As Sandra Oh lands an Emmy nod for Killing Eve, Instep reviews the series that is headlined and driven by women and is intriguingly strange, brilliantly cast, darkly humorous and rivetingly suspenseful.
Developed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
*ing: Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer, Fiona Shaw, Darren Boyd, Owen McDonnell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Sean Delaney, David Haig, and Kim Bodnia.
If you give its premise a cursory look, you probably won’t be best impressed with Killing Eve. A thriller about an agent chasing an assassin? That’s hardly original ground. But if you delve a little deeper, you will be rewarded with a show that’s unlike anything else on television.
Based on the Codename Villanelle novella series by author Luke Jennings, the British-made drama is intriguingly strange, brilliantly cast, darkly humorous, and rivetingly suspenseful.
The protagonist is Eve Polastri (portrayed by the wonderful Sandra Oh), an intelligence operative who appears to be bored with every aspect of her life, from personal to professional. The assassination of a politician leads her to connect the killing to a series of such murders, and she comes to believe that the assassin is a woman.
Eve soon becomes fixated on finding the killer, and when she is recruited by the dubious Carolyn Marten (essayed by Fiona Shaw) for an off-the-books assignment to do just that, she finds herself on the trail of the psychopathic Villanelle (the amazing Jodie Comer), a skilled assassin who is hired by an unknown force to carry out murders across Europe.
The women are both drawn towards each other, and develop a strange obsession that leads them into a bizarre chase, with them both going after one another in different ways.
The main characters are fascinatingly odd. Eve is smart, capable, but also impatient and reckless. Villanelle is cocky, ruthless, and completely devoid of remorse, but seductive and magnetic. They’re on the opposite sides of the law; yet they’re both clearly attracted to each other. Their relationship remains almost indefinable. Will they end up teaming up or destroying each other? You’re never quite certain, and therein lies part of the intrigue.
It also helps that the roles are perfectly cast. Sandra Oh effortlessly holds the series together, and Comer is terrific as the fierce yet alluring antagonist who often brings humour to the show despite the darkness she emanates. The latter’s interactions with children at multiple points in the series – a girl at an ice-cream parlour, a boy she encounters during one of her missions, and an annoying child she kidnaps – are among her most memorable and defining scenes.
With women in both the main parts – a choice you won’t find in most spy thrillers – the men are mostly relegated to supporting roles and while they all deliver fine performances, you’re never in any doubt about who is in charge of the series. It’s all about Eve and Villanelle, and a dive into the complex relationship between these two, their bond, attraction, trust (or lack thereof).
The writing is strong throughout; there are quips you’ll be amused by; there are simple exchanges that hold depths of meaning. Phoebe Waller-Bridge deserves praise for the way she has handled the material and brought it from page to screen.
Visually, the show is stunning. Its glittering aesthetics are something Killing Eve has in common with its more traditional predecessors. Gorgeous locales form the backdrop as the action moves from one country to another. Glamorous outfits are donned. The attention to detail in, for instance, creating Villanelle’s apartment is impeccable.
It’s all these strengths that make this show so impressive despite the fact that it isn’t exactly the most realistic of thrillers. Would someone as idiosyncratic as Villanelle who leaves behind as much evidence as she does evade detection and capture for so long? Doubtful. But it’s these same, odd character choices that make the show so intriguing.
Altogether, this is a riveting inaugural season of BBC America’s terrific new show that reels you in with its first scene and keeps you hooked throughout its eight consistently well-made episodes. The acting elevates the material, and it’s a credit to the lead female actors that they make their characters compelling even when they aren’t necessarily likable.
On the whole, the first season of Killing Eve is brutal, bleakly funny, and cunningly unpredictable, and will leave you wanting more, so it’s a good thing that the second season is already in the works.