The first episode of this season was one of the best premiere episodes for a season I can remember watching for a long time. It reinvigorated me for a show I had not seen for months and strengthened my admiration for the two lead actresses that helm this series, Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer as Eve and Villanelle, respectively. Given that high point, it would have been tough for the rest of the series to match that level of quality, and there were times it didn’t, but for the most part I loved the season and watching this relationship unfold.
After the first episode, the season reset to a certain extent: Eve returned to MI-6 and is going after a new serial killer, and Villanelle is assigned a new handler and returns as an assassin for the Twelve. This quickly breaks down and Villanelle is not satisfied with her new arrangement and Eve relentlessly looks for an excuse to include Villanelle in her life, still infatuated with the female assassin just as she is with Eve. Over time, the two stop being ships passing each other in the night and become colleagues, a shift that does feel very jarring given that just a few episodes earlier Villanelle was an fugitive on the brink of death. But once we get past the awkwardness of them working together, it opens up a new dynamic to their relationship as they investigate Aaron Peal, a tech billionaire who is essentially running an evil(er) Google and is selling everyone’s information to the highest bidder. The second half of the season focuses on Villanelle and Eve working together to stop him, which eventually turns into killing him and the two escaping together.
The undercurrent of the season is exploring who Eve and Villanelle really are, and more importantly, what they are to each other. Eve is coming to terms with the fact that she nearly killed Villanelle and yet she seemingly wants nothing more than to be around her. Throughout the season is an ongoing diagnosis of Eve and whether she is a psychopath in the same way Villanelle is (we’ll get to that in a moment). While the people around her appear to think that she is, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence for that; she has a fascination with true crime and women who kill, but that never extends to herself. What she pines for is excitement and the thrill of being able to let go. She loves her husband Niko but their life together is boring; he asks Eve to let him in and communicate what she’s going through, but Eve continually pushes him away until he leaves, which may not have been the worst thing for either of them considering what happens with Niko toward the end of the season. Eve seems happiest what she’s around Villanelle, but I think that’s partially because when she’s around Villanelle she’s in a professional setting where she can feel in charge and see the frontlines of life as a spy. How she feels about Villanelle when that aspect is taken away is less than appealing, partly why their relationship seems to fall apart in the last scene of the finale.
Villanelle on the other hand is almost certainly a psychopath, though there is some doubt there. Truly, she is manipulative and will kill when it presents even the remote possibility of a more convenient outcome for her. But this season puts a spotlight on her relationships, specifically how someone incapable of empathy can maintain them. When Raymond replaces Constantin, we see that she realizes that she knows she had a friend, someone who was her boss but took into consideration her interests, and she doesn’t like the opposite of that situation. She gets closer to Eve, both in their professional settings, but also peering through her window and sneaking into her home to get a glimpse of what a life with her would be like. She seems envious of the simplicity that Eve is resisting by craving Villanelle’s attention. In the finale, she muses about a life on the run with Eve where they could live in a cabin in Alaska, a future that sounds miserable for someone like Villanelle who spends her days off buying thousands of dollars of clothes on a whim and finding new and interesting ways to kill her targets, and yet she seems willing to give it a try because having even the illusion of a human connection is better than not having one at all. I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of psychopathy as a mental illness, as a disability, because it’s often not portrayed or discussed in that way. It’s certainly not a disadvantage in the traditional sense, but I think Villanelle does a good job of showing us how it can limit people who have it. It’s harder to learn from your mistakes when you can’t feel shame about making them, and it’s impossible to have a loving relationship when you lack the ability to feel empathy. These things shouldn’t make us feel sorry for Villanelle, just give us perspective on why she struggles and what it means that Eve seems to be as interested in her as she is in Eve; to her it looks like her only real shot at love, even her skewed understanding of what that really is.
The interplay of Eve seeking out Villanelle and vice versa puts their two characters at odds with everyone around them, which makes for some unusual plot points. When they capture the Ghost, another female assassin, they can’t get any information out of her after a whole day of trying, so Eve comes up with a plan to lure Villanelle to help them by having MI-6 put a hit on herself so Villanelle will try and kill her, and then Eve can recruit her to help with the interrogation. Even just writing that sentence, the logic of that episode was really strained. I’m not sure why putting a hit on herself was easier than just asking for help, or exactly what Villanelle brings to the table that another employee of MI-6 couldn’t offer. And further, there’s a scene where the Ghost is in a shipping container in the middle of a forest, restrained, presumably put there so they don’t have to let Villanelle into their headquarters. Villanelle is let into the container alone, and after an indeterminate amount of time, she comes out with the information they needed. To this day, I’m still not sure why that worked. It does not appear as though Villanelle used force to get the info out of her (maybe I just overlooked that in the dim lighting?), and she’s not exactly the sort to be able to psychologically torture someone, but when Even goes in after to check on the Ghost, she just mutters under her breath about Villanelle “Monster…”. The whole thing seemed like a cheap excuse to include Villanelle in the plot. While I can understand and appreciate Eve’s character looking for any excuse to see her, I have a hard time believing everyone else was on board.
