switch with most people outside of Eve. Does she have the capacity to continue loving Eve after this betrayal?
We spoke about so many facets of that in the writers room. I honestly think Villanelle is shaken by what Eve does at the end of this episode. What it shakes in her is this belief that she’s always had, that she has Eve wrapped around her little finger. I think for Villanelle, in some senses, the power that she wills over Eve is love. That’s how she interprets love. We spoke a lot about, what is love to Villanelle and how is it bound up in power for her? I think the two are very bound up for Villanelle.
It also does something interesting for Villanelle because it shows her how vulnerable she is, and that’s not a Villanelle we often see. I think it could do one of two things in terms of what it does for Villanelle and Eve’s relationship. It could freeze the relationship. Villanelle could very easily drop Eve, because we’ve seen her drop people in the past. Or it could put a fire beneath the relationship because Villanelle is like, “How dare she?” But also be thrilled by the gall of Eve to do that; like the audacity of it thrills her. I think I lean towards the latter — the before the fire rather than the ice.
We see Villanelle talk about her desire to have normalcy with Eve during her therapy. Has she actually considered whether that is aligned with her nature?
What excites me about Villanelle’s stated desire for normalcy — and within that desire, for change — is this question of, was she born or was she made? That feels like the central question of those therapy scenes in episode three. Villanelle herself and even we, as an audience, have thought, Villanelle is a psychopath. She was born like this. There was no other destiny for her. Suddenly, Villanelle is like, “But what if I wasn’t born like this? What if I have never known anything else, but I was actually made? And is there some way for me to get back to who I was born as and start again on a blank slate?” That was moving to me.
Whether Villanelle can achieve it or not is the question of the whole series. She goes through several different versions and iterations of that question and may have different results. Also, this idea of suddenly Villanelle looking at the so-called normal life that Eve had before she met her and being like, “Actually, that looks quite nice, and it looks quite free in a certain way. I want that.” What’s interesting about Villanelle is that she’s somebody who’s not used to failing. So for Villanelle, when she says, “OK, I want to change. I want to be normal. I want a normal life,” in her head, she thinks, “I will be able to.” What’s interesting about those first three episodes is that, suddenly, she comes up against her failure. She’s like, “This is much more difficult than anything I’ve ever done before.” I think that that shows her in a different light.
Before Villanelle “goes to therapy,” she tried to address her behavior and psychology through an imaginary Jesus, or Vesus, as some are calling it. Why did you want her to experience that before trying therapy?
I wanted to see Villanelle fail — undeniably fail — right before we put her into that therapy sequence. I wanted to see almost like the fabric of the world for her get strained and frayed because Villanelle has a very solid sense of herself in the world. For that to be tested, I think it is destabilizing. To be betrayed by herself after she’s been betrayed by all these other people in her life — the one person she thought she could trust to lead her on the right path. After that has happened to her, she has nowhere else to turn; she has to seek outside help. So a lot of the question was, what does it take to get Villanelle to go to someone and say, “Help me.” I think our answer was not being able to trust herself anymore.
Villanelle will now be in jail, where she’ll have time to meditate more on what has happened. Does Vesus play into this at all?
For sure, the jail for Villanelle is a contemplative place and not an easy place to be. I think in terms of her relationship with the vision, and whether that will make an appearance again, I think in some senses it never really leaves her, what she experienced in one and two. And what I can say is that her experiment with faith stays in her mind for the rest of the season. Whether that means another reappearance of the vision, I can’t say.
Pam also makes a big move and kills her brother — though this is different from Villanelle’s kills. Why did having Pam come in this season feel important for the show’s final run, and what might her arc not just reveal about herself but about people like her, including Villanelle?
We invented this character to act as a kind of mirror to some of our other characters — to Villanelle for sure. That’s the most obvious one. But also to Konstantin, to Eve to even a certain extent, and Carolyn. We love the idea of seeing an assassin origin story. We realized that we’ve never seen The Twelve pluck somebody from their life and train them up. So we were interested in seeing that and how that works. In terms of linking her character to the wider themes of the show, we were like, “What happens if you try and take somebody who has lived through trauma, like Villanelle, but is not a psychopath in any way? What happens if you try and brutalize that person further and try and make them do the things that Villanelle has done?”
In terms of Villanelle, it felt like an interesting character to have for the question of whether I was born or made. They’re trying to make her into something, but she’s resisting it because her core, perhaps, isn’t quite like that. I think there are a lot of things going on in Pam, but I honestly think we love to — and maybe it’s very British, I don’t know — watch an underdog. We were like, “She’s such an underdog. We’re rooting for her.” Also, she’s somebody who is an innocent in this world and we were curious as to how an innocent — a complete innocent in this in the world of The Twelve — would fair.
The final season of Killing Eve is airing Sundays at 9 p.m. on BBC America and streams on AMC+.