“Killing Eve” 403 Recap: Villanelle Wants To Smell Eve’s Skin

Hello and welcome back to Autostraddle’s weekly Killing Eve recaps. I’m your host Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, and I’m here with a Killing Eve 403 recap. “A Rainbow In Beige Boots” is written by Kayleigh Llewellyn and directed by Anu Menon. Grab a slice of shepherd’s pie, and let’s dive in!


After spending some time apart reinventing themselves and doing a bad job of it, Villanelle and Eve reunite. Villanelle dons a maid’s outfit and breaks into Eve’s hotel room. She strips off the disguise, revealing her blood-stained church camp clothes underneath, proof of her failed reinvention. Eve comes home and says oh. No one really likes coming home to see an uninvited ex.

Eve still very much has the power here, and it’s needling an already pretty unstable Villanelle. Eve strips out of her own clothes, letting Villanelle watch her but never really giving anything up. When Villanelle asks to stay with Eve, Eve simply says there’s some money on the bedside table, she can take whatever she likes, but please don’t be here when she returns. Ice queen!!!!

But, also, it’s a bit of an act. Eve’s energy shifts the second she’s on the other side of the door to her room. And when she goes to Yusuf to tell him Villanelle’s in her room, she does so casually but not with the same chilliness of the way she talked to Villanelle, letting her confusion show a bit more now that she’s out of her sight. With Hot Hélène and Villanelle, Eve is performing a version of herself that she knows will work with them. She wants them to see her as unshakeable, as always one step ahead.

This episode uses character names for its on-screen text framing device rather than city names, and I liked the season three episode that used that approach. In that instance though, the name framing helped build to the eventual reveal of Niko being stabbed with a pitchfork by Dasha. It also was a time in which many of the characters were indeed on different journeys emotionally and narratively. Here, I’m not really sure what the name framing is doing? Which is fine I suppose, but I’m used to the show having a little more intention and verve when it comes to its visual details. That said, I’m going to go ahead and borrow a version of that framing for this recap, working through most of the other characters before coming back to the leading lovebirds we’re all here to read about.

FERNANDA

Ohhhhhhh my god, I love this little tangent. Sandra Oh gets to flex her comedy muscles, and we also get to see Eve do real spy undercover work. We also get textual acknowledgement — and not for the first time — that Eve thinks of Villanelle as somewhat of an ex. For me, Killing Eve expands and complicates the idea of relationships, of sex, of desire and attraction. When I say Eve and Villanelle are ex-girlfriends, I’m not really joking. For the same reasons as I don’t personally believe this show “queerbaits” even the slightest. It’s about the chase, the seduction. And what Eve and Villanelle have is just as textured, emotionally honest, sensual, and affecting as an on-and-off romantic partnership even if the language they use and shape their dynamic takes doesn’t perfectly fit our idea of what a romantic partnership is. That isn’t queerbaiting; it’s good and deeply queer storytelling. Wait okay I’m supposed to be talking about Fernanda!

FERNANDA

Hoping to learn more about Hot Hélène and what she has been up to with her whole torturing everyone in The Twelve thing, Eve follows a lead to Hélène’s driver, who’s in the midst of talking down a disgruntled ex-girlfriend of Hélène’s. This is Fernanda, a hot mess of a woman trying to get a letter to Hot Hélène and I’m sure isn’t the only hot mess of a woman who would like to get a letter to Hot Hélène, who in addition to being a scary assassin trainer is also a heartbreaker. I’m obsessed. I’m also obsessed with Eve’s plan to get information out of Fernanda. Eve fakes a phone call and tells Fernanda she was just dumped over the phone by her girlfriend. The two make their way to the bar to talk about the women who ruined their lives. Queer! Breakup! Bonding!

Fernanda, who says Hot Hélène was “hotter than potatoes,” asks Eve about the woman on the phone. What was she like? Eve responds: “Controlling. Selfish. Delusional.” “There’s something abouuuuut the way you are,” from the show’s oft-used “Sigh” by Unloved, creeps in underneath. A perfect sequence! No notes!

Eve keeps pumping Fernanda for information about her ex husband, who it seems Hélène may have been interested in as a target, hence initiating things with Fernanda. But three bottles of wine in, Fernanda is not the most helpful. Eve isn’t necessarily bad at being undercover, but she’s not great at it either. Sandra Oh is brilliant at capturing that humor.

