The title character of “Killing Eve” isn’t dead yet, but she’s lost a little life — as has BBC America’s dark espionage comedy which returns Sunday for a third season.
The love-hate obsession between fallible, insecure London intelligence agent Eve (Sandra Oh) and terrifyingly competent psychopath/Russian assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) was a blast to watch when “Killing Eve” arrived in 2018.
Opposites repel and attract, of course, but their magnetic dance was a thrilling, high-stakes game of chicken: Who was going to pull the trigger, or surrender to her infatuation, first?
Season 1, from head writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, fashioned that tension into a crisp, riveting international chase that retooled 007 tropes into storylines made by and for 21st-century women. Season 2 (helmed by new showrunner Emerald Fennell) was entertaining but had trouble mustering that unpredictable dynamism between the lead pair that made the first season such a wonderfully wild ride.
Season 3 extends the thinning plot and has trouble finding its mojo in the first four episodes reviewed here. It doesn’t help that the show kicks off in the deflated world of its namesake character, who is all but destroyed by her last run-in with Villanelle. It takes it quite a few episodes to get off the floor, into the shower, and back in the fold — and no matter how good Oh and Comer still are (and they are), it feels like a slog.
Eve’s left the service and is now working in the cramped back kitchen of a London dumpling restaurant. With husband Niko (Owen McDonnell) hospitalized for PTSD after his traumatic exposure to the spy world, Eve’s living alone in a dingy flat, in sweatpants, surrounded by junk food and a recurring fear/lust for Villanelle.
The dead-eyed, stylish assassin shot Eve and left her for dead last season, but not before manipulating the agent into axe-murdering a man, proving the two women aren’t so different after all.
Villanelle is also semi-retired, but in a gorgeous Spanish villa with a wealthy partner. She’s trying to fit into normal civilian life when Dasha (Harriet Walter), a former mentor from her Russian past, shows up. Chaos ensues — the game is back on, though nagging questions about her own childhood are disrupting her usual, feeling-less flow after she eliminates a target and takes their baby as a sort of party favor.
What was Villanelle like as a child? How about her parents? Filling in some of those blanks is former handler Konstantin (Kim Bodnia), who’s back in the picture at his own peril. The chemistry between the odd couple holds more interest, at least initially, than any other relationship here.
Murder-for-hire and espionage is still a glamorous pursuit as Villanelle’s “jobs,” Eve’s quest for revenge and their aspirations for love bring viewers through a posh French children’s birthday party, an old Andalusian spice shop, a bucolic Polish farm, all over London, and to Russia, of course.
The race to kill, prevent a killing, or be killed reignites, despite both women’s efforts to sequester and heal.
Head of MI6’s Russian operations, Eve’s former boss Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw), also figures prominently in the new season. Like Villanelle, she’s puzzled by emotions — and, frankly, other aspects of the human condition. When her daughter Geraldine (Gemma Whelan) appears distressed about a recent tragedy, mom advises her to do that thing with her eyes that seems to help in times like this. You mean sleep, her daughter replies. Yes, that’s it.
There are certainly sharp and funny bits throughout the new season’s early episodes. But “Killing Eve,” now run by Suzanne Heathcote, is finding it more and more difficult to cut a fresh path in old terrain. Just as Eve has lost direction, so too has this series, at least for now.