I’m back, baby! After having so much fun writing weekly recaps for Yellowjackets, I’m back to recap a different show about death and knives and queerness with a similarly banging soundtrack! That’s right! I’m here with a Killing Eve 401 recap and will be writing weekly about the entire final season. It’s the first time Autostraddle is doing weekly recaps of the show, but we’ve covered the erotic thriller saga of Villanelle and Eve extensively in the past. Read Dorothy Snarker on season one; me on season two; Drew on season two; me on gay knifeplay; me on season three; me on the time Eve and Villanelle kissed; and me on the season three finale. As for a pretty straightforward and comprehensive season three recap of the main players and plot points, this NYT refresher is solid. All caught up? Okay, let’s dive into the season four premiere, “Just Dunk Me” written by Laura Neal and directed by Stella Corradi.
When we last left Villanelle and Eve at the end of season three, they were together on an obviously symbolic bridge. Villanelle seemed resolute to stop killing or at least try to stop killing. Eve had resolved that all people have monsters inside them. That some are just better at hiding it than others. They agreed to walk away from each other, but of course they failed. Eve turned back first, then Villanelle, neither able to really let go of one another, neither able to stop watching the other.
In “Just Dunk Me,” Villanelle is desperate for Eve’s gaze, and Eve won’t give her the satisfaction.
Making true on her vow at the end of season three, Villanelle is trying to be good. She is, however, going about it in the most Villanelle way imaginable. Rather than simply trying to live a quiet, murder-free life, she has to take it to the extreme. She has worked her way into a small congregation, where she has committed herself to being the platonic ideal of a good Christian woman. She lives with the vicar Phil and his daughter May, who is constantly in awe of Villanelle — who goes by Nelle — and her good deeds.
“I don’t know how you can be so good all the time,” May says when Villanelle agrees without complaint to clean up the chunky puke of the church’s pet cat Lucifer.
“I don’t have any other choice,” Villanelle says.
Later, when the cat scratches her, she flings it so hard against a wall that it dies before splashing into the filled tub she was just kneeling before to pray for a new life. Not exactly an intentional killing per se. But still, a bit of the old Villanelle bursting through. Impulsive and erratic and violent.
For Villanelle, it’s all or nothing. She’s not interested in baby stepping away from her life as an assassin but rather quitting cold turkey which, famously, is a tough approach when it comes to patterns of behavior. She’s not just “being good.” She’s trying on goodness as a costume. She dons a tie-dye What Would Jesus Do? shirt and cooks literal fishes and loaves for the vicar and his daughter, who she lives with, weaseling her way into what she perceives as a normal family. Phil says she doesn’t have to follow the Bible so literally, that she can follow her own instincts, and Villanelle says it’s better if she has a roadmap.
Phil is skeptical of Nelle. Villanelle is so disarmingly charming to most people that it’s funny to see when her charade doesn’t work. It does make me think Phil might be hiding some wickedness of his own, since it’s usually other players who Villanelle can’t play. May, who secretly writes homoerotic fiction about a choir soprano and pianist, is drawn to Villanelle, attracted to her pious perfection.
“I’ve always wanted a family,” Villanelle tells Phil and May. Folks at home will recall when she lit a house on fire with most of her family inside it.
This is what Villanelle knows. Wearing costumes, playacting, manipulating the people around her. She has taken on a new name and a new purpose, and it really is just like one of her jobs, only instead of the endgoal being assassination-for-pay, the endgoal is getting Eve’s attention. Which really means Villanelle hasn’t changed at all. She is constantly, relentlessly trying to get Eve’s attention. She sends glossy embossed invitations to Eve to attend her baptism, asks for a seat in the pews to be reserved for her special guest after determining which vantage point has the best view.
And after she’s caught disposing of the dead cat’s body, the vicar notes he feels as if she does not actually have faith and does not actually want to be baptized but rather wants to be seen being baptized. He so accurately pinpoints her motivation that not even she can deny it (“if you’re baptized in a forest and no one sees you baptized, were you really baptized,” she jokes in typical wry Villanelle fashion).
Due to her training and her disposition, Villanelle can essentially live any life she wants. She can become anyone. Think back to the beginning of season three when we dropped in on her wedding to some random woman. She wasn’t working a job. She was just bored and also feeling rejected by Eve, who told her she wasn’t hers during their standoff in the Roman ruins. So she tried on a new life, and it worked until it was crashed by her old mentor Dasha. Dasha who, in a way, Villanelle and Eve killed together by the end of season three. They always end up back in each other’s orbits.
