Will Season Three of Killing Eve Move Beyond Queerbaiting?

killing eve

Killing Eve is back. The BBC’s flagship spy thriller has returned for a third season. In the promotional photographs, stars Jodie Comer (Villanelle) and Sanda Oh (Eve) flash each other longing glances. They stand so close to one another. The tagline of season three is “so over you.” This is the language of a break-up. For all intents and purposes, romance is inferred.

The possibility of a same-sex relationship is exploited as an advertising strategy. This tactic is not new. Back when season two aired, billboards across Britain asked “Has anyone seen my girlfriend?” and “Have you told your husband about us, Eve?” And yet – although it features heavily in how Killing Eve is marketed – that romance was never delivered. Which has left fans wondering: will that big sapphic payoff ever come? Or is Killing Eve “queerbaiting” us?

Last year Sandra Oh came under fire for her response to fans’ hopes. Speaking to the Gay Times, she said “You guys are tricky because you want to make it into something… but it just isn’t.” But, for three consecutive years, the premise of a romance between Eve and Villanelle has been used to market the show. And every single episode is about two women who are obsessed with each other. It is the tension between the two main characters that makes Killing Eve, at times outlandish, work.

Despite what Sandra Oh says, their romance is very much real from Villanelle’s perspective. Her sexuality is made explicit from early on in the series. She is drawn to tall, slender women with loosely curling dark hair. She glances at them in the street, she hooks up with them, she dreams of them. And Eve fits the bill perfectly.

From their first meeting, they were drawn to one another like magnets. Eve snuck into the hospital to interrogate a witness. Villanelle was disguised as a nurse in order to kill that witness. Despite their crossed purposes, these two women felt the pull of attraction.

For Villanelle, Eve’s pursuit isn’t a threat so much as a sexy game of catch-me-if-you-can. Villanelle steals Eve’s clothes. She seduces a woman of similar height and coloring to Eve, has her dress up in Eve’s clothes and calls her by Eve’s name. She sends Eve intimate gifts – perfume, and expensive clothes.

Eve wears them both, caught up in Villanelle’s attention, while the soundtrack swoops. And yet her desires are ambiguous. As her best friend Bill points out (shortly before being stabbed to death by Villanelle), Eve is bored with her marriage. Though her job comes with a security clearance, it’s mostly dull.

Pursuing Villanelle, Eve comes to life. Her work becomes intricate and thrilling. And this intrigue adds an intensity to Eve’s personal life that simply wasn’t there before. Villanelle doesn’t just attract her, Villanelle fulfils her. While Eve leans into this full-blown obsession, often with disastrous consequences, she is reluctant to consider its root.

Only in the season one finale does Eve come close to unpacking those feelings. Lying in Villanelle’s bed, the two women share caresses and promises. And Eve makes a stunning confession:

“I think about you all the time. I think about what you’re wearing and what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. I think about what friends you have. I think about what you eat before you work, what shampoo you use, what happened in your family. I think about your eyes and your mouth and what you feel when you kill someone. I think about what you have for breakfast. I just… want to know everything.”

It’s a monologue worthy of The Breakfast Club or 16 Candles. Villanelle’s response? “I think about you too. I mean, I masturbate about you a lot.” You can’t help but wonder, will they run off into the sunset together? Will they flee Villanelle’s shadowy employers and Eve’s government? But no. Eve stabs Villanelle to avenge Bill.

The game of cat and mouse between cop and killer brings to mind nothing so much as The Silence of the Lambs. In books and films alike, Hannibal Lecter and Agent Clarice Starling shared a curious connection. In Hannibal, the sequel, author Thomas Harris develops this bond into a passionate romance. But in the film version – despite sizzling chemistry between Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore – creators decided not to follow through, having Clarice choose to capture Lecter instead of escaping to Argentina with him. The Killing Eve creative team’s decision not to depict a romance between Eve and Villanelle feels like a similar anticlimax.

Killing Eve

Season two of Killing Eve sees Villanelle and Eve collaborating to take down tech mogul Aaron Peel. This alliance allows Eve to explore her darker side. She makes use of Villanelle’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ style, her ability to transform herself to get close to a target. Their partnership gives Eve the space to express parts of her personality that do not fit into her life as Mrs. Niko Polastri.

Eve’s colleagues repeatedly comment on her closeness to Villanelle. So does her boss, Carolyn. And her husband, before he walks out. You get the sense that Eve’s friends would give warnings of their own, if she had any – but Villanelle has taken over her entire life.

While on assignment in Rome, Eve has a one-night stand with her colleague Hugo. Only by the light of morning does he realize that Eve was listening to Villanelle through an earpiece the whole time. He thanks her for the threesome and slinks off to lick his wounds. But an assassin waiting in the hotel corridor shoots Hugo. Moments before, Villanelle has deployed the safe word asking Eve to come and help her. Eve barely hesitates, stepping over a bleeding Hugo on her way to Villanelle. She hacks a man to death with an ax to keep Villanelle safe.

As the second series of Killing Eve draws to a close, Eve and Villanelle escape through crumbling Italian ruins. Villanelle suggests they move to a cabin in Alaska and live a normal life together. “I’ll look after you. It’s going to be amazing.” But then Eve asks a devastating question: “What do you think is happening here?” When Villanelle reveals that she had a gun all along, Eve realizes she has been manipulated into committing murder. It’s the final straw. She walks away from Villanelle. And is shot in the back as payment.

Even though she’s a psychopath, it’s impossible not to sympathize with Villanelle as she experiences the special type of hell that is being led on by a straight woman. Eve’s blunt dismissal of Villanelle’s feelings is a betrayal – not only of Villanelle, but of fans who have followed every twist and turn in their story. An audience drawn in by the romantic framing of endless adverts.

Eve and Villanelle have both left each other for dead. They have pursued one another through the cities of Europe. More than that, they have looked at the ugliest parts of each other without flinching – something none of the other characters peopling their world has ever been able to do. Despite all that has passed between them, it is impossible not to hope that they will ride off into the sunset together in this new season of Killing Eve. Perhaps the third time’s the charm.

Season 3 of Killing Eve is available to stream on Hulu and BBC America in the US and iPlayer BBC Player in the UK from Monday 13th April.