During the “Killing Eve” Season 4 premiere, Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and Eve (Sandra Oh) find themselves face-to-face once more. Eve, a former MI6 desk jockey who moved into active duty while pursuing the assassin presently staring her down, is now working in private security. Villanelle, a killer for hire who grew bored with the gig before losing her taste for blood completely (or, at least, temporarily), is struggling to find joy in her evolving identity. Still at odds after their acrimonious split in 2020’s Season 3 finale, the testy couple’s reunion isn’t pretty, and they challenge each other’s progress (or lack thereof) in a curious pitch and catch: “If you really changed, you wouldn’t have come here,” Eve says, to which Villanelle replies, “If you’d really changed, you wouldn’t have let me.”
Regrettably, they’re both right. It’s indisputable how much both women have changed since they met, yet it’s frustrating how little has progressed in their two-year absence from TV. Recent developments — Eve’s alleged disinterest in Villanelle and Villanelle’s quest to be a better person for Eve — come across as poorly justified and transparent filler, respectively. Little clarity is provided for Eve’s resentment; little conviction is given to Villanelle’s wayward attempt at reconciliation. “Killing Eve” Season 4, from lead writer Laura Neal (“Turn Up Charlie,” “Sex Education”), seems more focused on delivering a predetermined ending than finding anything fresh to say in the lead-up, which makes the early episodes frustrating at best, an utter waste at worst.
Picking up some time after the Season 3 finale, there’s little that can be said about the plot without infringing on BBC America’s sweeping list of spoilers. So let’s stick to what’s in the trailer: Eve, having left MI6 behind but not her penchant for danger, is working at a private security firm with Yusuf (Robert Gilbert), a very fit colleague who encourages Eve’s vigorous new exercise routine via regular sparring sessions and even more regular sex. The two are not romantically involved, at Eve’s repeated insistence and Yusuf’s casual acceptance, but they have formed a functioning platonic partnership: Paid business is handled quickly, while Eve’s off-the-books investigation (which shall not be spoiled, but should be obvious) is a first-priority for both parties.
Meanwhile, Villanelle wants to prove to herself (and to Eve) that she can change; that she can give up killing for good. Exactly how she goes about that is another forbidden plot point, but its futility is clear from the jump. Like the outstanding outfits Villanelle loves to don and discard, her temporary persona only alters her exterior, not what’s underneath. Rather than wrestle with why these particular garments don’t fit, the scripts simply acknowledge them and move on. Even Comer’s committed, elastic performance can’t add much flash to the temporary costume.
As if to compensate for the stagnate main characters, plenty of time is filled bouncing through an extended ensemble — spreading as wide a net as possible, yet catching little. (The third episode even tosses each name up on screen in the series’ typical big, bold, colorful letters, in case you forgot a name or three.) The indelible Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) has been siloed into a “cultural attaché” position at MI6 and, bored out of her mind, must seek alternative partners to get back in the game. Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) isn’t up to much, though his role is primed for growth after Episode 3. Hélène (Camille Cottin) returns in a slightly larger role than last season: The Twelve’s top agent becomes a person of interest for Eve, while training a young recruit named Pam. A mortician by day, played by “We Are Lady Parts” star Anja Vasan, Pam is slightly underdeveloped considering how much screen time she’s given, but feels more like fodder for a possible spinoff than a vital element of “Killing Eve’s” current story. And, as it has for years now, The Twelve remains the mysterious string tying all these stories together.
If a lot of this sounds familiar, it feels that way, too. Eve is still worried about Villanelle drawing her too far down a dark and dangerous path. Villanelle is still attempting to reform her assassin’s urges. Neither character’s growth has extended beyond the end of Season 2, when Eve was horrified by her willingness to kill for Villanelle, and Villanelle didn’t know what to do with that reaction. (In the moment, she shot Eve. Since then, she’s remained trapped between her desire to keep killing and her desire to be with Eve.) The series has become an exercise in denying closure, refusing to let its characters pursue their clearest paths forward: the death of Eve and/or Villanelle (which, obviously, isn’t in the hit show’s best interests) or an earnest exploration of how they might function together, in some form of invested relationship.
Odds are they’ll arrive at one of those destinations by series’ end, but that already feels too late. Like a bad romance, “Killing Eve” is keeping its couple apart without logical or emotional justification. In the process, it’s dulled the spark provided by these two excellent actors as well as the tension sustained by their taste for danger. Little moments pop up here and there that speak to rich themes established long ago — delicious food is ignored, nudity is shared without attraction — but the pops of passion once injected into each interaction are gone. There once was a time where every shared glance carried some kind of significance. Now, Eve and Villanelle can face each other and feel nothing. Far worse, the audience can, too.
“Killing Eve” Season 4 premieres Sunday, February 27 at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America and AMC+. Following the premiere, AMC+ subscribers can view episodes one week in advance of linear viewers, with the exception of the series finale, which will air concurrently. A weekly encore presentation will air on AMC beginning Monday, February 28 at 9:00 p.m. ET.