A review of “The Hungry Caterpillar,” this week’s Killing Eve, coming up just as soon as I put on something really slutty…
In some ways, “The Hungry Caterpillar” feels like the real start to Season Two. Villanelle is healed from the knife wound and back in action, albeit still under the thumb of Raymond and The Twelve. Her presence in London — which she signals to Eve by sending her the Love In An Elevator lipstick — coupled with Eve’s discovery that Konstantin is alive and staying with Carolyn, pushes Eve to make a series of reckless decisions that damage her relationships at work and at home with Niko. For the season’s first two episodes, our two main characters were mainly reacting to things that were happening to them (or, really, that had happened to them at the end of Season One); here they’re both being active and coming up with plans, even if their plans are misguided and get them both in trouble. It doesn’t all work, but there’s a propulsive quality to the hour that comes from showrunner Emerald Fennell and company being able to fully tell their own story rather than tie off the loose ends creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge left them.
The Eve/Niko material feels particularly sharp, even before Eve cuts her lip on the razor blade Villanelle hid inside the lipstick. It’s easy to look at Niko, as Villanelle does, as the boring obstacle to the Eve/Villanelle hookup that feels inevitable. And he’s in the stereotypically female role for a story like this: the nagging spouse who wants the main character to stop engaging in so much wild (read: entertaining) behavior and be home more. That kind of character’s a minefield even when he or she gets a lot more screen time than Niko has to this point. It can be very hard for the audience to root for the spouse’s POV, even if it’s the objectively correct one. (For the most extreme/infamous example of this, see Breaking Bad‘s Skyler White.) But as much as Villanelle, and some chunk of the audience, may be rooting for Niko to be cast aside so the two leads can fall into a burning ring of fire, Killing Eve plays things more ambiguously. Villanelle has, as Konstantin suggests, burrowed into Eve’s head like the Very Hungry Caterpillar, but this isn’t a good thing for her. And even on nights when she’s making a good-faith effort to be there for her husband’s dull work event, she cant help but imagine Villanelle standing right behind her. That this actually happens at the end of the night is almost besides the point, because Eve by now would jump at any shadow. So Niko comes out of the evening seeming more sympathetic than he did before, and there’s a crackle to the encounter between Niko’s colleague Gemma and Eve, as Mrs. Polastri moves to mark her territory against a threat her husband is too good-natured (or too flattered?) to notice.
Niko is also top of mind because Villanelle is moving against him on multiple fronts. She fakes calls to the school claiming he’s been inappropriate with her. And when she finally makes it into the work party (after disciplinarian daddy-figure Raymond has tried to warn her off), she coaches Gemma on how to create fractures in the Polastri marriage. Even while temporarily stuck with Raymond, she’s making up for a lot of lost time this week. She performs another fashion-related kill, using her victim’s own necktie to strangle him to death in an elevator, and charges a bunch of shiny new outfits to Raymond’s corporate card. Villanelle on offense is much more entertaining than her on defense, just as fun daddy-figure Konstantin has a much livelier relationship with her when he turns up to invite her to go freelance with him. (Between Eve/Bill and Villanelle/Konstantin, the show’s warmest relationships tend to involve women with an older male mentor.)
Eve’s gambit with Konstantin gets her on the bad sides of both Carolyn and Kenny. More importantly, it puts her at what she thinks is the closest she’s gotten to Villanelle physically since the stabbing in Paris. The one big flaw of the episode is that we and Villanelle know that it’s not. They were even closer together outside the school, but Eve’s back was turned when Villanelle dropped the lipstick in her bag. That earlier moment sucks some of the charge out of the one with the hotel-room door, while also suggesting a challenge going forward. On the one hand, the series burns brightest when these two characters are somehow together. On the other, each new encounter runs the risk of diminishing later ones, while also generating plausibility issues. Villanelle seems interested in taking out the Ghost, which could provide an opportunity for the leads to temporarily work together (like those times on Justified when Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder had to do the same against a worse foe).
But that’s one of the perils of turning a high-wire story like this into an ongoing one: The things that make it great can quickly make it feel less special if they happen too often. For now, Killing Eve is still balancing itself on that tightrope. Can it make its way safely to the end of this season, let alone across future ones? The only way to find out is to keep watching.