Villanelle and Eve both like the idea of a rebirth. They both like to think of themselves as constantly reinventing themselves. Villanelle because she’s easily bored and because it’s easy to slip into a new life. Eve because she constantly doesn’t know who she is or what she wants. Eve is far from the pencil pusher at MI5 with a nice husband and a quaint home that she was when this series began. But both of these women are somewhat delusional about their attempts to change. Because are they really changing themselves or are they just changing who they work for?
The premiere begins with a faceless woman on a motorcycle, wearing a hot color-blocked leather jumpsuit, weaving through Russian streets before dismounting and aiming a gun at the staff of a municipal government building. She finds her target: Konstantin, who is now a local politician (so much for laying low from The Twelve??) and who is in the middle of getting a scalp massage.
We are, of course, meant to think it’s Villanelle on the other side of the gun. And even though I could see the twist coming, I was delighted when Eve took off the helmet and revealed herself. I was delighted even more when Eve proceeded to shoot Konstantin in the hand which, tbh, was a pretty pointless act of chaotic violence! The info she gets out of Konstantin is minimal: the name of the assassin-in-training pushed onto train tracks by Villanelle and a description of Helene (“she looks French”). Konstantin would have given her these scraps without a bullet in the hand. But, as she says, the bullet was for Kenny. She’s on a revenge mission. Or, at least, that’s the narrative she’s going with. I think Eve’s motivation here has more to do with Eve than it has to do with Kenny, but we’ll see how things play out.
Konstantin warns her she’s on a death spiral. “Whatever this is, you won’t come out of it,” he says. “Thank god,” Eve replies.
Eve has changed, too. Or, like Villanelle, she thinks she has changed. She wants to project the image for others that she has changed. She’s got a new gig working for a private security firm while investigating The Twelve on the side. She’s got a new hunky boytoy, too, Yusef, with whom she has exactly the kind of dynamic she has long desired — sex tinged with danger.
“How did it feel?” he asks her about shooting Konstantin. “Like you said it would feel,” she replies, immediately followed by: “Wanna have sex?” And then the two are clamoring out of their clothes.
Later, while eating vegan (much to the shock and horror of Eve) bacon burgers in the park, he jokingly calls her a psychopath for liking mayo and when she goes in for a kiss, he puts her in a headlock and says she let her guard down. They wrestle until she gets him in a chokehold with her legs. He taps out, and she smiles and calls out to passerby. She’s cocky and feisty and, on the surface, thriving. But that wildness that makes her impulsive and out-of-control simmers just beneath the surface.
Villanelle is trying to be good, because she wants to prove something to Eve. But her maneuvers here are based on a miscalculation. Eve seems almost entirely disinterested in Villanelle in the premiere. And that’s not very Eve, is it?
Carolyn, who has recently been ousted and given a very boring job as a cultural attache in Mallorca, tracks down Eve to hand off a file of new information: Someone is torturing and killing off members of The Twelve. When Eve immediately rebuffs her proposal before she can even make it, Carolyn says she was going to give Eve a compliment. She says Eve looks purposeful and less untethered and that it suits her. Indeed, Eve runs on obsession. We saw at the beginning of the last season what an untethered Eve looks like — deflated and depressed.
For so long, Villanelle has been that obsession. And Villanelle loves to be that obsession. But what Villanelle doesn’t understand is that Eve is drawn to her because of the monster inside. Her attempts to silence it aren’t drawing Eve in but rather pushing her away. For one, Eve doesn’t buy it. She knows on a certain level that Villanelle is just trying to get her attention, and the ever-shifting power struggle between them has settled on Eve having a lot of the power right now. She doesn’t need Villanelle, because she has a new person to focus on: Helene, who was briefly Villanelle’s handler last season before Villanelle decided she was really done with The Twelve. Eve is hyperfocused on dismantling The Twelve and avenging Kenny’s death. Villanelle is just sort of a cog in that machine. And knowing that would devastate Villanelle.
And so, Eve doesn’t show up to the baptism. Villanelle urges the vicar to rush through before shouting the titular line and plunging herself into the baptismal font. An underwater shot shows us Villanelle looking confused. Perhaps she expected to feel something, for something to shift inside her. We can read plainly on her face that this was anticlimactic. She tracks down Eve, staring at her from the other side of a fish aquarium in Eve’s hotel bar.
