“Killing Eve” 405 Recap: Carolyn’s Flashback Episode Is a Mixed Bag

Hello and welcome to your Killing Eve 405 recap. “Don’t Get Attached” is directed by Emily Atef and written by Laura Neal and Georgia Lester. Did you take my Killing Eve-themed pick-your-own-adventure quiz to find out what Villanelle/Eve moment you embody? Have you caught up on past recaps? Ok great, let’s get to it!


It’s a Carolyn flashback episode!

In general, I love a flashback episode, and I think it makes perfect sense for the first (and presumably only, since we’re nearing the end here) one of this series to center Carolyn. She has always been an integral part of this narrative, but she has always been a little hard to pin down, a little elusive. And the flashbacks provide some context for her emotional distance and tendency to play all sides at once. She has basically been a spy her entire adult life, brought into the work by her father, who worked for the service and took his own life after being blackmailed for being gay by a Soviet operative.

That Soviet operative? A young Konstantin, who young Carolyn also had an affair with. Both Konstantin and Carolyn infiltrated an anarchist student group in the late 70s for the KGB and MI6 respectively, Konstantin getting close to Carolyn in order to get to her father, Carolyn exploiting her personal relationships with everyone in the group to get intel. It simply must be said: Carolyn has always had game. “God you’re sexy when I’m right,” she says to her boyfriend, the young and cocky revolutionary who will eventually become Lars Meier. Also, the actor they found for young Konstantin is perfect by the way. That laugh!

Carolyn has been chasing The Twelve for decades, but we see here that she was also the person originally responsible for naming The Twelve. I’m reminded a bit of The Americans and the way that show so deftly explored the chaos and disorientation of being a deep-cover spy for so long. You start to forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. You start to forget what’s real and what isn’t. All your relationships are based on fake pretenses. Carolyn named the beast whose head she so desperately wants to chop off now. Carolyn and Konstantin have been on-and-off lovers through the years, even though she’s well aware he was responsible for the death of her father. It also sheds new light on the fact that he was indirectly responsible for Kenny’s death, too. Carolyn is guarded and flip and difficult-to-read by necessity.

I think whereas I previously believed Carolyn is more sure of herself than someone like Eve, Carolyn might also be more of a mess than she appears on the surface. I mean, we’ve seen glimpses of that mess in the ways she reacted to Kenny’s death, but watching her younger self and her present selves flounder within basically all of their interpersonal relationships is really interesting. I know we’re limited on episode space in this final season, but I almost would have liked to see this episode dabble in more of the Carolyn flashback narrative than some of the present-day stuff, because it really does add so much texture and context to Carolyn’s entire arc across the show.

That said, I’m a little skeptical of the origins of The Twelve. A massive, globe-spanning organization whose purpose is solely to hire assassins to do, what seem to be, chaotic political murders that are loosely connected was born from…a leftist student group? The Twelve is, in essence, the show’s Big Bad, and this backstory feels underbaked and uninspired like…oooo look anarchy is bad and eventually all radical leftist student activists will become evil pawns in a mercenary organization. Idk! Anytime this show delves too much into the global political underpinnings of its narrative, I think it ironically starts to lose the plot! Idk, I’d love to hear thoughts on this from someone who is smarter than me :)

While I do love the Carolyn flashbacks and the way they add layers to past and present motivations and choices for Carolyn, the rest of the episode struggles to keep the story compelling and suspenseful. The moving pieces of last episode all fit together so well to tell a coherent story, but here, things are disjointed — on a few different levels — in ways that undermine the overall effectiveness of the plot.

I tend to like when this show (and all shows, really!) wander down fun tangents that ultimately aren’t of larger consequence for the big picture plot, but Villanelle killing Benita’s abusive husband (a firefighter who, ironically, burns her) and then being tasked with killing other abusive husbands of Benita’s friends like some sort of community vigilante just…isn’t doing it for me! If it’s meant to be showing us that Villanelle has gotten her groove back, well, that has already been accomplished by both the tent slaying of May and her father and also the cheese slicing of Rustem. If it’s meant to be a glimpse at what life would look like for Villanelle if she were to choose a more Dexter-ish approach to killing bad people and then her eventual decision that it isn’t for her, then those beats aren’t hit hard enough! Instead, it just feels like an empty subplot to buy time before the big emotional climax of the episode.

