Killing Eve producer breaks down that shocking Niko scene
"It's far better to do something dramatic with him," says Sally Woodward Gentle.
Warning: The story contains spoilers about Sunday's episode of Killing Eve, "Still Got It."
A show with murder in the title, Killing Eve opened its third season by further traumatizing estranged MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), as she witnessed her friend plummet off the roof of his office and splat onto the ground, sending her on a mission to try to figure out what far-reaching conspiracy led to his demise. But the spy thriller's fourth episode cut even closer to the bone for Eve — and possibly right through her wedding band.
In “Still Got It,” Eve’s frustrated, mustachioed, marked-for-doom husband Niko (Owen McDonnell) — who had been receiving psychiatric treatment at a hospital after being terrorized by Villanelle (Jodie Comer) — checked out of treatment to retreat to his native Poland, where he was spending his days cheerily working as a bakery deliveryman. But his respite from danger was short-lived, as Villanelle's former/current mentor, Dasha (Harriet Walter), had followed him to Poland with a nefarious plan to refocus the “skittish” Villanelle by driving her and Eve apart. She swiped his cell phone at a pub, lured Eve via text into visiting him to work through their problems, and posed as a friend of a woman on Niko's delivery route, asking him to fix the barn door. When Eve excitedly arrived at the scene, Niko looked confused-to-not-thrilled to see his wife, but before he could process why Eve was in Poland, Dasha drove a pitchfork straight through his neck. She left a note (“Still got it”) on the weapon to frame Villanelle, left Niko utterly forked and bleeding out on the ground, and left Eve to collapse in sharp shock. Once again.
So... did Poland's newest baker just meet his maker? Has Dasha uncorked a chain of events that will worsen Villanelle's problems? And how the hell will Eve come back from this latest tragedy? Let's open the barn doors and welcome in Killing Eve executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Niko, too? How did the writers decide on this twist of plot and that thrust of a pitchfork?
SALLY WOODWARD GENTLE: Poor Niko has had it coming for a very long time, and he's dodged the bullet. Eve has actually been quite vile to him for years. He's been desperately abused by her. She has gaslit him several times. When he found his lovely teacher [a.k.a. Gemma, played by Emma Pierson] to hang out with, I think we all hoped that maybe Niko would be happy. There’s always been a sense that actually Niko and Eve do really, really love each other, but have got to that point in their relationship where they know they can never get back to how it was before. So at some point, Niko probably had to get it. And it's far better to do something dramatic with him than it is for him to just file for divorce.
Having Dasha dispatch him felt right because back actually in season 1, you got a sense that Niko wasn't long for this world and we even started thinking then about how he might go. And lovely Owen — who we adore — had always realized that he was wandering around with something very dangerous hanging over his head. But as the story progressed, it is probably right that it wasn't Villanelle who did it. And perhaps in trying to frame Villanelle, Dasha doesn't understand as well as she thinks she does what the dynamic is between Eve and Villanelle. Also, it’s great fun to have Dasha really demonstrate how dangerous of an assassin she was in her own day, and how her ruthless skills and the sense of humor probably rubbed off a little bit on Villanelle, who always has a very, very dark sense of humor. You can understand what that dynamic may have been like when Dasha was training her up. You can see that in episode 1, where they knew to trust each other and yet they both find it hysterically funny that they both don’t trust each other.
Can you confirm that Niko is dead? He seemed to be in a death rattle at the end of the episode.
I can never confirm, one way or another, whether a character is dead or not.
What was Owen's reaction when you pitched him the pitchfork?
Owen’s reaction was, “I always knew it was coming. I just never quite knew how. Or when.” [Laughs] Owen is fantastic. He's a fabulous actor, a very generous and loyal human being. And he gets a great episode.
Will we see him again this season, whether it's flashback form or otherwise?
I’m not saying.
As you hinted, Dasha may have just set off events that could backfire on her. The woman from the Twelve said that killing Eve carried too many other complications, but was this the most effective path? It seems now that Eve would be gunning for vengeance.
You’d think. We know that Eve has got a very deep darkness inside her. I think Dasha would probably need to watch her back if Eve ever discovered that it was her.
Eve is already pretty broken. She’s still recovering from that gunshot wound, not to mention Kenny's death. Is she now power-activated by this? Can she even handle this? She’s been through so much.
She has been through so much, and we’ve just got to keep watching to see what she does and the impact of it. What is really going to break Eve? And how much resilience has she got? And is she in a place where that resilience will get her through because of the power of her fury? At some point, she's going to crash, but I don't know when that's going to be. What really fires you? Are you going to give up and are you just going to fall into a crumpled heap? Or is it going to motivate you? You do weird things when you're in grief. You can have extraordinary depths of power and energy. And maybe that is something that Eve could draw on.
Whether Niko is dead or not, how much guilt and responsibility does Eve feel for what just happened — and for dragging him into this whole international espionage mess? As she told Jamie (Danny Sapani), “I was unfaithful to my husband and put him in so much danger. He ended up in the hospital with PTSD.” We’ve also seen that Niko has a generous reserve of anger toward her.
