Killing Eve: Why do we back such a toxic relationship?

I have watched the final scene of Killing Eve Season 3 at least three times. Every single time I yearn for Villanelle and Eve to turn around and run into each other’s arms. Every single time I ask myself why. We know they’re toxic for each other. They know they’re toxic for each other; Villanelle herself confesses in the final scene, “I think my monster encourages your monster”. So, why do we want them to be together?

As someone who is acutely aware of dating red flags (I have a list typed out on my phone that I refer to regularly), I find it contradictory that I would back such an on-screen romance. Perhaps, as a queer woman, I am thirsty for more queer representation. Or, perhaps it’s because toxic relationships are normalised and glamorised on mainstream TV and I have been conditioned to support them.

A large majority of on-screen relationships we see are toxic; they’re often dramatic, intense, on-off relationships. They make ‘good’ TV because they leave you wanting more and therefore you continue to watch the show. I grew up watching and aspiring to couples like Rachel and Ross on Friends, for example, who exhibit such emotional immaturity in their inability to commit to each other, communicate and take accountability for their actions (“we were on a break” - Ross I’m looking at you). On top of that, most on-screen relationships are heterosexual, so when Killing Eve came along I wanted to ignore all the red flags and for Villanelle and Eve to be together and have a ‘happy ending’, i.e. for them to be together. Which is a valid desire because of the few queer couples in mainstream media, even fewer are given a happy ending and allowed to be together - and of those that are, they are most often white and cis-gendered.

In movies and on TV, we’re so often encouraged to idolise the chase, drama and discomfort of toxic relationships that it becomes normalised and is reflected in real-life dating situations. We might think that heated passion is love and that the uneasy feeling in our gut is ‘butterflies’ rather than an anxious bodily response to red flags. As psychologist Dr. Nicole LePera puts it, “love feels dull when we learned it as chaos”. Sex & Relationships Educator Lalalaletmeexplain urges us to discuss this and stop normalising chaos and red flags because they can translate into emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse further down the line.

When I started dating women, I had this idealistic notion that there would be no toxicity because there’s no script for queer dating like there is for heterosexual dating, particularly in terms of the performance of gender roles. Of course, this was incredibly naïve, not only because toxic masculinity can seep into queer relationships too, but because there are so many reasons behind toxic behaviour that don’t just disappear if you’re queer.

Of course, Killing Eve is one of the more extreme examples in the media of a toxic relationship considering that one of them is an assassin who deals with conflict by murdering people and that they’ve both tried to kill each other. Overlooking these minor details, the red flags are still there: emotional manipulation, blackmail, love bombing with gifts, poor communication and game playing. However, in the latest season, we see a shift in Villanelle’s conscience as she decides she wants to stop murdering people. This is an exaggerated version of the script that we know all too well both on and off screen; the idea that someone can change and that we can fix them. A famous example of this is on screen is Carrie and Big on Sex and the City; Carrie knows that Big is emotionally unavailable and unable to commit to her yet she keeps going back expecting different results. This fixer mentality is often more prevalent in women who are socialised to be nurturers, to compromise and as bell hooks’ explains in All About Love, to remain loving regardless of the situation. In that final scene on the bridge in Killing Eve Season 3, we know that Eve sees the potential in Villanelle to change; she doesn’t want to call Villanelle a monster but rather acknowledges that there are monsters within us all. Mindset coach Africa Brooke warns of the dangers of being with someone based on their potential as it “comes with the idea that you will be able to influence them to change somewhere down the line, for your benefit” and that whilst “seemingly positive…this is a form of manipulation”.

One of the best things about Killing Eve is how it has subverted many tropes perpetuated in mainstream TV, particularly sexist stereotypes. The final scene of season 3 inserts the traditionally heterosexual Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a queer context; Villanelle instructs Eve to turn and walk away from her without looking back. With Orpheus and Eurydice, Eurydice’s fate is held entirely in the hands of Orpheus, a man, who in turning around condemns her to the underworld. However, Killing Eve beautifully turns this myth on its head, giving each woman the agency to walk away and decide whether to turn around. This is sense of equality is echoed in the visuals of this final scene, where we see Eve and Villanelle walk an equal distance away from each other before pausing and turning around. As in the myth, this seems to be a test; the outcome of which is unclear as the season is left on a cliff-hanger. Are they choosing to be together or will they acknowledge their love is toxic and keep on walking? If Orpheus and Eurydice are to foreshadow their fate, they won’t be together.

Perhaps we need to rethink what a ‘happy ending’ is. Happy endings don’t mean staying in or entering a relationship that isn’t right for you. Happy endings do not equal relationships either; TV and cinema often perpetuates the idea that being single is bad and being in a relationship is the end goal. In Killing Eve, the happy ending might look like Villanelle and Eve letting each other go. As much as my heart wants to see another queer relationship on-screen, I hope Killing Eve continues to challenge TV norms to give us a different, healthier perspective on happy endings.

Written by Megan Elliott


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