This show tends to infuse its brief side characters with memorable personalities and specifics that speak to the strangeness and variety of humanity, but Benita and her friends just feel like hollow representations of women in abusive relationships. Revenge is a potent theme on Killing Eve, but better explored in more complex and interpersonal storylines with fully realized characters rather than here, where it’s distilled down into its most basic parts for a cheap thrill.

Similarly ineffective but in a different manner, there’s the issue of Eve and Carolyn. A lot of time is spent on Eve uncovering that Carolyn was involved with The Twelve in its nascent stages, but that’s information we as viewers already have from the flashbacks, and Eve stays a few steps behind us all episode. That’s not necessarily a nail in the coffin for a story that hinges on mystery, double-crosses, and intrigue — dramatic irony can be a useful device. But it just doesn’t work here! It’s a pretty sequence to watch Eve watch Carolyn’s old life on a Super 8 reel projected onto a sheet in her room, but it’s devoid of emotion or tension. Because again, we already know! And we already know Eve is wrong in her assumption that Carolyn has been Twelve all along. In general, I usually appreciate when Killing Eve slows things down for the sake of crafting something visually immersive and moody, but here, I found myself wishing we’d move things along. I don’t really see the narrative point of Eve making the wrong assumptions about Carolyn’s allegiances when we as the audience know fully well otherwise, but maybe it’ll become clearer as the season progresses?

Eve kidnapping Hélène’s young daughter as a power play, on the other hand, is a fascinating development. I think Eve is able to justify doing something so horrible because, on its surface, it doesn’t look that horrible. She isn’t torturing anyone. The girl seems pretty willing — enthusiastic, even — to go with her. On the surface, it just sort of looks like she is babysitting. But this might legitimately be one of the most morally bankrupt things Eve has ever done? Involving a literal child! Eve is so far in the deep end and doesn’t seem to know she’s drowning.

And the episode adds some fun metaphorical context for her journey when Eve’s mission to find out more about Lars/Carolyn/The Twelve’s origins brings her to a lecture hall where today’s lesson just happens to be about “the malevolent Cupid, whose divine arrow brings havoc as much as it brings desire.”

“The tale of Cupid and Psyche is thought of as one of the world’s great love stories,” the professor continues. “But what did Psyche have to do? She had to endure beatings. Cross rivers, climb cliffs, and finally, journey to the Underworld. How far will Psyche go, and who will she have to become to appease her cosmic masters?”

I think the simplistic interpretation of this metaphor casts Villanelle as Cupid and Eve as Psyche, but I personally think at different points of the show, they’ve each filled either role. In any case, I love any and all textual acknowledgement of Villanelle/Eve as a great love epic, because I strongly believe that’s exactly what it is.

Cupid’s arrow takes on another meaning during the episode’s haunting end when Hélène delivers her punishment for Eve fucking with her. From a locked car, Eve has to watch as Villanelle is struck through the back with an arrow. Eve has been cold and distant with Villanelle this season, but she obviously still cares about her deeply and complexly. The fact that even Hélène knows this is the exact way to get to her says so much about the ways Eve betrays herself. No one is buying her act. Others know what she wants and what she cares about better than she does.

(In case it needs to be stated, I think there’s no way Villanelle is dead. I think Pam’s morgue skills are probably going to be used to stitch her up.)

Carolyn, Hélène, Eve, and Villanelle are, at this point, basically all on the exact same mission but also in opposition to one another. They all want to kill off The Twelve, but they all want to do it on their own. Paranoia and trust issues abound, but so do their egos. They each think they have to be the one to do it, and they’re each acting chaotically toward their goal. Their arcs are all smashing together finally, which will surely have explosive results heading into the back half of the season. I just wish this particular chapter had a little more heft to it and matched some of the playfulness of last episode.


SORRY BABY x

  • “You threw me in the water, and now I have an ear infection” is one of my favorite line readings of the season.
  • Always fun to get a little Konstantin/Villanelle buddy comedy. He writes down the name of an assassin he thinks can help her that he trained before her time and notes that he thinks she’ll like her. Are we gonna get another Villanelle dalliance with a fellow assassin?
  • Gonna give a fashion shoutout to Pam this week. Love that she’s finding her personal style and personal murder style at the same time.
    Pam wears a light brown leather jacket over a patterned buttondown on Killing Eve. She is smiling and also wearing a red bandana in her hair, which is pulled back.