PAM & ELLIOT & HOT HÉLÈNE

Pam, you’ll recall, is the woman from the funeral home who likes dead bodies and kneeing Eve in the stomach. She’s indeed being trained by Hélène to become a killer, and she also has an asshole brother Elliot who torments her regularly, putting her down, calling her a freak, saying their parents never loved her. It becomes obvious that Elliot is going to die. Pam wants permission from Hélène to off him, telling her over ice cream cones that she thinks she’s ready. Hélène disagrees. And when Pam disobeys her and stabs her brother 19 times with a scalpel, Hélène disciplines her like she might with a child. I think there’s an intentional rendering of this relationship as very parent-child. Hélène and Pam eating ice cream cones on a bench calls back the image of a woman bringing ice cream cones to Hélène and her daughter last episode.

The Twelve’s whole approach to grooming assassins hinges on replacing their parental figures. That’s what was done to Villanelle. And we’re seeing that early part of the process here with Pam, who does seem young and impressionable if also dangerous and underestimated. Hélène says the fact that people underestimate Pam is her strength. But then, of course, also ends up underestimating her. I’m not entirely sure where Pam fits into the narrative here yet, but I’m glad Elliot’s dead, and I do think we’re meant to think a bit about Villanelle and the woman she perhaps used to be before The Twelve shaped her into their killing machine.

KONSTANTIN

Konstantin is just have a nice little time in his new quaint mayoral life, eating sausages and whatnot. But Hot Hélène pulls him back into the fold by tapping him to train Pam.

YUSUF

Okay, I actually don’t have a ton to say about Yusuf, but I do love how transparently transactional Eve’s relationship is with him. She not only uses him for sex but also for his access to snooping software and general skillset as a former military person. He has a few times now hinted at a dark past (in this episode, he notes that “torture” is one of his areas of expertise), and I’m betting Eve knows all about that dark past and doesn’t care. I mean, just look at her cockily donning his green beret. Eve is drawn to people who have done horrible things. It’s why she and Niko were doomed.

CAROLYN & VLAD

I just…I love Fiona Shaw, but what are we doing here! Okay, sure, “I once knew a man who died eating brunch” got me good. And Vlad in his picnic grilling outfit is delightful. But whatever is going on here lacks the momentum and stakes it needs to make me care. Here’s the gist: Another member of The Twelve was found tortured (specifically, his feet were licked raw by goats “like fleshy ice creams,” according to the forever dry Carolyn). But another torture victim has survived and is in Cuba, so Carolyn’s headed to Cuba rather than Scotland, which is where the assassin doing Hélène’s dirty work might be due to the fact that a peat moss only found in Scotland was discovered at one of the scenes. I know plot is important, but sometimes…I want less plot.

EVE & VILLANELLE (& MARTIN)

I have seen some complaints about the slow pacing and meandering of this final season, but see above! Sometimes I want less plot! Killing Eve is often at its most enthralling when relatively little is happening and instead it becomes this sinuous character study and erotic thriller (in which the thrills aren’t necessarily super actionpacked but rather rooted in tension). Anyway, all of this is to say that I absolutely looooooove what’s going on with Villanelle here.

It’s quite the literal character study, Villanelle showing up at Martin’s doorstep and threatening him into giving her free therapy. Villanelle tells him she feels like shit. She says she’s a rainbow in a world full of beige people. She says she usually knows what she wants and how she wants it but that lately she has felt off-kilter. “Is this what being insecure feels like,” she asks, appalled. “I killed two people last night even though I tried really hard not to,” she also confesses. Not ideal, Martin notes, but probably her norm.

Martin tells Villanelle that change is not always comfortable. Because Villanelle is so self-obsessed and used to excelling at everything, I think she thought she could just decide to stop killing, could just decide to be something new, and all the pieces would fall into place. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen her wonder about who she is, why she’s the way she is, and where she came from. She looked returned to her birth family last season and then killed her mother.

“Do you think I was born like this?” she asks Martin over Lunchables, hilariously the only thing he has to eat in his home even though he doesn’t have children. (I love Martin.) She wants to know where her psychopathy begins. Perhaps so she can figure out if it’s possible for an end.

According to Martin, zero of his psychopathic patients have ever said they want to stop being psychopaths. Villanelle hasn’t come out and said that, of course, but she’s hinting at wanting to change, at wanting to know herself better. Martin is encouraging of that urge, but Villanelle snaps. She thinks he’s just saying these things to get rid of her. Villanelle, a master manipulator, has a heightened sense for manipulation. So often, characters on this show act against their own interests. She comes to Martin claiming she wants therapy, she wants to figure out what’s wrong with her, but the means she uses are at direct odds with what she claims to want. You can’t get useful therapy by holding someone hostage.

“There’s an elephant in the room that we haven’t addressed yet,” Martin says. They’re sitting on lawn chairs in his backyard, Martin’s wrists tied to his while Villanelle reclines with her arms behind her head, wearing the hell out of a casual suit.

