Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer’s spy drama finale is disappointingly lukewarm

It’s particularly sad to see Killing Eve falling prey to the same narrative conventions it once subverted so skillfully.

On 7 May, 2002, nearly a full two decades before today, Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired the 19th episode of its sixth season, called ‘Seeing Red’. This landmark episode is both appreciated and fiercely criticised for a reason. On the one hand, ‘Seeing Red’ sees the fan-favourite pairing of Tara (Amber Benson) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) reconciling — the episode begins with the women cuddling in bed, having consummated their reconciliation the night before. It was the kind of thing you’d almost never see on prime time network TV back then. The episode’s closing moments, however, see Tara being shot to death in front of Willow, her blood spraying her lover’s face and clothes. Today, the episode is remembered as an infamous example of network TV’s habit of ‘punishing’ gay romance or gay sex with horrible accidents (the bullet wasn’t intended for Tara), ‘acts of God’ or other kinds of painful deaths.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, that Killing Eve, one of the better shows of these last few years, should mirror this infamous scene 20 years later, during its last act. In the show’s finale, our favourite spy Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and the object of her obsession, the inimitable assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), finally decide to do something about their sexual tension (the expertly written and performed tension that gave Season 1 much of its appeal). The moments of tenderness between the two are both pure fan service and the culmination of what this season has been shaping up to — why, then, does the last scene see Eve pulling out of an embrace with Villanelle only to see the latter reveal a sniper wound? As a horrified Eve watches herself and Villanelle tumbling into the Thames, additional gunshots hit the latter’s torso. A primal scream escapes Eve, followed by ‘THE END’. I couldn’t help but think about Willow first crying and then screaming over Tara’s lifeless corpse in ‘Seeing Red’.

The finale is disappointingly lukewarm outside of this final act, too. Kim Bodnia’s Konstantin (Villanelle’s handler) had become one of the most enjoyable characters on the show through the years, especially in terms of his curious equation with Carolyn Martens (the excellent Fiona Shaw), head of the Mi6’s Russia division. And yet, his killing in the previous episode is hardly even talked about here by any of the characters. His killer Pam (Anjana Vasan) is offered a job by Carolyn but the offer is declined—perhaps a future springboard for a spinoff? Vasan is certainly good enough to lead her own show, but the scene feels inconsequential outside of this aspect.

The much-anticipated fight between Villanelle and her employers, the shadowy organisation called ‘The Twelve’, ends with a whimper. The scene where she basically enters a room with all of them in it and leaves it full of corpses is….curiously bland. The scene is neither shot nor written memorably and the decision to leave Eve out of it (she’s distracting people at a wedding reception upstairs, in the meanwhile) was also a major miscalculation.

I don’t particularly care, in fact, if Villanelle is alive and biding her time for some future revival of the show. There were many ways of making that happen without having one of the world’s most dangerous assassins being shot down by a sniper sitting a mile away. In narrative terms, this is cowardly, relying on tropes that would have felt dated a decade ago.

“One of the great unspoken truths about life, Eve, is that people behave exactly as you expect them to”, Carolyn says at one point during the finale. I don’t know what that says about Killing Eve, to be honest. I suppose the more things change for prestige television, the more they remain the same.

In my view, this season was easily the weakest outing for Killing Eve. Just like Dexter’s last two seasons squandered the fan following the show had gained, Killing Eve, too has squandered the uniqueness of its first two seasons (written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Emerald Fennell, respectively). This was a show that made brutal fun, in a way, of spy stories typically led by and made for men. It’s particularly sad to see Killing Eve falling prey to the same narrative conventions it once subverted so skillfully.

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