How the Season 3 Finale of 'Killing Eve' Set Villanelle on an Unexpected New Path
The fashionable cold-blooded psychopath had a change of heart over the course of this season.
This post contains spoilers for Season 3 of Killing Eve.
Exasperated and in tears, an injured Villanelle says, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” in episode 6 of Killing Eve’s third season, which recently concluded. We’ve heard television’s favorite assassin say this before in Season 1, after breaking into Eve’s house. Villanelle, in tears again, begs for help. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she says. But Eve calls her out because she, and the audience at this point, simply see Villanelle as a killer with a flair for dramatics. Eve calls her a psychopath – “You should never tell a psychopath they’re a psychopath. It upsets them.” – and Villanelle’s emotional manipulation is clear; but this time, it feels different.
In fact, the entire season feels different to the previous ones. The high-stakes, cat-and-mouse game from Season 1 is gone; the working dynamic between Eve and Villanelle from Season 2 is gone. Everyone seems to be doing their own thing, and this has created a rather disjointed season; however, by focusing on every character separately, it turns transformative for them, but all this focus on side characters has left Eve in the back seat. The show’s titular character is absent from one episode entirely, and in the next, there’s approximately 20 consecutive minutes sans Eve. This angered fans, and rightfully so. But there’s been at least one upside: The audience has learned more about Villanelle in Season 3’s last four episodes than they ever have before.
In its latter half, Killing Eve Season 3 made Villanelle its focus, exploring her shadowy past and the inner-workings of her mind, and she goes through an identity crisis that makes her almost unrecognizable. “We see Villanelle in a very different light this season,” Jodie Comer explained to Elle. “Everything we know and love about her from the first two seasons is a reflection of what we learn this season. There's a vulnerability to her that we don't normally see [...] Villanelle takes a slightly different, darker path.”
Last season, she confessed that, “most of the time, most days, [she feels] nothing.” But a reunion with ghosts, her family that she thought was dead, leads to rare and genuine moments of emotion and an event that completely cracks her “candy-coated exterior,” as Comer herself has described. It’s fitting that a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” plays over the credits of episode seven: The old Villanelle can no longer be used as a “killing machine” because she’s dead.
We’ve seen glimpses of her former self, Oksana, throughout the series, but the Villanelle part of her identity is now slowly slipping away. When the orphaned Oksana, five years after going to prison for murder, was recruited by the criminal organization known as the Twelve, they helped fake her own death and create a new identity. As an assassin, she became known, not only for her creative and showy style of murder, but also for her impeccable fashion. As Villanelle, Oksana found a creative outlet in fashion to express herself, but it’s a costume. She’s always dressed to kill, and the more upsetting or uncomfortable the situation is, the more dramatic the style choice -- Villanelle’s wardrobe is armor to Oksana.
At the beginning of Season 3, we find Villanelle toasting to a new life – her narrative is vibrant and colorful. Wearing a beautiful blue and floral patterned dress, she sings out the window of her sun-drenched home in Barcelona. She’s now more power-hungry and wants to gain a sense of control in the organization that has been controlling her all this time. She’s in search of a new rank, a promotion as a “keeper,” but she’s still the same Villanelle we remember: a flamboyant killer who is twisted, rude, charming, funny, and impulsive. She’s trying to find her own way, and episode five leads her home.
Villanelle, for the series’ entirety, has been searching for a sense of family, a sense of belonging, that has been a void in her life. She was rejected by her first love – her former teacher, Anna – she asked Eve and her father figure, Konstantin, to not break her heart, but they both did. And the newly introduced mother figure from her past, Dasha, has been nothing but deceitful and cruel. (“You have destroyed any home you ever had and you’re doing to die alone.”)
Episode 5 is the most important one in Villanelle’s journey thus far, putting her on this new path. She returns home to Russia after learning the location of her family, primarily to understand the darkness that resides within her. It’s a heartwarming episode in a way. It’s a tearful reunion between a brother and sister and mother and daughter that results in Villanelle looking genuinely happy. But tensions rise as Villanelle’s mother displays the cruelty she remembers as a child, one that reflects Villanelle’s own darkness. But her mother refuses to admit they are the same and after an emotional verbal sparring match, Villanelle is rejected once again as her mother tells her to leave. “I think I need to kill you,” Villanelle says reluctantly in response – and she does.
