When I watched Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag I loved it almost immediately. It isn't a show that's trying to be loved and by in fault of that, it becomes one that you want to recommend to everyone you know. Waller-Bridge flips the "flawed female protagonist" trope on its head in Fleabag and completely demolishes it in Killing Eve.
It doesn’t quite fit into one category; it is part dark comedy, part spy drama, part cat and mouse thriller. It will pull you in and spit you out a seemingly different person, one that is adept at being able to predict how a psychopathic assassin will execute her plan of, er, execution.
Killing Eve also exists in a zeitgeist of a TV landscape that champions original content but is also quick to reboot shows from the 90s and early 2000s for reasons that are beyond me. But this series -- which is an adaptation of the Codename Villanelle novelas by Luke Jennings -- strikes the perfect mix of intrigue and entertainment. You’ll love it without realizing all of the reasons why until you’ve started to try and describe it to someone else and before you know it, 20 minutes have passed and your friend’s eyes have glazed over not because what you’re saying is boring but because you're talking in circles.
Eve Polastri is a deskbound British intelligence agent (who, for clarification, was born in the UK, grew up in Connecticut and then moved back) that lives with her “nice and good” husband, Nico, in London. She has a thankless job that she is too smart for, great hair, and a penchant for female serial killers. When she learns of the string of murders being committed by an assassin with a distinct style of execution and no fear of being caught, i.e. leaving DNA evidence at the scene of the crime, Eve believes that the killer is a woman. This is in fact true, and the aforementioned killer (played by Jodie Comer) goes by the moniker of Villanelle, “an unfeeling adrenaline junkie, someone who murders not for vengeance but for pleasure.”
The mediocrity of Eve's day to day life is directly juxtaposed with Villanelle's indulgences of the most hedonistic form. She might be a psychopath but we can still envy her wardrobe, her hair, her skin’s ability to never look gaunt after many a sleepless nights. Villanelle’s aura of allure doesn’t escape Eve -- that is her MO, her way of charming her way into intimate situations with her soon to be victims -- but it is often a challenge to keep a safe distance away from someone that has taken as much of an interest in you as you have in them.
While Eve and Villanelle only encounter each other in person a handful of times, they become so intertwined in one another’s lives that when they do meet face to face, you don’t know what to expect. This element of surprise is one that runs through all of the scenes with Eve and Villanelle, and it is one of the best things about the show.
When Villanelle breaks into Eve’s house she doesn’t try to physically harm her, she just wants to have dinner with her. Eve heats a pre-made shepherd’s pie and watches on as this serial assassin sits in her house, eats her food, and tries to bamboozle her into thinking that she wants out of this whole killing people in cold blood as a profession game. As a viewer I’m happy to see Eve calling her out on her bullshit (her words) but can’t help but laugh when Villanelle dramatically asks, “Can we get one thing clear before we go on with this? Is that a sweater attached to a shirt? Is it two separate pieces? How does it work?” This is what Phoebe Waller-Bridge is so adept at doing; undercutting tension with humor.
There are many instances in the series that force us to think about what the endgame is for these two characters. Eve wants Villanelle dead -- she said so after she killed one of Eve’s partners and dear friends, Bill -- but she has opportunities to do so without putting herself in harm’s way. Eve is very clearly not a trained assassin and would stand virtually no chance against Villanelle if she caught her off guard -- see her trying to fend her off with a toilet brush -- but because Villanelle occupies Eve’s mind and the physical space around her, the boundaries between spy and assassin, cat and mouse, start to cease to exist.
It is in fact Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s intention to blur the lines so much that we’re left wanting to know more about why these two people can’t seem to get enough of each other. “I don’t think they could articulate it,” Waller-Bridge tells IndieWire. “When I realized I couldn’t articulate it, but I could feel it as a writer, that allowed me to give them the same dilemma; that they would never be able to explain to anyone else in the world what it is about the other.”
By the end of the season, the surface level of tension rises so high that the final episode is a 40 minutes of holding your breath waiting for the next shoe to drop. When the most significant line of dialogue is just three words uttered from Eve, “God, I’m tired” it feels only fitting that we’re left with more questions by the time the credits start rolling. Are these characters exactly who we think they are, who we expect them to be?
With a story like this one, it’s better to not try and predict what is to come. Savor every moment of Sandra Oh’s performance as Eve -- a long overdue opportunity to show off the acting chops she has spent 30 years honing -- that is every bit funny, down to earth, and witty. Her identity as a first generation Korean-Canadian makes her Emmy nomination historic for the Asian community but is a reminder of all of the talent that has been overlooked by Hollywood in the past and present.
It is easy to want to project our wildest fantasies of a just and feminist world onto the Killing Eve universe; a world where women have as many opportunities to be assassins as their male counterparts. Killing Eve does not have to be a beacon for the future of television; it would be unfair to presume that every show starring women has to speak for a future generation of actresses, writers, and producers. It didn't have to be groundbreaking to be good. It just happens to be both.