Warning: This story contains plot details from Sunday’s episode of Killing Eve, titled “Nice and Neat.”
Konstantin Vasiliev — slippery Russian intelligence agent, ill-defined associate of the Twelve, weary handler of Villanelle — is an international man of mystery who boasts intelligence (of both kinds), contacts (of all kinds), and a solid beard. In the season 1 finale of Killing Eve, though, he seemed to have met his match, or his maker, when Villanelle (Jodie Comer) shot him in the stomach, and although the audience never saw him actually expire, Eve’s MI6 boss Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) later revealed that Konstantin had died.
If you were skeptical and didn’t pour out a bottle of Stoli for him, though, that was a wise move. Konstantin (and Carolyn) apparently have a few more tricks up their sleeves, as evidenced by the final scene in Sunday’s episode of BBC America’s mesmerizing spy thriller. Eve (Sandra Oh) and Carolyn were painfully close to catching injured Villanelle at the House of Dolls and Creepy Man (guest star Julian Barratt), where the assassin extraordinaire was being held hostage. Villanelle managed to stab her way out of this scenario, only to find herself out on the streets again and then picked up by another new handler, Raymond (Adrian Scarborough), who treated her even worse.
Eve and Carolyn entered the house and saw the slain Julian with a clue in the form of a toilet brush stuffed in his mouth, and Carolyn told Eve, “I think we’re going to have to get you some protection,” and added, “There’s someone we need to speak to.” When the duo returned to Carolyn’s home, Carolyn told her, “Promise you won’t be cross,” and Eve was greeted by a man reading a book on the sofa in the living room: Konstantin (Kim Bodnia). “Hello, Eve,” he said casually and raised his eyebrows, awaiting a response from Eve, who was trying to process what the hell was transpiring. To recap, the man whom Eve didn’t even trust enough to let him zip up his pants, the man whom Villanelle tried to kill twice, the man whose family Villanelle threatened and whose daughter Villanelle kidnapped, and yes, the man who has a suspiciously close relationship with Carolyn is very much back in the mix. And pretty darn alive.
“I was just so glad,” Oh tells EW of the episode-ending twist. “It’s just too rich of a character… He helps humanize [Villanelle] — as much as she can be. He sees her with understanding and empathy in a way that helps the audience see her that way.” Echoes Comer: “There’s something about the relationship between Konstantin and Villanelle that enables the audience to see her a certain way. Without that relationship, you wouldn’t.” She adds: “Kim Bodnia is the OG. You cannot get rid of the OG.”
It sounds like this deadly game amongst untrusting masterminds and opportunists just upped its intrigue factor. ”The higher-up puppet masters, Konstantin and Carolyn, you’ll see them work together – and against each other — to try and get what they want,” hints Oh. And the physically-if-not-spiritually wounded Villanelle has been thrown for a loop. “Villanelle feels she is control,” says Comer. “She constantly thinks that she is ahead of the game — and then finds herself not being.”
Want to be ahead of the game? Read on to see what Killing Eve executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle revealed about the unlikely return of Konstantin, that trail of clues that Villanelle is leaving for Eve, and how cat owners might factor into this cunning cat-and-mouse hunt.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Konstantin lives. There was a plan early to kill him off in season 1. When exactly was he to die and how did the plan evolve?
SALLY WOODWARD GENTLE: Originally when we were storylining — and before we had cast Kim and before we had seen any of the performances or any of the dynamics — the idea was that Konstantin would die in episode 4. Or at least we’d have a go at killing him. In fact, what we did is we went backwards and forwards in terms of whether he would die or whether he’d actually just run away. And we had two versions, both of which were sort of brilliant and funny in their own right. But then as we saw the dynamic between Kim and Jodie, and also between those characters, and you realize that actually Villanelle needs a Konstantin, we realized we’d be foolish to kill him off.
As we went on, we got to learn more about him as a character, we realized he’s actually a man who, even though he adores Villanelle and he’s incredibly proud of her, he’s always only going to look after himself. So the reveal that we have in episode 6 of season 1, where you realize Konstantin is in with the Russians and not just the Twelve, you realize what a useful person he is to slide between these different worlds. And similarly, I don’t think that Carolyn or he would willingly walk into a showdown with Villanelle without having made sure that hopefully he’s not going to die. So who’s responsible for protecting him, or who’s responsible for spiriting him away after the shootout in the coffee shop is left for this puzzle.
So will the show fill in that part of the mystery?
We’re not mad about tying everything up in a big bow. We don’t like to give loads of backstory: “And thus we see that this is because he was wearing a really thick Kevlar jacket….” We don’t like to do all of that because it’s quite boring and procedural, and we try to stay away as much as we can from the procedural. I think it’s probably safe to say we never quite find out how it happened.
Jodie and Sandra both say that you just can’t kill Konstantin. It sounds like it was a popular decision to keep him alive.
Everybody adores him. Kim is the most fantastic person, not just for his onscreen presence, but what he is as a member of the team. He’s amazing. None of us wants to see him dead.
