SPOILERS for Sunday night's Season 3 premiere of Killing Eve ahead.
In two seasons of Killing Eve, we've watched international assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) dispatch her quarries with a variety of unexpected and often notably feminine weapons: knitting needle, hairpin, poison perfume. But in the Season 2 finale, when her purpose is to do the thing that's the title of the show, it's in a moment of passion, when she feels Eve (Sandra Oh) has betrayed her, so Villanelle doesn't have time to plan ahead and execute -- literally -- with style: she uses a gun (if, admittedly, a very dainty one), shoots Eve in the back, and leaves her for dead in an Italian ruin. After leaving us on a cliffhanger like that, naturally Season 3 opens...
...in Moscow, 1974. Dasha (Catalina Cazacu), a young gymnast, goes through a challenging practice with a borderline abusive coach, then repairs to the locker room, where a young man from the men's team (Ralph Maystone) tells her she's a winner and gives her a flower. They kiss, briefly; then she bites off the end of his tongue and slams him into a bank of lockers. When he's unconscious, she tips his head back over a bench and pours chalk down his throat. Who is this murderous dynamo, knocking dudes off with this kind of élan decades before Villanelle was in the game? Are they connected, or are all Russians just born with a flair for the deadly dramatic?
Cut to a wedding at an elegant estate, where the Spanish bride, Maria (Carmen Montero), is toasting her new spouse by telling the story of their meeting: when her beloved approached her at the airport and announced, "I'm going wherever you are going." Turns out said spouse is Villanelle! When it's her turn to speak, Villanelle says that airport introduction came right after she'd had "a really bad breakup": "But when I think about my ex today, I realize I am so much happier now she's dead."* Maria cracks up. If she can vibe with Villanelle's dark sense of humor, maybe there's hope for this marriage after all.
Alas, it is not to be. When it's time for the cake, Villanelle finally sees the wraith whose footsteps she's heard stalking her through the reception: a petite woman in her sixties, in a sharp silver tweed pantsuit, her head crowned with iron-gray braids, squinting at Villanelle like she thinks Villanelle ain't shit. Recognizing her, Villanelle storms through the ballroom and bodily tackles her; as they wrestle, a brawl breaks out around them, ending with a smash cut to Villanelle and her antagonist in the back of the honeymoon car, seething and bleeding. This is Dasha, who has grown up to be played by Harriet Walter; it is she who originally trained Villanelle in the assassinatory arts; she's tracked Villanelle down to bring her back into the fold, in exchange for which The Twelve will send Dasha back to Russia, as she dearly wants.
Let's back up for a second though, because: Harriet Walter. HARRIET WALTER! One of our faves, and one of yours too, although you may not even know it. Like all the more fun classically-trained British stage actors, Walter isn't afraid to take a middlebrow role; between her Cherry Orchards and her Macbeths, you'll spot the usual complement of Dorothy L. Sayers Mysterys and Rosamunde Pilchers Shades Of Loves. Recently, however, if you've seen her on TV that has crossed the pond, it's in fancier fare: slippery Claire in London Spy; flinty Lady Shackleton on Downton Abbey; brisk Clemmie Churchill on The Crown; and a brief turn on Call The Midwife as Sister Ursula, one in the class of characters who periodically pass through Nonnatus House so that their extreme coldness can contrast with our heroines' warmth and tenderness for their patients.
But Walter's greatest recent TV performance is, in my view, as Lady Caroline Collingwood on Succession. Mother to the three younger Roy kids, Caroline apparently sold her access to them in her divorce from Logan (Brian Cox), for which they still resent her in adulthood to greater and less degrees commensurate with their capacity to feel anything. Though Caroline has only appeared in a few episodes, series creator Jesse Armstrong, himself a Briton, perfectly dimensionalizes someone in her particular circumstances: a member of the landed gentry whose family's most prosperous years are well behind them, and whose class pretensions rest on the grubby money she's received in settlements from her vulgar first-generation plutocrat husband, who earned it, in trade. Caroline shares her children's tendency toward reflexively nasty teasing; it's as enjoyable to watch them trading barbs as it is chilling to watch her shrug them off when they reach out to her for maternal affection and support.
Villanelle is intrigued by Dasha's offer to kick up all her compensation and perks, and takes an assignment taking out a local political agitator. Dasha having earlier claimed that her kills are still studied for their creativity, Villanelle proves it to be true, closing her latest murder by choking her victim with paprika, in homage to her mentor. Of course, this is a show where mentors and their protégées don't tend to stick together for the long term: Eve hero-worshipped Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) before finding out exactly how compromised Carolyn was, leading Eve to make some very dopey decisions in a pretty ill-constructed second season. Then again, Villanelle and Dasha are of very different temperament from Eve and Carolyn, as we see in Dasha and Villanelle's second scene together: after a moderately hostile conversation, each grabs the other by the throat, pretty much simultaneously, neither backing down and both apparently equally matched in strength, until they both let go and start laughing. Maybe Eve and Carolyn would have worked well together longer if they could settle their disputes so efficiently! (By the way, I'm not totally convinced that Suzanne Heathcote's previous writing credits on Fear The Walking Dead and See suit her to run Killing Eve this season, but if there is a chance I will get to see Fiona Shaw and Harriet Walter playing off each other in a scene, I am absolutely not going to miss it.)
Villanelle's demand of a promotion to "keeper" in The Twelve -- which would put her above both Dasha and Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) in the org chart -- could still present problems for them in the future. For now, it's delightful seeing them get acclimated to working together again. As we learn in the season premiere, Dasha is still giving the same advice to her tiny aspiring gymnasts as she did Villanelle back in the day: "Fight dirty. But listen to Dasha." How much dirtier can Villanelle get? With one-on-one coaching to hone her skills, I'm excited and scared to find out.
*Eve's not dead. Obviously!
New episodes of Killing Eve air Sundays at 9:00 PM ET on AMC and BBC America.
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Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.