“What about her?” Villanelle asks.

Martin’s right: It’s impossible for Villanelle to work through her shit without considering Eve’s role here. In fact, I think Villanelle feeling out of sorts has a lot to do with the power shift between her and Eve. Villanelle is used to being able to get a rise out of Eve, but that power has dwindled over time. She has to find new and creative ways to get Eve’s attention like, you know, kidnapping a therapist Eve is friends with. (I feel it’s only a matter of time between Villanelle zeroes in on either Yusuf or, even more likely, Hot Hélène, who Villanelle has her own work history with and who in some ways is the new object of Eve’s obsession.) Martin asks if Villanelle likes the power she has over her, and Villanelle says yes. But her power over her isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. Ever since the bridge, there’s a gap between Villanelle and Eve. I think it’s what’s making Villanelle spiral.

“I want to smell her skin,” Villanelle says of Eve. “I want to hear the boring stuff she does everyday, that she wouldn’t bother telling anyone else because it’s really that boring. But to me, it would be fascinating because…it’s Eve.” It is, perhaps, the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

I don’t think, though, that Villanelle needs to be told her relationship with Eve is toxic. She knows. Martin says relationships require mutual vulnerability. Villanelle can’t just take; she has to give. Throughout all of this, Martin talks about Villanelle and Eve’s relationship as if it is a valid, real one. Because IT IS. He gets it! Thank you, Martin!

Eve tracks down Villanelle, who puts Martin in a headlock and then accidentally drops him to the floor, where he hits his head. “It was an accident!” she yells (Jodie Comer’s fully flexing her comedic muscles in this episode, too, and her line readings remain so great). She’s desperate to stay on Eve’s good side.

Villanelle lets Eve in, and they end up on the couch together.

Eve: Do you know that fable about the scorpion and the frog?
Villanelle: They hook up?
Eve: No. They both die. Because the scorpion can’t change its nature.

I love this exchange for a lot of reasons. The fable is the perfect evocation of Villanelle and Eve’s dynamic. It’s a fable about how some people cause harm even when they set out not to and even when it’s against their own interests. But I also love the injection of humor here when Villanelle asks if they hook up. I think it’s a somewhat playful meta moment that asserts that if certain moments between Villanelle and Eve — including this one here on the couch — were to simply lead to them just hooking up, it would feel a little cheap. It wouldn’t tell the full story. Listen, I promise I’m not saying that I don’t want Eve and Villanelle to hook up (in fact, I’m on the record as being someone who believes they actually have hooked up, just not in conventional ways) or that I didn’t start chanting “kiss kiss kiss kiss” at this point of this episode. I just think there’s more at stake here. I just think the story Killing Eve is telling is more twisty and complicated than a standard love story or a standard will they/won’t they trope.

“I should have done this when we first met,” Eve says. It evokes the closing scene from the first season finale, when she says she has never done this before. That time, Villanelle — and viewers! — thought Eve was talking about having sex with a woman. But instead, she plunged a knife into Villanelle’s side. This time, it sounds like Eve might be talking about hooking up with Villanelle, when really she’s talking about having her arrested. Just before this moment, Villanelle holds Eve’s burned hand. It looks like she might be letting through some of that vulnerability Martin said she needed to show. She lets herself be the frog here, not the scorpion. And then Eve strikes. Police raid the house, and in slow motion, Villanelle is ripped away from Eve and handcuffed.

Villanelle is wearing a suit and being arrested on Killing Eve

Even here, the way the sequence is shot, the way Eve and Villanelle look at each other, there are romantic and even sexual connotations to what’s happening. I think this time, unlike in the season one finale, Villanelle actually knows Eve is about to betray her. And I think she’s somewhat turned on by it. She doesn’t look angry or confused when they’re bombarded. She looks a little pleased, a little resolute, maybe even a little aroused. She doesn’t break eye contact with Eve as she’s pulled away and handcuffed. There’s just the slight hint of a smile, like this is another one of their strange not-sex-but-kinda-sex moments. There is, after all, nothing beige about this relationship.


SORRY BABY x

  • Okay Villanelle’s jail cell has ridiculously good lighting.
  • Eve’s moto jacket looks this season are just SO GOOD.
  • But my favorite fit of the ep definitely goes to Villanelle this time for THAT SUIT.
    Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is wearing a blue buttondown and a gray vest and has her arms behind her head while she reclines in a lawn chair on Killing Eve.
  • After Villanelle is taken away, Eve calls Hot Hélène to remind her of their dessert plans. Eve’s entire energy is pretty seductive here, like she, too, may have gotten a little stimulated by what just happened with Villanelle.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 458 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. I’ve always been a ~fan~ of Villanelle, but the scene when she’s being arrested, her in the suit and the way she’s looking at Eve, I had to take a *very* deep breath.

