'Killing Eve' runs out of steam in fourth and final season

Programme Name: Killing Eve Series 4 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Eve Polastri (SANDRA OH), Villanelle (JODIE COMER) - (C) BBC America - Photographer: Anika Molnar
Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in Killing Eve S4 (BBC America/Anika Molnar)

Killing Eve used to be a cutting-edge drama. It made Jodie Comer a star, reinvented the espionage thriller and gave audiences a compelling anti-hero with few redeeming features.

Released to massive acclaim in 2018, it featured two empowered female characters who were unwittingly infatuated by one another. In a moment of pure serendipity, it also struck a chord with global audiences who were appalled by the repercussions of sexual allegations against Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein.

In the slipstream of the #MeToo movement, which would ultimately change Hollywood forever, Killing Eve offered up a female fronted espionage thriller with backbone.

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By deploying off kilter character moments in its opening season, alongside razor sharp dialogue penned by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, it proved a game changer for all concerned. By weaving more traditional elements and established genre tropes into the mix, audiences quickly warmed to this charismatic femme fatale, with zero scruples and a talent for killing on request. It played out like a cool sixties Cold war fable, with contemporary elements thrown in and lashings of bone dry banter.

‘Killing Eve’ is a show that’s easy to become obsessed with
Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in the memorable first season of Killing Eve (BBC)

Episode after episode Comer expanded her characterisation of Villanelle, opposite a consistently excellent Kim Bodnia as Konstantin. Childishly petulant yet alluringly coquettish in her demeanour, this was an assassin with issues aplenty and a back catalogue of inventive execution styles to draw on. Yet the overarching connection remained her relationship with Eve Polastri, as Sandra Oh and her opposite number continued their kinetic courtship into season two.

With a savagely sarcastic Fiona Shaw on hand as Carolyn Martens throughout, providing both formidable female strength and relentlessly caustic comebacks, season two upped the ante. With the addition of Oscar-winning screenwriter Emerald Fennell on board alongside Waller-Bridge, many still consider this to be Killing Eve’s creative highpoint. As a result, relationships became more entangled, Comer ramped Villanelle up another notch and Oh got outshone in a more low-key turn.

Watch: Killing Eve Season 4 trailer

However, season three saw that universal adoration disappear, despite the presence of an outstanding Harriet Walter, as audiences derided this iteration at home and abroad. Comer remained a strong presence, yet some felt that Killing Eve mark three leant more into gimmicks and globetrotting, than character arcs and espionage. Even with some new adversaries in the game and Villanelle in scene stealing form, many felt let down by a show which, outwardly at least, seemed in stasis.

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Unfortunately, this fourth and final instalment may suffer a similar fate as it takes time to gain momentum. Even with the addition of various international locations including Russia, Mallorca and Hemel Hempstead something is sorely lacking story wise. Set-pieces are minimal, Comer’s Villanelle feels strangely subdued, while Eve and Carolyn lack direction. There are fleeting conversations around The Twelve, who continue to be this nefarious non-entity, yet feel oddly out of reach early on.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 19:00:01 on 16/12/2021 - Programme Name: Killing Eve Series 4 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Villanelle (JODIE COMER) - (C) ©2021 BBC America - Photographer: Sid Gentle Films
Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve S4 (BBC America/Sid Gentle Films)

There is some fun to be had watching Villanelle wrestle with her baser urges, in a desire to attain absolution for past transgressions, but it feels like a distraction rather than anything substantial. With Eve the only one who is actively doing anything, season four does drag in that first hour and twenty minutes. Head writer Laura Neal throws in some familiar faces, that are guaranteed to give audiences some hope, but these are given short thrift leaving characters languishing in a narrative no-man's land.

That being said, season four does contain at least two high points, both featuring the new high priestess of Hollywood Jodie Comer. One is a moment of pure acting brilliance, that will remind viewers why she was chosen to portray such an infinitely complex character, while the other is pure vaudeville. After four seasons, apart from the occasional flash of fire from Villanelle, it is apparent that the writers have run out of steam.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 17:30:01 on 10/02/2022 - Programme Name: Killing Eve Series 4 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Eve Polastri (SANDRA OH), Villanelle (JODIE COMER) - (C) BBC America - Photographer: BBC America
Artowkr for Killing Eve S4 featuring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer (BBC America)

Having mined all the precious metal from this particular creative vein, it would be fair to say that the decision to draw a discreet veil over Killing Eve was necessary. Jodie Comer has moved beyond Villanelle to exploit that talent for accents on cinema screens around the world.

With starring roles in The Last Duel and Free Guy, this is only the beginning of a journey destined to conclude in an Oscar win. That being said, she is now able to use her name to get projects like Help made, opposite other homegrown talent like Stephen Graham.

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However, Killing Eve will always remain a pivotal part in her progression, even if this lacklustre swan song barely does the legacy justice.

Lacking in punch, devoid of backbone and suffering from an awkward case of pedestrian pacing, season four will only be of interest to the completists out there.

The first episode of the final series of Killing Eve is exclusively on BBC iPlayer from Monday, 28 February.