Killing Eve is a show about obsessions. Brutal assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is obsessed with crafting the perfect murder. To see that, you only need look at how gleeful the assassin was during the “I’ll Deal With Him Later” episode as she concocted a deadly “perfume” to kill a fragrance mogul. Villanelle does “like the breathy ones.” On the other side of this cat and mouse game is MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), who is obsessed with finding the international hit-woman.
Yet, one obsession brings these two women, and their spy thriller together: hair. If you weren’t sure just how much Killing Eve cares about hair, the episode entitled “Don’t I Know You?” makes everything crystal clear. And, the episodes likely points toward the key to understanding what makes Villanelle tick.
Since the BBC drama’s premiere this month, the bloody series has proven to be a tightly-plotted story. Anything we see on screen is supposed to tell us about these characters, down to the moments they spend in quiet cafes or in front of bathroom doors. So, even Villanelle’s seemingly out-of-the-blue seduction of a married, middle-aged American woman named Pamela (Susie Trayling) towards the beginning of “Know You” means something. The meaning is that Villanelle is far more fixated on her new lover’s hair than anything else.
As Villanelle pushes an exhilarated but nervous Pamela up against a door frame, the for-hire killer urges her latest conquest, “Take your hair down.” It’s an obvious echo of Villanelle’s series premiere chance encounter with Eve, where the pair unwittingly ran into each other in a hospital bathroom. Villanelle, struck by Eve’s gorgeous, full-bodied mane of waves, stares at the agent’s head for an uncomfortably long amount of time until she says upon leaving, “Wear it down.” Eve obliges. Now, after three weeks of Killing Eve, it’s clear Eve and Pamela have exactly the same type of voluminous, beautiful, and extremely dark tresses.
While these women’s coifs are near-identical, the difference between these two scenes is what happens after Villanelle gets the object of her current attention's hair down. In “Nice Face,” Villanelle’s chat with Eve about optimal hairstyling is where their debut instalment encounter ends (because Villanelle has murdering to do). In “Don’t I Know You,” on the other hand, that conversation is only the beginning. Once Pamela pulls out her hair tie, Villanelle is obviously seducing Pamela’s hair, as opposed to the woman herself. She runs her hands through its strands with an awe-struck face and purrs, “You are so sexy,” while staring more at Pamela’s locks than poor, confused Pamela herself.
Soon enough it becomes evident Villanelle is trying to live out whatever fantasy she has around Eve and her magical hair, as she flatly tells Pamela she is going to call her “Eve.” Oh, and, Villanelle is going to hide, so you better find her Pamel… I mean Eve. Later, Villanelle joyfully plans to dress Pamela in Eve's stolen clothing.
The easiest way to explain all of this hair-based flirtation is that Villanelle is obsessed with Eve and has turned the woman’s wild, tumbling tresses into the symbol for her fixation. But, a few scenes suggest there is something bigger at play here than the appropriate level of reverence for Sandra Oh’s mane.
The first moment to remember hails from second episode “Deal With Him Later,” when Villanelle and the ill-fated Sebastian (Charlie Hamblett) are on their walking date. As Sebastian prattles on about something the longtime killer definitely doesn’t care about, Villanelle is wonderstruck by a random woman walking in the opposite direction. The woman is Eve and Pamela’s hair twin. Villanelle literally stops moving and turns her entire body to continue looking at the stranger, all while Sebastian blathers about Paris. Villanelle’s level of interest is so high, Sebastian asks his date if she knows the stranger. The answer is no, however, it appears as if she’s staring at a ghost.
So, we now understand how Villanelle behaves when she sees someone who reminds her of someone else. Coincidentally, Villanelle acts precisely as silently shocked and gripped when she sees Eve for the first time in that series premiere hospital bathroom. Her reaction is so intense, Eve asks Villanelle, whom she has never met before and is dressed as a nurse, if she is “alright” in much the same concerned manner Sebastian questioned the young woman about that unidentified woman in Paris. This spellbound display begs the question: who is Eve a ghost of?
The answer might be hiding in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in “I’ll Deal With Him Later.” During the episode, Villanelle’s handler Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) brings the assassin to their shared shadowy organisation’s version of a psychologist. Konstantin wants to make sure his charge remains appropriately cold-blooded, and she seems to pass all of the tests until the specialist asks Villanelle if she “still has dreams about Anna.” For the first, and so far the only time in Killing Eve, we see a chink in Villanelle’s armour as she becomes physically uncomfortable and almost teary-eyed.
When you look closely at the drawing of “Anna,” it’s just an outline of a woman and only her hair — no features. The shaded-in hair looks exactly like Eve’s, Pamela’s, and that woman on the Parisian street’s. This “Anna,” whoever she is, is the locus of all of Villanelle's attention. The merry murderer might not care about dead dogs, cries for mercy, or poisoned lovers, but Villanelle does apparently care about Anna.
Series One of Killing Eve is available as a box set on BBC iPlayer now