Stop lamenting Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s departure from Killing Eve. To keep referring to the absence of the Emmy-winning Fleabag creator is an easy way to dismiss the darkly hilarious drama. Yes, the cat-and-mouse game between Sandra Oh’s titular Eve and Jodie Comer’s effervescent sociopath, Villanelle, suffered in the second season without Waller-Bridge’s behind-the-scenes magic, but the sophomore slump befalls many series, no matter how grand the pedigree of its showrunners, producers, stars, etc.
Premiering Sunday – two weeks before its original airdate due to programming dilemmas brought on by the COVD-19 pandemic – Killing Eve’s third season takes place long enough after Villanelle left Eve for dead in Rome after shooting her in a flush of misguided passion to allow for the best-dressed assassin on television to woo an unsuspecting, wealthy socialite into marriage. While Villanelle rocks a tuxedo, Eve recovers from her gunshot wound by glumly slaving away in a restaurant kitchen – mindlessly chopping hunks of meat – and goes home alone (usually messy drunk) to a disheveled studio apartment.
With Eve’s life and health torn apart by her sexual and professional fascination with Villanelle, she has completely eschewed MI6 and cold fish Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), at least until a surprising death masked as a suicide brings her back into the fold. Along with a pair of journalists, Eve connects this ragtag bunch to investigate – what else? – a cluster of shady financial dealings and a trail of blood pointing to the Twelve.
Meanwhile, Villanelle, reeling from the belief her attack on Eve was successful, reunites with a former mentor – a gruff, chain-smoking, vodka-swilling Russian gymnastics coach (wink, wink) – who guides her aspirations to move up the chain of command inside the Twelve. A combination of her extreme distaste for authority and the revealation that Eve is still alive seems to derail Villanelle’s not-so-modest path to management.
With only five episodes available for review, the season’s trajectory remains unknown, but it's nevertheless engrossing. The stunning locations and eye-popping fashion choices live up to expectations and the addition of an array of twisted characters keeps the show from treading too far into familiar territory.
Immediately, the stakes are anted up for characters deemed safe, which injects a bit of danger into the proceedings. Five episodes generated at least three jaw-dropping, audible yelps from this viewer.
Villanelle’s kills lack the imagination of the first season, but this go-around isn’t about inventive murders: By this point, we’re well-versed in the idiosyncrasies of her job and the grotesque, yet captivating pleasure she derives from it. She offs people. So what? The novelty of that wore off long ago.
Those interested in digging into what makes Villanelle tick – who she is, where she’s from, how she got to be this way – will find some delight here as the middle of the series provides insight into her past. It's a gripping route that supercedes the need to uncover more about the Twelve and the organization’s nameless victims.
Plus, any excuse to keep the camera aimed at Comer is cause for celebration. The actress’ magnetism gives the strangely seductive dance between Eve and Villanelle a degree of plausibility in an otherwise implausible universe. In short, she slays, and so does the show's third season.
Killing Eve premieres on AMC and BBC America Sunday, April 12 at 9pm ET.