It’s difficult to get me to truly buy into a new adult drama that doesn’t have the sudsiness of Shonda Rhimes attached. After all, when the world around you seems to get gloomier every day, what’s the point of adding another serious show to your TV roster? Well, the point is sometimes there’s a series so gripping and so unique, it’s worth following into the darkness. Upcoming BBC America drama Killing Eve is that show, and you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you miss it.
The upcoming assassin thriller, premiering Sunday, August 8, gives us the wild story of two unstoppable women technically at odds. There’s Eve Polastri (Grey Anatomy alum Sandra Oh), a British-born, American-raised MI5 employee who is stuck at a desk job when we meet her, and Villanelle (Jodie Comer), who is certainly not stuck to anything other than her knack for killing. Villanelle is a world-class international hit-woman with definite sociopathic tendencies.
Our first glimpse at the assassin tells us everything we need to know without her saying a word. In the drama’s very first scene, Villanelle is alone in a Vienna cafe, seemingly making cute faces at a little girl eating ice cream a few tables away. Then Killing Eve pans out, and you really understand the scene. Villanelle is actually copying the friendly facial expressions of a man who works at the eatery. Once the killer gets the child to trust her from afar, she leaves, but not before smacking the girl’s bowl of ice cream directly into her stomach in one precise, lightening quick motion. When you see Villanelle’s face again, the smile on her face is genuine for the first time.
There’s an atmosphere of tight suspense in the opening moment of the premiere (which is already available on the BBC America site) as you realize both the malevolence hiding behind Villanelle’s faux kind eyes and the fact there’s already blood on her watch.
The tension of this scene proves to be only a fraction of the breathless action to come in Killing Eve, which is created and showrun by Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag fame. In fact, I quite literally realized I had forgotten to breathe while taking in some of the series’ more stressful sequences. Yes, plural, because I tested my respiratory system far too many times throughout the seven episodes given to critics from Eve's eight-episode freshman year. While one would expect that kind of health-threatening habit was spurned by castration-happy Villanelle’s many creative kills — you will have a newfound fear of hairpins and perfume bottles by the time the season is up — it’s not.
Instead, the true heart-stopping drama comes from watching Villanelle and the titular Eve, who ditches her tedious desk job for a boots on the ground spy gig following a series of unfortunate events, square off against each other, even when they’re separated by hundreds of miles.
While Villanelle is obviously one of the greatest assassins alive, oftentimes with powerful, very bad men for prey, Eve proves to be just as formidable in her own way. The analyst-turned-agent is doggedly obsessive, extremely intuitive, and unapologetically relentless. While this battle of wills would be exciting in itself, it becomes pop culturally addictive when you realize it’s being played out on a field much larger than expected. There is a massive conspiracy at hand, and these two indomitable women are two ingenious parts of a world-spanning, deadly puzzle.
The tension of Killing Eve’s globetrotting machinations is only rivaled by watching our heroine and antiheroine becoming increasingly fixated on each other. It’s immediately clear Eve has an obsession with the freedom and ferocity of women assassins, and, in Villanelle, she finds the perfect avatar for said obsession. As Eve becomes more focused on understanding what makes her target tick, Villanelle simply becomes obsessed with the woman hunting her. From there, much clothing is sniffed, terrifying visits are made, and haunting backstories are uncovered. Although nothing is explicitly sexual between these mutual fanatics, the entire situation is not not sexual either. That much is proven as you see how both ladies’ sex lives take a turn once they enter each other’s orbits.
All together, the BBCA thriller captures that very extreme feeling of when you’re so obsessed with another person you’re not sure if you want to date them, be them, or kill them and wear their skin.
Although Killing Eve sounds overwhelmingly grim, it avoids tumbling into abject darkness, likely thanks to the black comedy skills of mastermind Waller-Bridge. Comer brings a biting sense of humor to her murderess, who usually finds her bloody profession quite delightful. Even the tiny details of Villanelle end up being funny, like her madcap chirp of a laugh, a single costume choice she makes in episode 2, or the way she dominates during sex. To quote my colleague Kathryn Lindsay, Villanelle has sex “at” a partner, not with him.
For fans of the natural gallows humor Oh brought to Grey's Anatomy for years, don’t worry about Comer getting to have all the fun. Eve is blessed with some wonderful physical comedy moments — who knew quietly eating a croissant could be funny? — and some of of the best lines of the series.
At this point, it's no wonder BBC America already renewed Killing Eve for season 2.
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