Killing Eve – TV Review By Diana Perez Garcia
First episode of Season 2 airs Wednesday the 10th of April at 9.35pm on RTE
“Women don’t stab”, states a French teenage boy in the first episode of the second season of Killing Eve, clearly in need of catching up with the first offering of this spy drama series centring on the obsessive and spellbinding relationship between MI5 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and Russian assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). When it first aired on BBC America last year, Killing Eve slinked into the kind of territory previously tread on by the likes of Luc Besson’s Nikita to shatter any illusion that it would follow the tradition of killer sexbots rocking a Parabellum and a little black dress. The women in Killing Eve lead exceptional lives where arch-conspiracies and finely calculated assassinations are par for the course but they are not upstaged by the grand guignol they play a part in. One of the many virtues of the series’ first season was its ability to inject the fine grain of the lives of its fully fledged protagonists into a conventional (if very well told) spy/assassin thriller.
The creator and writers of Killing Eve, probably influenced by their novelistic source, understand that the admittance of the domestic and personal, however awkward and, on occasion, unglamorous, enriches, rather than hampers, their material. And this is where the intertwining of the personal and the professional, often cursorily disposed of where the protagonist is male, becomes an asset for the series. The recognition of everyday female experience introduces the kind of detail that keeps scenes alive for the viewer. The women in Killing Eve borrow each other’s tinted lip balm, compliment each other on their choice of shampoo, and pick the kind of frock that flatters a body without seeking to flatter a man. They admire the décor of a nemesis’ apartment (“chic as shit” is how Eve Polastri satisfies her boss Carolyn Marten’s (Fiona Shaw) curiosity about Villanelle’s Parisian abode in this new offering), they neglect their spouses and lie to their offspring. The domestic is simultaneously comforting and problematic, as illustrated in an emotionally charged scene in the opening episode of this season when Eve’s failed attempt to cook “Nigella’s chicken” becomes the prelude to her PTSD unravelling later on.
Not only does Killing Eve not shy away from depicting the difficulty and difference that female experience poses in the context of espionage, it actively subverts cultural expectations of femininity to surprise and delight its viewers. Thus Sandra Oh’s Eve is a version of the hapless ugly duckling of countless romantic comedies and female dramas: a mature woman who, at the beginning of the series, seems to be hopelessly destined to narrate a decline without former glory. Her timidity and hesitation are precisely, and surprisingly, what make her so dangerous. In the words of Villanelle, “you can see scary people a mile away. It is good people you have to worry about.” Villanelle is thinking about Eve when she says those words but she could be describing her lethal use of her own sweet soft features and dulcet tones. The two women are poles apart but they are, each in their own way, simultaneously deadly and gauche.
We may have finally arrived at true liberation for female roles written for the screen. We seem to have left behind the stage where female characters could only be vindicated through a mixture of competence and virtue. Killing Eve is a fine example of the rejection of that model. Eve and Villanelle are charming and destructive in equal parts and hopelessly drawn to each other. These women are self-involved and involved with each other to the point of breathless disregard for their personal safety. In following the compulsive relationship between Eve and Villanelle, Killing Eve has not only given us one of the greatest long distance relationships to ever grace our TV screens, it has also set the template for the possibility of a female Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. The French teenage boy was wrong: not only can women stab you; they can twist the knife all the way in.