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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.

14 Comments

  1. I understand why you’re posting the recaps an episode behind when they drop online, but the problem with that approach is that die-hard fans of the show ARE paying to see it as soon as possible. So the energy for your wonderful recaps has dissipated by the time they’re posted.

    I love your recaps and I miss the fun community discussions that they inspire. I don’t think it matters that they include plot reveals for people who haven’t seen an episode yet. This show has complicated plot lines, but we’re not really watching it for plot.

    Your recaps add so much to my enjoyment of each episode, and I miss them being synched to the online rollout. Like Eve, you are one step behind us and we wait for you to catch up.

  2. Villanelle liked the “abuser revenge” plot line just as much as you. She says as much after she ditched the ladies to hunt down Konstantin. I think it was used to show another angle of Villanelle’s soul-searching. She tried to be the ideal “good” person. Then she went to therapy and tried out being bad but for “good” reasons. But neither really fit. But you do have to admit the firefighter kill was pretty great imo.

    • That was my take on the abuser killing plot, too. Villanelle is really trying to figure herself out. And while she sought out the church and therapy, this kind of fell in her lap and she thought, fuck it, why not?

  3. And this week everything is the other way around. I don’t like flashbacks. And I hate origin stories. (I don’t need them, and they’re usually just useless trauma plots anyway). And the Western depictions of Berlin during the Cold War are mostly pretty lazy and irritating.
    But I loved this episode.
    Luis Bodnia Andersen is having a ball imitating his father, but Imogen Daines is the star of the week. I don’t know if she was working with Fiona Shaw, but she’s so playful, she gives the impression of Shaw’s Carolyn without any sense of grotesque. I loved the scene from the 8mm film. Her energy when she probably explains something to a stupid boy. The whole flashback is a trauma plot – but it’s also so full of joy!
    (I feel like Killing Eve doesn’t get enough recognition for its supporting cast, and all the actors who show up for the one or two episodes and give devastating performances. The trauma plots in Killing Eve always worked thanks to Susan Lynch and Evgenia Dodina.)
    And I love how it’s toying with mirroring Carolyn and Konstantin with Eve and Villanelle. The end is so close, but what do we expect from it? What kind of resolution of the will they/won’t they plot? Carolyn and Konstantin have been playing it for 40 years now, connected by desire and guilt. (Because there is a part of the responsibility for her father’s death on Carolyn’s side, too. She broke the rules by bringing the hot boy to the house. In 1979, gayness was still illegal in MI6. She should know better. Poor Carolyn! So smart but so stupid, young, and horny).
    Also, my theory about the 12 being three orgies in the trenchcoat dressed up as a terrorist organization is still valid, I guess? XD

    • I also hate flashbacks. It involves recasting actors on episodes It totally ruined Ray Donovan for me. Exception noted for Kim Bodia’s son with the same yummy masculinity and laugh.

  4. imo they went too far without actually deciding what the 12 was and now they’re struggling to find an interesting backstory! I think at this point I do not really care at all about any of it, and it also feels unbelievable that they will ever kill all of the twelve when they’ve set it up as such a large organization for too long

    i hope that they just focus on the helene/villanelle/eve/carolyn dynamic for the rest of the episodes because that is actually interesting even if i don’t care at all what any of them are actually trying to do! it is so much more fun (and less confusing plot wise) to watch them fight each other than the twelve.

    if next episode doesn’t give us some eve/vilanelle buddy attack helene action i’ll be disappointed

  5. “look anarchy is bad and eventually all radical leftist student activists will become evil pawns in a mercenary organization. Idk! Anytime this show delves too much into the global political underpinnings of its narrative, I think it ironically starts to lose the plot! Idk, I’d love to hear thoughts on this from someone who is smarter than me :)”

    Tend to doubt, Kayla, anyone here is smarter than you . . . but if this Proto-12 was infiltrated by (MI6) Carolyn and (KGB) Konstantin, then who else? Were ANY of these “radical leftist students” really just that? Or were they all Might-Makes-Right spies chasing their tails, and then becoming them?

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