A review of “Nice and Neat,” this week’s episode of Killing Eve, coming up just as soon as my moisturizer is made of pig’s placenta…
“Nice and Neat” is an ironic title for an episode that’s anything but. Even more than the premiere, this installment demonstrates some of the strain that new showrunner Emerald Fennell(*) is under to make this series viable over the long term. Much of the hour is devoted to the ongoing aftermath of Villanelle‘s stab wound from the first-season finale, and the rest of it to Eve being absorbed into a new task force run by Carolyn, which turns out to have a new female assassin as its target. It’s the kind of grunt work even serialized dramas without behind-the-scenes turnover have to do when they return for a second season. And it’s rarely pretty, even in antihero classics like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad.
(*) A third season was ordered only a day after Season Two premiered, and with it came the announcement that Fear the Walking Dead‘s Suzanne Heathcote will be succeeding Fennell. The idea is to bring in a new female showrunner for each season that Eve lasts. Even if this was really the plan all along (as opposed to Phoebe Waller-Bridge and then Fennell getting too busy to continue), it’s probably not ideal for a show that seems to have a limited creative shelf life. But it’s a good thing for TV as a whole, which is still lacking in high-profile female showrunners.
The Villanelle half of things is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s a refreshing twist to see her so weak, even if it’s a temporary situation. She has to scrounge up clothing — though for whatever reason opts not to look for wardrobe options from either the family whose car she hid in or from her caretaker-turned-tormentor Julian after she stabs him to death with a knitting needle. She’s so physically and emotionally drained that she allows the seemingly harmless Julian to make her his prisoner, Misery-style — a doll for him to dress up and tend to like his senile mother once did with the creepy toy collection that fills their home. Villanelle has few options for where to go or whom to ask for help, until things grow so dire that she has to call on the evil organization(*) that once employed her, and be turned into an indentured servant for new handler Raymond as a result. Surely, she’ll soon be back to choosing her own costumes and flashing that unnerving smile as she gets back into the assassination game, but it’s an effective reminder that Villanelle isn’t superhuman, even if she seems that way to Eve.
(*) It’s here that I should confess that, as with BBC America’s last female-fronted cult hit, Orphan Black, my attention wanders quickly whenever we get too much into the mythology and org charts for the various nefarious groups running things. It’s this show’s version of the technobabble on Star Trek, and the less I think about it, the more I enjoy the character stuff. Though points to the writers for making the code Villanelle uses — “It’s Cher Horowitz. I failed my driving test” — a Clueless reference.
At the same time, though, two episodes of Villanelle out in the wild just trying to survive — only really thinking of Eve when they pass each other on the street as Raymond drives her away — feels like at least one too many, and a distraction from what the series does best. Fennell arguably couldn’t just wave away the stabbing cliffhanger Waller-Bridge left her with. But season-ending cliffhangers can be a bit like a pub crawl: exciting in the moment, but you’ll suffer for it after. Villanelle still feels like Villanelle, particularly in the childish way she tips over the detergent box at the laundromat, and in her distaste for ghosts. But seeing her at the mercy of some pasty suburban creep isn’t this show’s bread and butter, even if it does feel somewhat thematically on-point.
Eve’s end of things is a more typical start-of-a-new-season rearranging of the pieces on the board. Several of last season’s supporting characters were either killed off or the actors have moved on, which means it’s time for a new-ish team, with Eve, Carolyn and Kenny joining up with Jess and Hugo. At first, the assumption is that they’re still tracking Villanelle, but soon Eve figures out that there may be another elite female assassin operating in their neck of the woods. This one’s a kind of anti-Villanelle, who also enjoys costumes, but ones that draw attention away from her, rather than towards her, and who would surely not start buying expensive clothes for Eve.
Expanding the world and bringing in a new antagonist is a necessary bit of business for the elongation of the show. (It also sets up the all-but-inevitable moment later this season where Eve and Villanelle will have to reluctantly team up to take out this mystery woman.) Still, other than the scene where Eve verbally smacks down Hugo for interrupting her, the new professional status quo for Eve at the moment is less compelling than what’s happening in her home life. Despite her promise to be completely transparent with Niko going forward, she’s still lying to him about the nature of her new job, what happened in Paris, and almost everything else. Kenny has now become her secret-keeper, much to his dismay. Hard to see smooth sailing ahead for the Polastri marriage at this rate.
We close things out with Fennell having to address one last bit of Waller-Bridge business by resurrecting Konstantin. The finale already left some ambiguity about his status, as we only learn that he died from the gunshot wound via Carolyn, who’s already untrustworthy. So hopefully next week’s episode won’t have to spend much time explaining things beyond “I lied, and he got better.” Konstantin is an entertaining character, and if Fennell wanted to keep him around for whatever story she’s setting up this season, by all means. But I look forward to seeing that story now that we’ve mostly tied off dangling threads from the previous regime.