What if an assassin was a whole lot of fun to watch? That’s where Killing Eve, the television series based on the Luke Jennings series of Villanelle novels, begins. We open on Jodie Comer’s Villanelle enjoying some ice cream, while across the shop, a little girl is doing the same. They share a smile, one genuine, and one that’s a little off. Villanelle then leaves, but as she is doing so, she smacks ice cream all over the little girl’s dress.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the showrunner of season one, who has written and starred in Crashing and Fleabag previous to this (among other acting roles and theatre work), has adapted and developed a character in Villanelle that is hard to take your eyes off of. She is quick-witted, enthusiastic, fascinated about her job and can’t wait for the next one… but she is also psychopathic and, to the detriment of anyone around her and perhaps worse than the psychopathy, quite bored. Comer nearly outshines everything else in the show when combined with the writing, her unpredictability in how she will play a scene and how her character will act, adding an extra layer of suspense to an already thrilling spy thriller show.
But then there’s Sandra Oh’s character, the titular Eve. She is the head of a newly formed group meant to take down the ring that gives Villanelle her missions and to figure out why those targets, in particular, are being taken out. It is a compelling role that Oh plays wonderfully, a just as enthusiastic enjoyer of all things murder. She grows a fascination with Villanelle and her methods.
And so the game of cat and mouse bounces back and forth, the mouse and cat trading places at any given time. It may not seem that way at first glance, as one is infinitely more dangerous than the other, but the speed and competency of Eve in her work is a force to be reckoned with.
The writing and voice of the show are spectacularly engaging. Characters have their way with words, some pithy, some with little tics, their interactions giving a wonder to who they are while also adding flavor to the scene at hand. Waller-Bridge has pulled this off well in the past in previously mentioned shows like Crashing and Fleabag, as she is able to nail down her characters and what makes them work in impressive fashion. The use of backstory as the story is a welcome way of doing justice to its characters. It does this by each piece of backstory for Villanelle being used as a way to move the story forward, as that piece of information leads to a clue that happens to be part of the ongoing developments. It’s a novel way of never relying on exposition and rather using it to its advantage. There’s also always a hook or a twist to each episode, adding a new wrinkle to the story but never leaving it convoluted or with pieces that are unnecessary. Each part of the storytelling ends up meaning something, in one way or another.
The style of the show is another great highlight. Villanelle’s fashion sense and love of nice things are always entertaining. The show crashes the words of each city on the screen with each transition, a large booming noise to accompany it. The music is mostly a pop sound, never anything too recognizable and fitting to the tone and pace of the particular moment. There’s a refreshing energy in how the show carries itself.
It’s also a great thing for the show to focus on two female leads. It’s becoming more and more natural on television for the lead of a show to be a woman, but having two leads be as strong and capable as they are is a welcome sight.
The finale has far more comedic beats than anticipated and is a great end to an incredible season of television. Shows like Barry and Patriot are great spy/assassin shows that take their humor to dark and really powerful places at times. Killing Eve manages to do similar things with its subject matter but injects a spin on it, where an obsession is taking place almost like a snake eating its tail: you don’t know where one begins and the other ends. Eve and Villanelle are different, to be sure, but there’s a forceful obsession for each other not like anything in television since Hannibal. It’s the clear standout of 2018 so far, and another season to look forward to is going to be a hell of a wait.
Killing Eve airs on BBC America, and is returning for a second season in 2019.