Season 4 lead writer and executive producer Laura Neal discusses the 'cosmic' relationship between Eve and Villanelle and the responsibility she felt wrapping up the Emmy-winning drama.
Killing Eve Season 4 lead writer and executive producer Laura Neal views the Emmy-winning drama's foreboding title figuratively. For her, Eve (Sandra Oh) — the former MI5 security officer now on the lam — died long ago, undergoing "rebirth" only after her relationship with the skilled, unhinged assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) blossomed and wilted in the show's fated conclusion.
Neal admits she felt "pressure" when tasked with the gargantuan and unenviable responsibility of finding and executing a meaningful ending to the critically acclaimed series. (It has a Metascore of 75).
"I felt a huge responsibility to the characters and the world that Phoebe created," she tells Metacritic, "and to all of the women that have come before me."
Neal picked up that responsibility as the fourth and final lead writer on a series that became known for changing the person in that position every season. Neal followed creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emerald Fennell, and Suzanne Heathcote, whose writers' room she worked in during Season 3. That experience, she notes helped her "hit the ground running."
The fourth and final installment of Killing Eve picks up several months after Eve and Villanelle abandoned each other on London's Tower Bridge, deciding to walk away from their tumultuous and intoxicating relationship — but not before sharing one last pining glance. Naturally, their aligned goals — of hunting down the omnipresent shadow organization of assassins The Twelve — force them to clash and ultimately band together in the final eight-episode run.
Here, Neal talks to Metacritic about the series' resounding (and heart-wrenching) conclusion, unpacking everything from Carolyn's (Fiona Shaw) storied past to the creative process behind Villanelle's moonlighting as drag Jesus.
Season 4 ends on the Tower Bridge, the same place the Season 3 finale left off (of course, with huge caveats). Was that a conscious decision on your part to come full circle in that way?
Yeah, definitely. We wanted to find a location for the ending that linked back to something that felt important to Eve and Villanelle throughout the previous seasons, and we had lots of different locations, actually, and then we didn't know whether we could get that location on the Thames. It's kind of tricky to film on Tower Bridge. So, when we found out that we could get it, it just felt like the perfect location to end it because of the history of those two characters in that location. And there was a desire for me to have the feeling of coming full circle.
There's always been tension between Eve and Villanelle, which has morphed throughout the seasons. But this one in particular has moments where it seems like Eve is truly done with Villanelle — she finally arrests her for one, which seems worse than when she stabbed her.
Yeah, I know what you mean.
Why did the show have to go there before it could have them fully give in to each other? What was your approach to that?
Knowing that this was the final season we wanted to explore every nook and cranny of their relationship, really. And I also was interested from the Eve perspective [of] talking about putting Villanelle in prison — which I agree does feel shocking in a way that physical violence against Villanelle doesn't, partly because I think there's something about containing a character like Villanelle that feels particularly cruel.
We wanted to see an Eve that had a power over Villanelle that maybe she hasn't had before and also a power over her feelings towards Villanelle. It felt interesting to us to flip the power dynamic between them in the series and say, "OK, well, what happens if Eve is finally able to shut Villanelle away?" And then what does that do to Eve and her confidence, and what does it do to Villanelle and her feelings towards Eve? Because I think that [for] Villanelle, part of the attraction of Eve is that Eve is so in her thrall. So, it was about exploring all of these different dynamics.
There's something about being able to go there with each of them and both of them explore their anger towards each other — what the other has done to them over the past four seasons and the collateral impact on both of their lives that the other has had, and then needing to air that towards each other [before] being able to come into a more intimate, emotional, truthful version of their relationship.
That reminds me of what you previously said about Eve purposefully putting up this emotional barrier between the two. In later seasons, and more explicitly articulated in Season 4, Eve's become more like Villanelle. And, in a way, Villanelle has done the same through her somewhat misguided introspection and religious stint. In that sense, how do you view their love story — is it toxic, inevitable, necessary, or something else entirely?
I think it's all of those words. I think it's toxic. I think it's fated. I think there's something magnetic about these two women that they can't help but be attracted towards each other, for better or worse. There's something kind of cosmic about their relationship and something unexplainable.
I think for me the nature of their initial attraction towards the other is that they both represent something the other feels is incomplete about themselves. So for Eve, I think Villanelle is a part of herself that she hasn't managed to integrate. And I think to Villanelle, Eve is that in her, so I think that's the reason they initially are drawn to each other. After that initial attraction, a whole load of other things [are] going on — the toxicity, the chemistry, that fated aspect of it, the warmth between them sometimes, the humor. What I love about the relationship is that you can define it 300 different ways.
When Villanelle sits down to talk to the therapist Martin (Adeel Akhtar) in Episode 3, she imagines a very domestic, suburban life. Before we talk about the ending, could that actually work out with someone like Eve, who's gone through this transformation?
A lot of Episode 8 is putting them in domestic situations to see how their relationship fares, and I think there's a joy to watching them try domestic bliss out. For Villanelle, it's obvious that she can't exist in that environment. For Eve, it's much less obvious, but I think it shows the journey that she's been on, that she can't sit in that environment easily.
It's only in the last episode that we finally see them kiss (without head-butting), and we see the desire that's been building over time bubble over. In general, there's been much discussion over the erotic thriller genre. How would you characterize Killing Eve within that space, especially as a piece driven by queer women?