You’d think that she’d feel incredibly guilty, but it doesn’t really stop her from pursuing a very dangerous cause. I think she's closer to Villanelle in lots of ways. She has moments where she is the center of her own universe. And definitely in season 2, she felt that she was pursuing something that was worthwhile and justified. The pain, the collateral damage that it caused to people around her — she felt that that was justified because what she was pursuing was so important and it had a bigger end. And I don't think she's really completely shaken that off. Is it too painful to look at what the collateral damage has been for you, obsessing over this one woman? And ultimately, what is your future with them?
Let's say that Eve had shown up and Niko didn't receive that pitchforking. He was startled to see her, naturally. What would've happened next? Was there any hope for repair?
Eve probably needs to question: Why has he decided to go off to Poland and not tell [her] that that's what he was doing — and actually seemed so happy once he got there? He seemed fantastic. I think there may have been [hope], but their relationship and their dynamic — I can't imagine them going straight back in to being a couple. It would take an awful lot. I think there is residual love there. He was her rock, a person that could call her on the insanity of what she was doing, and could remind her that she was a good human being and the person that he married was somebody with a fantastic moral core and generosity. Kenny [Sean Delaney] could call her on that, and Bill [David Haig] could call her on that, and Kenny and Bill have both got it. So I do think that Eve would have understood in a moment of quiet that actually Niko was a really, really good thing for her, but it just depends on how quickly they'd have got to that point. I think Niko needed a really nice, long time working in the bakery in Poland before he's ready to take that on.
You have a lot of affection for Eve, being our protagonist, but I’m struck by how you and the writers sound so staunchly Team Niko. Is that a fair assumption?
I think most people felt, “Poor, poor Niko.” There were some people that went, “Why didn’t he leave her sooner?” [Laughs] So there's a degree of that. So I think that it's fair to say that there's a lot of people that loved — and love — Niko and what he stood for, but probably thought that he was too tolerant for too long, and something needed to give.
Something gave. That's for sure. Villanelle has always wanted Eve for herself — and has gone after Niko before. In one way, this helps clear the path for that. How might she react when she learns what happened — and that she was framed by Dasha?
I also think that Villanelle hasn’t really given two hoots that Niko might be in the way of her and Eve. I don't think it would stop her for a moment. But what I think she would care about is if anything were to shake Eve’s perception of [her], then definitely that wouldn’t be a good thing. So I think that it proves that Dasha probably hadn't thought this one through properly.
How suspicious will Eve be that Villanelle may not have written the note?
I’d suspect that Eve would know that there's no way that Villanelle would do this before she looked into any forensic evidence. It would be an instinct thing about the person that she knows.
In other news, Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) is sniffing out that Geraldine (Gemma Whelan) is hiding something from her — a meeting – while Geraldine is accusing her mom of hiding some things from her, at least emotionally.
When she's driving up towards her house, she sees Konstantin [Kim Bodnia] walking away, and she challenges Geraldine and says, “What’s your day been like?” And Geraldine withholds that bit of information. Carolyn's a spy; she’s not stupid. She's used to reading people and seeing when people are trying to hide information. And Geraldine is her daughter. I love that relationship so much. It's got a long way to go. And not only that, Konstantin, who I don't think Carolyn ever trusts, is clearly playing a very dangerous game. Carolyn's a dangerous person, and if she thinks that Konstantin is — how many people has he pissed off? Now he's got Carolyn on his case as well.
Is Irina (Yuli Lagodinsky) right? Is Konstantin in danger because he's in desperate need of a plan?
He is a man in need of a plan that holds water. [Laughs]
In the last scene of the episode, Villanelle gets off the train in Russia. Konstantin seems to have delivered on his end of the bargain, giving her information on family members she thought were dead. What can you tease about this Villanelle-centric episode when she tracks down her family?
This is something that everybody has lied to her about. So ever since she got picked up to be trained as an assassin, one of the ways to control her was to say, “There is no option for you. There’s nobody there for you. They probably didn’t love you in the first place. By the way, they’re all dead.” It’s twofold. To realize that you've been manipulated is a very powerful thing for somebody like Villanelle, who wants to be in control and feel that she is where all the power lies. That's one thing that has really driven her. And then to try to find out why, if people are still alive, nobody came to try to find you is a big thing. Again, that would impact on her ego. And she’s spent quite a long time trying to think about who she is, so to be faced with your family and to try to analyze where you came from or how self-determining you are is going to be fascinating for a character like Villanelle, who’s really quite analytical, but at the same time, at the moment, quite emotionally volatile.
There’s much about Villanelle's past that might illuminate who she is, including her obsession with herself, down to what she looked like as a baby, and the childish actions she takes. Does next week's episode shed light on these behavior(s)?
I think it does. It’s funny, in the [writers’] room for season 4, we were just talking about what our characters’ sense of humor is, and Villanelle’s sense of humor is quite sharp. It's quite childish. She finds silly things quite funny, and she finds absurdity quite funny. To see where that might have come from is good. But also I think a lot of this season is about family in the sense of belonging, and where you feel comfortable. And episode 5 might challenge Villanelle as to what she really wants out of life and what feels good.
Considering what happened to Kenny in the season premiere, and what happened to Niko here, we ask: How much bloodier is this season going to get? How much more damage — collateral or otherwise —are we headed toward in the back half of the season?
There are a lot more people that we care about who have got it this year. And we're not over that yet.