Will They, Won’t They (Kill Each Other)

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Allyson Larcom, on women's violence in KILLING EVE, with a review of Season Two.I feel I speak for the majority of fans when I say we were nervous about Season Two of the hit AMC/BBC America spy thriller, Killing Eve. Season One was a masterclass in how to make a good television show: writing, cinematography, costuming, sound design, directing, acting — all of it was prize-worthy. Amongst its litany of nominations, it won star Sandra Oh an Emmy and BAFTAs for showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge, star Jodie Comer, and supporting actress Fiona Shaw.

And then Season One writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge packed up to focus on her other award-winning critical darling of a project (because why stop at one?), BBC’s black comedy sitcom Fleabag, leaving writer friend Emerald Fennell in charge of Killing Eve in her stead. It felt like she was handing Fennell the keys to a brand-new Lamborghini. We’ve been burned by a changing of the showrunning guard before (Community Season four, anyone?). So sure, Waller-Bridge stayed on as a producer, and she hand-picked Fennell to take the wheel, but I still felt like I was holding my breath for the first couple episodes of Season Two, just in case everything Waller-Bridge had built crumbled to the ground without her.

I’m greatly relieved to announce that the show is in fact still very, very good — still masterful, even. Despite some marked differences in tone and humor and a slightly slower start than Season One, Fennell refuses to shy away from the more daring, outrageous aspects of the story and its characters. Instead, she fully leans into them, and over the course of Season Two, crafts a twisty, turny slow-burn romance from which it was impossible to look away. The show, for those out of the loop, follows MI-5 desk agent turned MI-6 field agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and the charming but psychopathic Russian assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in their mutual hunt for one another.

Season Two picks up literally thirty seconds after the end of Season One, using the momentum of that last, violent scene (in which Eve stabs Villanelle in the stomach right as it seems like they’re about to make out) as a springboard to shepherd us into another wildly entertaining and effective eight episodes.

Along with bringing a different sense of humor, Fennell also brings a new sensibility in general to Killing Eve. She romanticizes the Villanelle/Eve dynamic where the first season focused on a sexual tension that felt a lot more like a game being played. The yearning between the two characters feels richer this season, but much of the “will they, won’t they (kill each other)” tension of Season One is missing. In most of Eve and Villanelle’s interactions this season, the audience can feel pretty relaxed that they won’t, which does take a bit of the edge and excitement off certain scenes. Fennell herself is a fan of the horror genre, and when you know what you’re looking for, you can also find horror tropes scattered throughout Season Two, where they weren’t in the previous.

This season relies quite heavily on an episodic parallelism with the first season. Each episode in Season Two hits the same beats that the corresponding episode in Season One did, but often with a twist, a reversal, or a shift in perspective. Season Two shows Eve and Villanelle not just moving towards one another in the sense that they wind up on the same side for a period of time, but psychologically as well. This season gives the two of them reverse development arcs. Throughout the season, Villanelle reveals that, although she can’t so much feel or empathize with other people, she wants to more and more. Eve, meanwhile, chases darkness, spiraling further and further from the safety and normalcy of her old life and towards what feels like a murderous inevitability. Eve makes Villanelle soft; Villanelle makes Eve deadly. This quasi role reversal doesn’t come out of nowhere, though; Season One dropped hints of Eve’s capacity for darkness (and likely sociopathy): her fascination with killers, her ruthlessness in the hunt for Villanelle, her willingness to endanger others to get her way, and that final, brutal act in Paris. It also revealed the humanity in Villanelle: her father-daughter relationship with Konstantin, her sense of humor, her love of movies, her rude but endearing table manners.

Despite all this, what’s exceptional is that the show also doesn’t let its audience forget who Villanelle really is. The narrative doesn’t coddle, excuse, redeem or otherwise woobify her. Often, just as the audience starts to relate to her or feel for her, we’re forced to watch her commit yet another monstrous act. We see her befriend a young boy in a Paris hospital, then snap his neck; open up truthfully to an AA group, then push a woman in front of a truck; charm Eve, then suffocate Niko’s (Eve’s husband, played by Owen McDonnell) friend. The show seems to be testing how far its audience is willing to go for her — how much we can witness and still forgive, or at least let slide. By the same token, it also reveals how far gone Eve really is for her, because Eve witnesses Villanelle commit these same atrocities alongside the audience and still wants her obsessively, romantically.

And Eve does want Villanelle. Any pretense or deniability this show had in Season One about whether or not Villanelle’s attraction was reciprocated is gone. The cast and crew have, on many instances, referred to this season as a “romance,” and the show delivers on that. It’s an interesting take on romance, however — mutually manipulative, undeniably toxic, horrifically violent, and inherently doomed to self-destruct. There have been arguments over whether this kind of morally complex treatment is the right move — on the one hand, do we really need examples of WLW relationships that are so profoundly bad for both people in them? Specifically, does Killing Eve play into the “Depraved Bisexual” trope by depicting Eve and Villanelle’s relationship the way it does? On the other hand, queer attraction in media is rarely this layered and complicated. It’s deeply satisfying for Eve and Villanelle’s unique relationship to get such thoughtful treatment from the show’s writers and actors.

Killing Eve is also exceptional when it comes to how it addresses women’s power. It’s a show whose focus is often on weaponized femininity and the dangers of underestimating women. Season One focused very strongly on the extent of Eve and Villanelle’s capabilities — refreshingly, a show about the violence women can do, rather than the violence done to them. Season Two pits this established female capacity for violence against male power in a way that Season One did not: trapping a weakened Villanelle in a house with a creepy older man, or uniting Villanelle and Eve against billionaire CEO Aaron Peel, who has all the chauvinist privilege in the world. Season Two sees women’s power ultimately victorious but challenged and pushed back against by established power structures. In a sense, it discusses how Eve and Villanelle fare in a world outside their own private one — a world that isn’t just about the two of them. Season One was novel for its depiction of a world where patriarchy often didn’t factor into the equation, and Season Two is satisfying—for showing exactly how capable these women are when faced with patriarchal ramifications.

Ultimately, Killing Eve wants to shift its viewers’ moral framework. It’s a huge part of what makes the show so exhilarating. When you watch, you can place aside whatever you hold as moral truth. You understand that Eve and Villanelle’s dynamic is toxic, but you root for it anyway; you understand that Villanelle is ultimately a remorseless murderer, but you adore her anyway; you understand that Eve is going down an unforgivably dark path, and you follow her there. There’s something exciting about loving what you shouldn’t, about leaving behind your own rules or standards for an hour at a time.

Killing Eve was renewed for a third season after the first episode of Season Two aired. The showrunning baton is being passed again, this time to Suzanne Heathcote (playwright and Fear the Walking Dead writer). Despite more of the nerves that come with another showrunning changeover, the show’s dedication to fostering and showcasing fresh, up-and-coming female talent — and enabling that talent to play around in such a complicated, female-driven, morally-gray world — is a heartening and wonderful mission. Outside the world of the show, that is what makes Killing Eve something truly special.




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About Author

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Allyson Larcom is a Boston-based writer whose work has appeared in The Satirist and Wellesley College's Counterpoint Magazine. Follow her on twitter @allysonlarcom, or visit her website allysonlarcom.wordpress.com to find more of her writing.

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