At the end of the episode, Carolyn tells Eve, “I think we’re going to have to get you some protection.” How much is Konstantin brought in for that role, and how much of it is to lure Villanelle back into the fold and/or seek revenge? What can you say about his motivations for returning?
I don’t think you ever really know what his motivations are, but what you do know is that clearly Villanelle has threatened his family in season 1 and his family are a point of weakness for him, so it’ll be interesting to see where his true allegiances lie. He’s clearly got a longstanding relationship with Carolyn. What’s that actually based on? How much will he put Villanelle in front of anybody in his life?
He and Carolyn certainly have a lot of loaded history. Sandra told us that you’ll see them work together and against each other to try to get what they want.
She’s right. Eve is always suspicious of Konstantin. She’s very suspicious of him in season 1. But also she sees that he’s a very useful person professionally. But his relationship with Villanelle is incredibly close, so how much jealousy is there as well? That’s a useful thing to think about. There is a reason why Carolyn introduces Eve to Konstantin. Otherwise Carolyn could just keep Konstantin hidden. Carolyn is always 20 steps ahead of everybody else. She’s not going to introduce those two without having a really big plan.
What can you hint about the dynamic between the four of them moving forward, as he returns to the fold?
If you think of season 2 as ‘Who’s really killing Eve?,’ it’s: Who does Konstantin ultimately love most?
Villanelle is leaving all sorts of clues for Eve — the biblical apple, the toilet brush like Eve pulled on Villanelle in the bathroom. Emerald Fennell [the show’s head writer] mentioned that lipstick will be a big clue. So far these have been tied to murders. Do these signals get more complex? Do they take different forms?
They probably take more of a personal spin to them. If the earlier signals were an apple and the loo brush, which are murder clues, and they feel quite traditional to a genre, where a killer is showing off about the fact that they can get away with it, what is her next stage of showing off? How close can she get to Eve? How much is she going to play to Eve’s ego?
We saw Eve and Villanelle almost cross paths, when Villanelle was taken away in the car by Raymond. How close are we to an actual reunion between these two?
They both want to be in each other’s close proximity. How long will they actually stay away from each other? Couldn’t tell you when that might resolve.
It’s very chilling when Raymond almost chokes her out, and you feel bad for Villanelle in the moment; as murderous as she is, she is a victim to some extent, being exploited and manipulated by this string of handlers. What should we expect from Raymond?
We love Raymond. We love the casting of Raymond. It’s the first time that villanelle has come up against a real sadist, really. Unlike Konstantin, who we always saw like a talent manager — he sort of knew he had this extraordinary commodity, and he needed to get the best out of her, and he was constantly trying to work out how to do that without her spinning off — Raymond actually doesn’t give a hoot about her as an individual. His way of operating is quite cruel, and he’s not beyond calling her on stuff that would impact on her emotionally, as well as stuff that would impact on her physically. But Villanelle is also incredibly clever. How long is she going to let him have the upper hand?
The last handler didn’t last too long.
Because he was patronizing, whereas Konstantin genuinely appreciates her artistry and her genius and also knows that to get the best out of her. He has to keep her happy, but he does without patronizing her, he’s sort of the fun uncle. But it’s all about manipulation. And he’s just really good at it. And this guy is playing with fire but at the same time he’s bloody dangerous. And Villanelle is still really injured. And she hasn’t got her wherewithal. For the first time probably for quite a few years, her confidence has been rocked a little bit. She’s been physically injured, she’s got no money, she’s got s— clothes. What does that do to her?….
She’s still this extraordinary killer, and then she gets into this skanky old Volvo, which we took a long time in choosing — I love a Volvo, they’re a very practical car, and I’m sure that that’s what Raymond thought as well. And she finds that really insulting. You’re beating her a bit, and you’re waiting for when she’s going to rise up. That is interesting because in season 1, you feel like she’s completely infallible.
I wanted to ask you the discussions you had about that moment in the season premiere, when Villanelle crosses a line and snaps the neck of a recently orphaned teenager, Gabriel (Pierre Atri). Was it simply a mercy kill in Villanelle’s mind? And was there a concern of “Can we get away with this or will people turn on Villanelle?”
We discussed whether it was a mercy kill, and also how much Villanelle actually rationalizes her kills. But I think at the moment for her, she’s going, “Oh s—, I wouldn’t want to live like that.” And it’s just a moment, and she is without fear, she’s got no moral compass to tell her that this isn’t the right thing to do, and it was a very easy thing for her to do at that moment. She’s very good at it, and I think she thought, “Well… why not?” And of course you think, “Can we?”
We also debated the age of Gabriel — how old should he be? You don’t do anything like that lightly, but at the same time, I would have had a much bigger issue doing it if the show didn’t have the black comic truthful streak to it. If we were making a serious commentary about somebody’s worthwhile life, then I’d have much more problem with it. But you’re not. It’s Villanelle, and she’s an extraordinary being with a very different moral code and sense of the rational. So, lots of debate but it’s a great moment.
Can you leave us with a cryptic clue for episode 3?
I think it’s interesting about cat owners.