This goes even further when they realize Aaron Peal has a “weapon” he’s trying to sell, and Eve has the idea that Villanelle can go undercover to get the info they need. Again, seems like a convenient way to put them in the same room, though we would discover later that Carolyn was using their affinity for each other to manipulate the situation, so it starts to make a bit more sense retroactively. Nevertheless, these two people who could barely find each other before are not often feet apart, quibbling about strategy and procedure. It’s a tough transition to make from a narrative standpoint, but as long as you don’t fixate on the details too much, it works.
I did find Aaron to be a good villain, given that Villanelle seemingly no longer got to be that for this series. He is another probably-psychopath, but in the quiet creepy way that can give you chills. At first he seems like an awkward Mark Zuckerberg character who’s just an anti-social know-it-all, but as they got closer to him undercover, and he and Villanelle (incognito as “Billie”), he started to open up in a way that gave us some perspective on Villanelle that we didn’t have. We’ve been so fixated on her and Eve that there wasn’t much call for us to think about what an appropriate friendship/relationship/lover would actually fit her, but he’s a good stand-in to remind us what a contrast Eve is to her. He’s obsessed with control, but finds himself drawn to Billie because even though they concocted an online profile for her, he can’t simply dig into his data mine and know her inside and out. She’s a mysterious figure to him and that intrigues him. It’s later revealed he not only secretly films women like Billie, but watches them get killed, presumably by the Ghost or another hitman he has on staff. Even though I thought that came out of left field, it was interesting to think if that would have actually happened to Villanelle or if she truly was different. It reminded me a bit of the first season of Gotham when Barbara’s character is kidnapped by a guy called the Ogre (I think, it’s been quite some time since I saw that series). But whereas he also ended killing all his victims, he treated Barbara different because he sensed the darkness in her that he had in himself, and I see a lot of parallels with Aaron and Villanelle to those characters. I see a world where were Villanelle not so obsessed with Eve, they could have made an interesting partnership. But this is not that show.
The strength of this season is not its story but rather the two women who at times feel like they’re being dragged along this convoluted plot. I wish it had included more of the cat-and-mouse motif that the first season had because that truly made it compelling in the rare moments they did connect. Now, they’re being in the same room is uncomfortably casual. Yes, it gives them an opportunity to really stare down the barrel of their mutual feelings, but this manufactured tension is at the cost of the real tension. The scene where Villanelle thinks she’s at Eve’s home to kill her, there’s a great back-and-forth between the two where they navigate this situation with each other, but it’s such a hard premise to swallow, and it ends up just inoculating us for all the time they spend together in the latter half of the season. No longer is there an unspoken attraction between these two; it is spoken frequently and often by nearly everyone in the series (save for Niko who is truly just put through there wringer this season). I enjoyed the last scene, as we see a lot of things coming full circle like Eve coming to grips with the fact she actually killed someone (similar to the first episode where she wasn’t sure if Villanelle lived or died), the pair having it out over what happened in the hotel, Eve realizing that her fantasy of Villanelle was just that, and she was in way over her head. The cliffhanger isn’t really much of one unless we assume the show killed off one of it’s two main characters and the namesake of the show, but it’s a fine ending that leaves a lot of opportunity for a future season.
For all of my griping, I was always on the edge of my seat for every episode. I so love Sandra Oh’s portrayal of Eve, who has a well-earned confidence she didn’t used to have but still carries her awkwardness with her. She is not a perfectly put together working lady as a lot of shows with strong female leads will have, but one where you see the cracks and flaws exposed at all times while still having total faith in her capability and skill as an agent. Villanelle is just as captivating as she ever was. Her childlike sense of fun while being so dark and dangerous never ceases to draw me in. Every episode pretty much one person has to die, and even if it didn’t surprise me when it happened, it always managed to get me when it did (see my review of the first episode in the hospital, still a fantastic scene). And Carolyn, the third female lead of the series, is truly a delight. Possibly a psychopath herself, it’s hard to say, but she’s the epitome of the unflappable boss figure, and is just quirky enough to not be cold. They all make the show what it is, even if the writing lets it down a little. I am afraid for the next season, as I don’t know how the story grows from here, but they’ve given themselves a lot of space to make this series grow so I’ll be right there when the third season returns.