I'm not sure about the erotic thriller as a genre. For me, the joy of Killing Eve and the reason it's been so popular and what feels unique and unusual about it is watching these two female protagonists act in ways we don't usually see female protagonists act, and exploring facets of what it means to be a woman that we don't usually explore, and doing that bravely and with humor and with a subversive tone. What feels really exciting to me about Killing Eve is that there is this charge to the relationship. It hasn't always been erotic, but I think it becomes more erotic as the seasons go on. It grew, I suppose, with the show, rather than setting out its stall as that from the off, which I think has been really exciting for the audience to watch that element of it grow over the seasons.
Although dark in nature, the show is also extremely campy. What went behind the decision to have Jodie Comer play Villanelle as drag Jesus?
That came from a conversation me and Jodie were having and also about Villanelle's costumes and what would be the funnest thing to put Villanelle in this season. Also, it came from a discussion in the writers room about, if Villanelle imagined a spiritual guide for herself, what would that spiritual guide look like? We were like, "Hang on, of course it would be herself." She's such an egocentric person. She already has a god complex. She already enjoys the theatrical and the camp. Once we had decided that and [the] costume [department] got involved, it took on a life of its own and then became campier and campier as the production rolled along. The gold boots weren't there from the off, but I'm so pleased they were there by the end.
Was there more space for Jodie to improvise in those scenes?
I think Jodie is a really playful actor and in every take I see her do something different. There was probably more improvising, actually, in the latter part of the season than the earlier part. Especially in Episode 8, those scenes between Jodie and Sandra, there was more freedom there for them to play around because the scenes themselves are quite simple. It's just those two in one location with no other distractions, so there was definitely space there for them to improvise. So some of what you see in Episode 8 is the result of that. And that was just the joy to watch, to be honest. And the lesson of that episode was that there were some bits of dialogue I took out because we were able to just see them communicate nonverbally.
To address that explosive (and admittedly devastating) ending — the relationship between Eve and Villanelle is doomed from the start. Given the title of the show, was that ironic end of Villanelle being killed always around, or did that come about in this season's writers' room?
I think all of those were in the mix. I don't know whether there were discussions about the very end that Phoebe was having early on, but we were certainly discussing the endpoint of the series right when we were opening up the writers' room, so it felt like we really wanted to know where we were heading.
The Killing Eve of the title, for me, that's always been figurative rather than literal. I think there is a death of Eve that we watch in the show, and to me, the really important moment in Eve's journey is the moment where she bursts out the water [after Villanelle's death] and there's a kind of rebirth of Eve. There's a sense that she's going to go and she's going to have this whole new life. She's going to take what Villanelle has given her, and she's going to use that to have a life where she's a more authentic version of herself. So for me, that's where that title comes in, but, of course, we played around with all different endings. We wanted it to feel humorous and subversive; we didn't want it to take itself too seriously. We wanted to retain that Killing Eve tone in the ending.
You broke ground on Carolyn's storied past this season. Did you feel the weight of that narrative and her moral ambiguity? And, of course, her role in bringing about Villanelle's death.
I've always been interested in Carolyn as a character, and Fiona as an actor is so fun to work with, so we knew we wanted to deepen her story in this season. I think the challenge when writing Carolyn is to retain enough mystery because she's someone where you don't really ever want to see right behind the curtain and you probably never really could even if you tried. It's about how we deepen our understanding of Carolyn, but we retain the thing that makes Carolyn Carolyn, which is her unknowability. So, that was probably the challenge, but it was so fun to be able to imagine Carolyn younger and imagine the forces that have shaped her and the things that have skewed her moral compass. Like, "What was her upbringing like in order for her to be able to behave the way she behaves?" And fun also to imagine the origin of the Carolyn-Konstantin [Kim Bodnia] relationship because it's such an iconic relationship in the show.
And in terms of her involvement in the very ending, we always knew that she would be present in some way. There hasn't been an ending where Carolyn hasn't been involved because she feels so integral to the show, and she really was the one who brought Eve and Villanelle together in the first place. And I liked the idea that she delivers the orders to shoot at Eve and Villanelle because she's somebody who always does the most surprising thing. And, in that moment, we're really not expecting her to be behind it, and that's a very Carolyn attribute, and we wanted her to be truly Carolyn till the end.
Do you know who she's giving the orders to? Does it matter?
I think it doesn't matter. In my head, she was giving the order to an MI6 sniper. I don't think she would pull the trigger herself. She's somebody who likes to sit behind the desk and issue the orders.
With regard to Carolyn, is she at a place now where she has nothing left to lose, following Konstantin's death? And does that inform her decision?
I think so, but I think there's also a truth where Carolyn's lost the thing that was important to her, and she lost that at the end of Season 3, and we see her with it gone at the start of Season 4, and that's her position in MI6 and the power that comes along with that and her access to the game and her ability to play it. That's taken from her and that's what she regains through Season 4. I think she ends up in a place where she gets what she wants, which is a return to the Carolyn that we knew at the start of Season 1. In some way she has a very cyclical journey.
Konstantin is such a cockroach who's always able to find himself out of the situations he's in, so it was shocking to see him meet his end through his trainee Pam (Anjana Vasan). How was his storyline approached?
It's interesting that you call him a cockroach because that's how we talk about him a lot in the writers' room, because he is one of these characters that manages to survive the unsurvivable every time. He always manages to wriggle out of things, and we were always really interested in [seeing] Konstantin in this situation where he was truly cornered. And he is not a nice man. We love him — we love Kim — but he has caused his fair share of misery, so it felt right to us that his past catches up with him. And [he] and Carolyn hinted it in Episode 5 — they had a conversation and said, "People like us, we don't have happy endings." And he doesn't deserve one and he doesn't get one, but I think there is a real tragedy to [it] being Pam who does it because he's created her and also they have a bond that's actually really sweet and human. For her to do it, is an extra stab in the guts — or pizza cutter in the neck, actually.
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