Now is the time for television. What else do you have going on, anyway? TV ratings are going up again and basic cable channels are hurrying to get their best series in front of the restless quarantined masses. At least, this seems to have been the thinking over at AMC and BBC America, which surprised everyone by announcing that “Killing Eve” season three would premiere two weeks ahead of schedule, pushed up from April 26 to April 12.
(Minor season one and two spoilers below.)
TV ratings are going up again and basic cable channels are hurrying to get their best series in front of the restless quarantined masses.
On the one hand, it makes this Sunday an awfully crowded one for the British TV watching demo, with PBS airing “World on Fire” and “Baptiste,” Epix debuting Julian Fellowes’ “Belgravia,” and now BBC America jumping in with both feet as well. But if there was ever a time for the screwball murderous antics of Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and the obsessive now-former MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), this is it.
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Season three of the show introduces us to yet another showrunner for the series, the third in three years. In our current prestige TV era, such turnover suggests turbulence behind the scenes. But unlike shows like “Star Trek: Discovery” and “American Gods,” both of which have also undergone multiple showrunners in three years, the waters remain mostly calm. And that’s because these changes were planned ones. The show’s original mastermind, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, upon deciding not to return for season two, decided her hit show should become a showcase for female talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. The show passed from her to actress-author Emerald Fennell (“Call the Midwife”) in season two, and now to Suzanne Heathcote (“Fear the Walking Dead”) in season three.
Though the quirks of each woman’s tastes bubble through each season, the main narrative has not changed. Eve and Villanelle are a cat-and-mouse couple who cannot get over each other. Season one ended with Eve stabbing Villanelle, season two ended with Villanelle shooting Eve. But these violent delights merely add spice to their relationship, which is as messy as one could possibly imagine.
Season three begins with the pair once again separated. Villanelle even gets married in the opening moments of the premiere. (Her new wife has great shoes.) But don’t worry, that lasts exactly as long as one thinks it will. The Russian ring known as “The Twelve” want their best killer back, and they’ve sent a new handler to return her to the fold. Dame Harriet Walter’s Russian gymnast assassin is as fiercely funny and wonderful as Villanelle. (One can see where Eve’s favorite murderer learned the tricks of her trade.) I cannot say enough about how great these oddball assassins are together, especially as the show progresses.
I cannot say enough about how great these oddball assassins are together, especially as the show progresses.
They need to be too, because the separation of Eve and Villanelle is once again the show’s Achilles heel. It makes sense as a way to build towards a showdown, but it means the two stars also need other things to occupy their time. Sandra Oh lucked out with the show’s casting of Fiona Shaw (of the “Harry Potter” series) as Carolyn Martens, her now-former MI6 boss who somehow keeps dragging her back toward the action. (To say how this season would be a spoiler, but trust me — it’s personal.) Shaw gets more screen time this year, as new members of her family come out of the woodwork, including her daughter Geraldine (Gemma Whelan of “Game of Thrones”).
But in Harriet Walter, Comer finally gets to have her own female counterpart. Walter’s character Dasha also brings another new twist to the formula, as she’s here to try to teach Villanelle how to get promoted to assassin management.
One of the ongoing joys of the series is the oh-so-British bureaucracies that surround the MI6 characters — and how against this staid backdrop Eve and Carolyn’s dogged, somewhat crazed pursuit of Villanelle seems almost uncouth. Villanelle is not exactly a rule follower either; that’s part of what makes her creative killings so unexpectedly hilarious. But seeing her attempt to manage people who cannot do the job nearly as well as she can is a brand new joy.
Perhaps the only disappointment is some of the shock value that drove the early seasons has finally faded. Villanelle’s killings are still clever and gasp-inducing, but they’re a formula now. Eve is no longer hunting clues about Villanelle as if this were a procedural TV series, either. She doesn’t have to, they’re friends. (Well sort of.) But in these tough times, fans aren’t exactly looking for shock and awe, anyway. Rather, we’re looking for comforting hours spent with characters who still delight. Both Eve and Villanelle (and those around them) are here to do just that.