All good things must come to an end. In the case of “Killing Eve,” it’s probably a fool’s errand to guess what that ending might be — and it’s more fun to just enjoy the ride. The BBC America series has never been about fitting neatly into a box. What began as a twisty cat and mouse game between intelligence operative Eve (Sandra Oh) and trained assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) soon turned into something even more electrifying: a character study of two fascinating women, their mutual obsession and their indescribable and uncategorizable bond.
In approaching the show’s fourth and final season, which premiered Sunday, showrunner Laura Neal was excited by the challenge of finding a fitting conclusion, while also “being able to drill down really deeply into what binds those two women together,” she told HuffPost in an interview. It was a collaborative effort with Oh and Comer, who each wanted to explore the psychology of their characters from new angles.
“I think what’s interesting is watching these women become truly themselves as the series goes on, in whatever way that looks like, and discovering things about themselves that maybe have lain just under the surface for the previous seasons, and are just peeking through in this season,” Neal said.
At the start of the final season, Eve, who now works for a private security firm, is trying to hunt down the mysterious head of The Twelve, the assassin organization at the center of the show, and avenge the death of Kenny, her former colleague who was killed in Season 3. Villanelle is now going to church — though in typical Villanelle fashion, she’s more interested in the performance of religion rather than in genuinely leading a religious life. And Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) has been reassigned to a diplomatic position in Spain — but knowing her, Carolyn hates not being in the loop and is hankering for something more substantive than a glorified desk job.
“Thematically, one of our big things was: Can these women change?” Neal said. “We asked that question of each of those different characters, and I think that’s what really drives our storytelling in the final season.”
For Eve and Villanelle, the season is grappling with how much they’ve become tethered to one another. “We were excited by the idea of Eve actually not wanting to see Villanelle for once: understanding Villanelle’s power over her, but being like, ‘I can’t have you in my life. You’re too much of a distraction, and I have more important things I need to be doing,’” Neal said. “And I think on the Villanelle side, it was interesting for us to see what happens to Villanelle once she starts to feel like she’s losing her grip over Eve.”
While Villanelle’s foray into religion isn’t exactly genuine, it’s part of her asking a lot of fundamental questions about herself. In the first few episodes of the season, she wonders if she can unlearn being an assassin and escape the only life she has ever known.
“It’s very much a question of: ‘Was I born or was I made?’” Neal said. “She’s in this place where she is also recognizing the impacts of her own behavior for the first time, both on other people, but also primarily on herself. And I think she’s questioning: ‘Is this the best life for myself? Actually, if I changed, could life be better for me?’ And she’s understanding for the first time how much of a prisoner she’s been, I think, and she’s seeing what the world is like beyond those prison bars, and she wants in on it.”
Neal started writing for “Killing Eve” in its third season, after previously writing for Netflix’s “Sex Education.” One of the more unique elements of “Killing Eve” is how four different women have served as showrunner, each bringing their own ideas and sensibilities to their respective seasons. “Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge was at the helm of the show’s first season, followed by Emerald Fennell, who went on to win an Oscar last year for writing “Promising Young Woman,” which she also directed. Season 3 showrunner Suzanne Heathcote is now an executive producer on the upcoming Apple TV+ series “The Crowded Room.”
For Neal, the collaborative environment on “Killing Eve” has enabled each showrunner to put her own imprint on the show and give each season “a different flavor,” while also maintaining a consistent look and feel.
“It all feels very much the same show, but when you dip into Season 2, it feels like Emerald’s season, and when you dip into Season 1, it feels like Phoebe’s, and Season 3 feels like Suzanne’s. And I actually really appreciate those different flavors,” Neal said. “And it means that for me, for Season 4, I could inject a bit of myself into it as well, and not feel like I had to, in any way, limit my tone and my style and my vision, because I knew that I can allow this season to feel like my season.”
From Heathcote, Neal said she learned how to lead a collegial writers’ room and manage the unique creative elements of the show. “It’s a complicated show to write … and [being] able to learn from Suzanne when she was crafting the series really, really helped me,” she said. “I know what the difficulties are and what the challenges are. And I know where the joy lies.”
Among the joys of the show is that it hits many notes at once, all in perfect harmony. On one level, it’s thrilling, suspenseful and bloody. It can also be a glorious escape, with its stylish costumes and glamorous European locales. Sometimes sneakily, it contains a lot of dry wit and physical comedy. In Sunday night’s season premiere, we find out that Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) is now a small-town mayor. While in a tense confrontation with Eve at his office, he’s comically wearing a wiry metal scalp massager.
“It feels important to us that it comes from character. So we try never to do gag-based comedy because I think that would feel discordant with the tone of the show,” Neal said. “Part of the absolute joy of writing for the show is once you understand these characters, once you have the plot nailed down, once you’ve sat down and you’re writing these things, it is so fun to come up with non sequiturs for Carolyn or physical comedy with Konstantin, like him with the scalp massager on his head. That is such a joy to write, and they’re the bits that make the job so fun.”
For each main characters, they’ve been here before, at the start of previous seasons: trying to untangle themselves from their tangled world, thinking they’re done with it, only to be pulled back in again. With the final season and the anticipation of a thrilling conclusion, the stakes seem higher, perhaps heightening the possibility for change.
“All of them are in a kind of cyclical trap. And I think they have gotten to the point where they’re done with that. But whether they can extricate themselves from that I think is a different matter,” Neal said. “And I think it takes a herculean effort for some of those characters to break out of those cycles. But the moments where they do are the really exciting ones.”
Neal said we’ll have to keep watching to find out whether they really can change, and whether they can answer the fundamental questions about themselves that this final season raises.
Whatever it all entails, she said, “I really hope that people come out of this series feeling a sense of glory and triumph.”
The final season of “Killing Eve” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America and Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.