A review of “Smell Ya Later,” this week’s Killing Eve, coming up just as soon as I look like someone stuck a mustache on some fudge…
“Together again. Gee, it’s good to be together again. I just can’t imagine that you’ve ever been gone. It’s not starting over. It’s just going on.”
No, this is not a passage from “Smell Ya Later,” nor from any other Killing Eve episode to date. Yet quoting song lyrics from The Muppets Take Manhattan seems the most logical way to begin a discussion of the best Season Two episode so far, and of the challenges the series will continue dealing with the longer it’s around. ’Cause, as Fozzie Bear says, no feeling feels like that feeling: together again!
Our two leads have led largely separate lives throughout the season’s previous four installments. Villanelle was busy getting patched up from her stab wound, and then getting out from under the thumb of The 12. Eve has been Ghost-hunting. They were physically adjacent twice in the third episode, but Eve was unaware the first time, while Villanelle was hiding silently behind a door the second. That’s how the series will have to function most of the time, unless it wants to radically transform itself into a buddy comedy. (Certain scenes in “Smell Ya Later” even present the framework for such an approach.) But there’s no denying that there’s much more snap, crackle and pop when Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are sharing the screen together for extended stretches.
In particular, the scene where Villanelle enters Eve and Niko‘s home is dynamite. Villanelle has always had the power position in whatever the hell their relationship is — even when Eve stabbed her, Villanelle was clearly in charge while Eve was terrified. Here, though, all it takes is for Eve to admit that she’s been thinking about her favorite assassin, and to put her hand on Villanelle’s face, and the entire dynamic flips on its head. Villanelle’s affect changes completely for a few moments. Though she ends the scene reclaiming control by pranking Eve with the fake arsenic tablets, she also seems more attracted than ever to this ultraconfident and reckless version of her favorite intelligence agent.
The episode has to very badly contort itself and the series’ basic sense of reality to get to that scene, and the team-up that follows it. Eve’s plan to hire Villanelle to assassinate her is galactically stupid. That Kenny and other characters (Villanelle included) point this out makes it no less stupid. And the stakes don’t feel high enough for this particular case to be one where Carolyn would approve such a reckless idea. To be fair, there’s also stuff going on with Carolyn that we don’t see, such as how and why she and Konstantin are buddies again hanging in a car while their respective agents head out to interrogate the Ghost. But it feels like a massive, massive leap for Villanelle to just be wandering around the English countryside with Eve as heavily-armed British security officers let her in and out of a black site. It’s not that it couldn’t happen in this fictional universe, but that Emerald Fennell and company needed to put in more work to show how we got from Point A to Point Q.
“Smell Ya Later” is much more effective on an emotional level than a narrative one. Even before Villanelle is physically in the same room with Eve, we see that she’s always lurking in a dark corner of our heroine’s mind. Carolyn has her psychologist colleague Martin lecture the team on psychopathy, but it’s really a test of Eve herself, who has definitely assimilated some of Villanelle’s traits in this area. A floral arrangement from Villanelle drives her wild with desire — which she directs, for the moment, at Niko — and she’s sorely tempted to shove a rude fellow commuter into the path of an oncoming train because she suspects Villanelle would do the same. Mental illness isn’t contagious, but the kind of profiling work that Eve does requires her to think like her targets — too much, it seems. Even Villanelle is a bit alarmed by the change, cautioning Eve outside the black site that this stunt could get her into a lot of trouble. And when Villanelle’s (off-camera) interrogation of the Ghost is complete, it’s Eve whom the Ghost calls “monster,” not Villanelle.
Villanelle’s new reservations about Eve only go so far, though. By the end of the episode, she’s confronting Niko (while cosplaying as an Eighties Oxford student). This is also a huge deal, and at least Niko seems to recognize it, immediately walking away from his students so they won’t be hurt by whatever this maniac is planning. As it turns out, Villanelle is there to inflict emotional damage, not the physical kind, by telling him about what happened in Paris at the end of Season One. For all the bravado that Eve has learned to display, she’s still much more vulnerable than her frenemy, because she has much more to lose — and Niko seems very primed to bolt after Villanelle’s stab-wound show-and-tell.
All told, “Smell Ya Later” sums up the precarious position the series is in right now. It’s the Season Two highlight thus far, but that it has to work so hard to make that happen generates big headaches for the show going forward. Like Eve herself, Killing Eve is giddy with what it’s doing, but it might need to step back and realize how much trouble it could soon find itself in.