“You can see the regret that she is already feeling but feels she has to go through with it – because I think she feels it’s the only way she feels she can fully kill her past and the woman that she was,” Comer told Variety. “But actually in some ways, it’s like she kills Villanelle; it’s Oksana who is her true self and who she can’t get away from. So I think actually by doing what she has done, it has the complete opposite effect of what she was hoping for.” The episode ends with her struggling to keep it together as she mourns the idea of a family. Wearing a bedazzled ‘80s jumpsuit that her mother made for her, the fashion armor of Villanelle’s identity is cracking.
The rest of the season finds her hurt and angry, as she realizes she can only rely on herself, using fashion as a coping mechanism. In her post-family reunion, her hair is completely disheveled and she wears a suit with high pointed shoulders that seems to wear as awkwardly as it looks. This is in stark contrast to how she looked at the beginning of the season. Along with the aforementioned blue and floral patterned frock, she's worn a patterned orange ‘60s-style tunic dress, a loose-fitting three-piece suit, and is laid back in Dungarees. It doesn’t help that the big new promotion she was hoping for finds her doing the same kind of stuff she was already doing, and her emotions get the best of her. She messes up and we see Villanelle get injured on the job for the first time. “I don’t want to do this anymore” – but she has no choice. Her arms are tied behind her back by the manipulative control of the Twelve.
Season 3 isn’t the first time we see Villanelle use clothing as armor when put into uncomfortable situations: the famous Molly Goddard pink dress Villanelle inappropriately wears while undergoing a psychiatric assessment in Season 1; the veiled black mourning dress she wears in her reunion with Eve in Season 2. But now, it feels she’s trying to protect herself with even more baffling choices. A thick green jacket, matching pants, and a turtleneck is what she chooses for a meeting with her mysterious new boss, Helene. She calls Villanelle a “beautiful monster” and you can note her visible disgust with that description, something Villanelle of the past probably would have laughed at. On her next job, she wears an outfit that looks like a big kilt, fitting as she and Dasha are in Scotland, followed by a feathered green coat and trousers to match that fans have compared to the Grinch – leaning more towards dramatics than effortless style, and perhaps poking fun at the “beautiful monster” description. When she meets with MI6 agent Carolyn to discuss a possible job offer, she sports what was once a plain suit that’s now off-putting with pink feathers and sparkles sewn onto the lapel. But it’s different when she’s reunited with Eve in the finale. Her outfits in those moments are bold in color and feel like something she would have worn in her more confident past. She looks relaxed, less restricted. She knows freedom is near.
It’s also in the finale where Villanelle shows for the first time that she really wants to change. Meeting Eve at a ballroom, the site of her first British kill, she’s melancholy. She reflects on what she could have been if she rejected the Twelve. (“Interior designer, maybe.”) There seems to be earnest regret there, and events suggest she wants everything and everyone who helped create Villanelle to die because she wants her to die. The emotion she conveys may seem shocking and out of character; she’s a psychopath who’s been portrayed as guiltless and remorseless, a pathological liar, manipulative, a sadist, the whole lot. But the murder of her mother weighs heavily on her conscience – it was the first time she couldn’t look into the eyes of someone she killed. The kill is no longer pleasurable, if it ever truly was. She’s a contradiction and it’s clear that there’s so much more to learn about Oksana away from Villanelle, as Mark Freestone, the psychologist who consulted on Killing Eve, told The Telegraph. “There’s no such thing as a sentimental psychopath.” But, “they are human, they have memories and there can be pressure points and unresolved feelings from the past.”
As Villanelle has matured, her story has deepened, and we know that she's not merely the "perfect killing machine" that Dasha called her. As she was discovering more about herself, Eve was doing the same, becoming what many have called “Dark Eve.” “What’s happened to us?” Eve asks. They’ve been tied by the red thread of fate, a motif even used in Season 3 promo photos. Series creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge has said that it was “love at first sight” between them, but it’s clear Oksana had to kill Villanelle in some respect, and Eve had to find her own darkness for their perfect yin and yang. They both seem to be on the same level now. They both want the same things, but also have the same obstacles in their path.
The finale heavily contrasts that of last season -- where Villanelle shoots Eve and leaves her to bleed out -- as Villanelle now understands that love is not about possession but choice and that it’s worth the wait. They both look at each other now with trust, understanding, but tired eyes. “God, I’m tired,” Eve said in the finale of Season 1; Villanelle is tired, too. It’s her turn to flop onto the bed with Eve at her side, a gesture that's accepted, even welcomed. This is something they realize they can no longer walk away from. As Sandra Oh said to Elle, “Therein lies the great human search for wholeness.” And Villanelle’s search for home is finally complete.
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