    I’ve honestly loved this season after being hella disappointed by S2 and 3 – but it’s made me like Eve less and less. I think it’s the point of the writing, but I feel personally attacked by her coldness towards Villanelle.

    also someone commented in a recent recap that Eve has always been as cruel as Villanelle just in a more low-key way, and that thought has been *haunting* me.

  2. I love the review. The painstaking evisceration of the minutiae of the episode was brilliant. I feel the subtext is too subtle and it comes off as confusing and boring. The pacing is off and there are too many ancillary characters. I love the 4th episode, it’s starting to get on track. In the first 3, the main characters that made Killing Eve so great have no interplay of any consequence, tho in episode 4 there’s a meeting of Carolyn and Villanelle and one between Konstantin and Pam. I just feel the show is too obtuse this year and it takes much analysis to see it clearly. The relationship between Helene and Eve is just queerbait as Helene knows very little. Just my humble opinion.

  3. I started to worry after this episode, to be honest. Eve and Villanelle had the moment of peace at the end of Suzanne Heathcote’s series, in the episode co-written by Laura Neal, but now, things had changed drastically. The gulf between them is bigger than ever. They say you can’t have your cake and eat it, but that’s exactly what Eve does: she seduces Hot Helene while feeling deeply moral. After all, she’s after the Murderous Syndicate! Which is the perfect excuse to flirt with hot female killers! PERFECT. (I stand by my theory that The Twelve doesn’t exist, it’s just women infiltrating each other and a bunch of Carolyn’s exes, basically three orgies in a trench coat dressed up as a terrorist organization. But Eve doesn’t know that yet).
    Enters Villanelle, the millennial in crisis. What’s so interesting about Villanelle is that she is an extremely dangerous person who is often quite powerless. People are used to seeing Villanelle as a very powerful creature, but she’s…not? She’s a trickster figure, a disruptive, violent force, but she’s also the abused, constantly gaslighted person. She changes lives, she opens up people to their darkest desires, but she cannot make them see her as a human being. Nobody is interested in what she’s trying to say unless she uses violence, because violence is the only thing that makes people interested in her. That’s why everybody assumes she likes to have control over Eve, but it’s the other way around – she wants to be vulnerable with her! That’s the danger she’s into. But Eve says NO to any kind of vulnerability they used to have between each other.
    The use of Unloved’s Strange Effect song in the opening sequence is gutting, but also made me worry that the show might repeat itself because the only new thing here is the extent of the gulf between the characters. It’s like they moved from the best place they’ve ever been to the worst. We’ve seen Eve that bitter before, in the late Fennell/early Heathcote episodes, but now, she’s also power-tripping while Villanelle is relapsing hard in the sitcom-y loop of slapstick macabre where dead cats fall from the walls and the psychiatrists fall unconscious. (Poor Martin! Also, Adeel Akhtar is a treasure).
    So I don’t know how this gulf can close. This relationship was always dialectical: it was a dance. At the end of the day, Eve was leading – despite being underestimated by most people, subverting expectations (of the people around her – and the viewers). But they were both in it together. And now they’re not.

    • This whole comment is a Comment Award Nominee, but this part is my favorite:

      “the perfect excuse to flirt with hot female killers! PERFECT. (I stand by my theory that The Twelve doesn’t exist, it’s just women infiltrating each other and a bunch of Carolyn’s exes, basically three orgies in a trench coat dressed up as a terrorist organization.”

  4. Kayla you are always spot on!!! I look forward to your recaps every week — I’ve been following your writing forever and when I saw you were doing this for the last season of KE I was so excited!!!!!

    It feels impossibly gratifying to come here every week and see you feel similarly (with such specificity too, I’m shook) about the various workings of this show and its characters. Your read on Eve & Villanelle’s relationship (perfect, cannot emphasize enough how i couldn’t agree more, esp re: expansive definition of sex and romance and partnership)? All the ways this show plays with t e n s i o n ? HOT HÉLÈNE?????

    I’m just so !!!! I’m usually a lurker on this here happy website but I really wanted you to know how much I appreciate you and your insights. Thank you Kayla!!

  5. I keep thinking, “the writers are obviously wanting us to dislike Eve . . . but they can’t keep doing this w/o SOME kind of transformational payoff before/at The End?” Can they?

  6. I think the whole point of the Twelve is that they have a high rate of hiring queer people.

    Also, this “one episode ahead” is making it really hard to engage anywhere.

    Finally, just want to add more Eve love! She’s always been the anchor between us and Villanelle. I’m happy to see her at the center again.

    Thank you for your review, Kayla!

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