Speaking of anticlimactic: Oh how these surprise encounters have changed! In such a fascinating and revelatory way! Think back to season one when Villanelle showed up in Eve’s house and had to attack and run bathwater on Eve’s face to get her to stop screaming. And then in season three when Villanelle approached Eve on a bus and they brawled and Eve kissed her to distract her and then headbutt her. Now, here she is surprising Eve once again, and Eve seems just…kind of bored and over it!
Villanelle tells her she forgives her for not attending the baptism, and Eve sneers. Villanelle says she has changed, and Eve says if that were true she wouldn’t have come here. Touche. Whatever understanding that pulsated between them on the bridge is gone or, at least, muffled. They’re both too hyperfocused on their new missions: Villanelle renouncing her old ways and proving to Eve she can be good, and Eve on a truly bonkers one-woman mission to take down the most powerful evil organization in the world. Eve thinks she doesn’t need Villanelle for this. I doubt that’ll prove true.
Eve’s search for Helene (who tbh it has taken mountains of restraint to not refer to as Hot Helene throughout this recap so fuck it from now on she is Hot Helene) leads her to a funeral home and a quiet and strange woman who appears obsessed with dead bodies and is played by We Are Lady Parts’s Anjana Vasan. She seems like a likely recruit for Helene, who Konstantin says is somewhat of an assassin talent scout. Eve does get a glimpse of Hot Helene (and we blessedly do, too) but not without getting her ass kicked a little bit by Vasan’s character with a surprise knee to the chest when she’s tailing her.
I love that Eve has basically gone full spy but without any government agency backing her?
After being rejected by Eve, Villanelle demands answers from a Jesus statue in the church. She wants a sign that he’s real. “It’s very much in your interest for me to believe in you,” she threatens Jesus. God, I love Villanelle’s approach to sainthood.
May shows up and kisses her, because of course Nelle is the muse for the soprano of her erotic fiction. At first, it seems as if Villanelle will just let it be this, a sexy moment in a church. After all, she was just rejected by Eve, and that seems to be how she deals with Eve’s rejections, by throwing herself into the arms of another woman. But instead, she reacts by shoving May’s head into the baptismal font where she was just recently supposedly, anticlimactically rebirthed. I do think this reaction stems from Eve’s rejection, this uncontrollable outburst of her old ways. She snaps out of it though and lifts May’s limp body out of the font, bringing her back to life. So she didn’t kill, not really. Something has, however subtly and briefly, shifted in Villanelle.
The thing is, I do think Villanelle wants to be good. I do think this is more than a complete charade. But I also think her motivation is ultimately rooted in Eve, rooted in her narcissism, too. She loves to be adored and revered. “Wow,” she says, looking at her own reflection. “So holy.” It echoes a moment from the very first episode of the series where she admires her own beauty in the mirror. After she accidentally kills Lucifer, she jumps into bed with May and asks her to stroke her hair and say everything she likes about her.
And at episode’s end, after resuscitating May, she hallucinates a vision of Jesus who is herself in drag, wearing thigh-high heeled gold boots. It’s absurd, and I’m all for Killing Eve going full-tilt into absurdity. My biggest issue with last season — other than the fact that somehow last season didn’t have enough Eve??? — was that it really struggled to balance some of the more sobering parts of the story with some of the more playful parts (the only episode where it got that balancing act perfectly right was the one where Villanelle went home to her birth family). “Just Dunk Me” kicks off season four rather delightfully. Not a lot happens per se. But those themes of rebirth, reinvention, revenge, and reckoning that snake throughout it are juicy and captivating, bolstered by strange and simultaneously lovely and foreboding religious imagery and also the show’s truly original sense of mordant humor. Villanelle’s vision of Jesus looking like herself is funny and also makes perfect sense for the character. There’s an undeniable undercurrent of the erotic threaded in the religious spectacle of the episode, Villanelle wanting to make her baptism into a performance for Eve, May enamored of Villanelle’s piety, Villanelle needing May to touch her hair and tell her she’s good.
A simplistic and incomplete analysis of Villanelle and Eve’s dynamic would assert that Villanelle is drawn to the goodness in Eve, and Eve is drawn to the wickedness in Villanelle. But it’s not that simple, is it? They aren’t really the same and they aren’t really different sides of the same coin either. They’re bound to each other. They’re mirrors for each other, but funhouse-style mirrors, making monstrous and disorienting distortions. They’re both obsessed with reinvention, but they also both are constantly repeating the same patterns. There’s a part of Eve, I think, that’s hoping Villanelle is watching her, too, seeing her be strong and mercurial. So much of this show is about watching and being watched. And they both take pleasure in both sides of that.
SORRY BABY x
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