If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know how much I dig Villanelle from Killing Eve. Barely a day passes without my using one of the several thousand epic gifs that exist to express feeling or emotion. If your defaults are boredom and sarcasm, you probably do the same.
Despite being obsessed with the first season, I stopped watching it a few episodes into the second. It’s not that I’m averse to a ‘will they, won’t they?’ tale of romance, especially one with as substantial a body count as this, but Eve and Villanelle’s relationship felt a little contrived to me. Bait, as the kids might say. I put it down to old age and moved on with no hard feelings.
Four seasons, some immense murders and whip-smart dialogue exchanged across the most beautiful plazas in Europe later, it seems like many people feel the same. The final episode (and if you haven’t watched it now, you’re not interested enough to cry *spoiler*, you’re just not) saw Eve and Villanelle finally conquer The Twelve, complete their mission and prepare to wander off into their happy ever after which lasts right up until Villanelle gets shot ten seconds later. She falls into the Thames. If you’re old enough, it’s a bit like Den Watts without the daffodils.
Social media erupted with complaints that while the ending served a function, killing one of the protagonists of this felt a lot like a fuck you to the show’s loyal fans. Not least because realistic representations of intimate relationships between women on TV have a harrowing history.
I might have never thought about it again but while wandering aimlessly around Liverpool city centre on Easter Monday, I happened upon a shop front featuring four of Villanelle’s most iconic outfits from Killing Eve. It took up a significant proportion of the street and several people were milling about admiring it.
When I crossed the road to take a closer look, I saw a collection of cards and flowers placed on the ground in a recess between two of the windows. That sad arrangement of tokens we see attached to fences and on pavements, usually where people passed away in tragic circumstances. My mind spun its wheels for a moment or two. Someone had been killed here? Probably hit by one of those effing electric scooters that the youths are using to terrorise the elderly lately. And yes. By ‘elderly’, I mean me.
I had a closer look. An empty bottle of Prosecco. A full bag of Haribo Tangfastics. Star-shaped balloons with ‘Sorry baby’ handwritten on them. Bunches of daffodils from Tesco with the yellow stickers still on the cellophane wrappers.
It feels like it took around an hour for the answer to work its way through the labyrinthine corridors of my mind and out into the real world, but it can only have been a couple of seconds. This was a tribute to Jodie Comer’s Villanelle.
I’m no more above a hot take than the next Twitter obsessive and my first response was ‘jesus, that’s a bit crass’. There are hundreds, probably thousands of these impromptu memorials in England. We see them every day, tied to fences, cards expressing a confusion of love and grief carefully handwritten in biro or sharpie and tied to bunches of cheap flowers. Road accidents, murders and deaths of rock stars often provoke these responses from people with an emotional connection, but a fictional TV character? I resolved to phone the Daily Mail immediately to report this egregious offence. Hopefully, they could get their best man on it. Failing that, Dan Wootton would definitely do a bit. Bang on about how people need to get a grip of themselves, there are real people dying in the world, It’s Meghan’s fault etc.
If I learned one thing as an adult in this binfire of a world, it’s that if you’re swimming in the same lane as the British right-wing press, you should always stop what you are doing immediately and think about the subject some more. Recalibrate, if you will.
The words on the cards I read fell into two categories. Some were lighthearted, expressing how much they had enjoyed the show and the characters. A few deployed references to the show, hence the ‘sorry baby’ balloons and the Haribo. Others used words like betrayal. Grief. One read ‘your queer characters & fans deserve better, we are not disposable’.
Whether we like it or not (and it’s a divisive subject) pop culture can have a huge influence on people’s emotional state. We’re slowly beginning to understand the importance of representation – to see someone who looks like you achieve something great in sport, art, science or entertainment is to see oneself in the future – but with certain groups we’re also in the process of correcting the course of representation, which is a far more complex task.
Although I figured Killing Eve wasn’t for me and withdrew, I understand how intensely a lot of people, especially those struggling to come to terms with their sexuality in difficult circumstances, would have felt about Eve and Villanelle’s relationship. The excitement and drama are important, yes, but so is the fervent hope that somewhere in the distant future, they might find a place they can be happy. It happened to me when I was growing up and kept me alive during a time when my real life reflected no such possibility.
To be clear, I am in no way advocating that writers should change the shape of their stories to please their audiences. It’s simply not possible to create great art under the eye of critics. Come to my TED Talk if you want to hear two hours on that.
But. If you make art that leverages a gay relationship, for example, be sensitive to the eyes you’re hoping to attract. In interviews published since the finale aired, writer Laura Neal has stated that there was some debate as to what would happen at the end. Speaking to Collider, she said “We talked about both of them living. We talked about both of them dying. We talked about a version where Villanelle lived and Eve dies, and we spoke about all of those versions quite seriously. The only version that got to script stage was this version, in that Villanelle died and Eve lived.”
Why? It’s not inconceivable that Villanelle and Eve could have gone on to live a happy life and we know this because it happened in the source material. In the books, the author Luke Jennings ended by describing the pair moving to a small apartment in St Petersburg and Oxana (Villanelle) studying for a linguistics degree. As a writer I see the desire for a dramatic ending everyone talks about, but swerving an already resolved plot for a cheap rip of a fairly average Eastenders plot line from 1989 suggests a lack of respect towards the people who made your show what it is.
It’s not 1989 anymore. We don’t have to punish people for existing. Society will not crumble if the gays get a glimpse of freedom. That moment of freedom might be fictional, might mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but to some it might be the only hope they have.