Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s affinity for girls behaving badly was at the center of her last project for the BBC, Fleabag, in which the female protagonist steals, seduces, and cracks rape jokes. With Killing Eve—which Waller-Bridge adapted from author Luke Jennings’s Villanelle series—she uses the same whip-smart voice to explore women whose bad behavior extends beyond the limits of rapacious sexuality and crass humor: specifically, to murderous psychopaths. This crime thriller stars Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri, a bored MI5 agent turned spy with a morbid interest in female killers and who’s tasked with tracking down the mysterious Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a mercurial Russian assassin who’s the suspect in a series of high-profile murders.
On paper, Eve’s pursuit of Villanelle is the stuff of standard thriller fare: good versus evil, upstanding government agent versus lawless criminal. But the pair deviates from the norm, engaging in a mutually obsessive pursuit of one another. When Eve’s colleagues and husband, Niko (Owen McDonnell), learn the gruesome details of a sex-trafficking Russian politician’s assassination, they react with sober expressions and mutters of “awful.” Eve, however, is more intrigued than disgusted, calling the details of the murder “cool.”
When we first meet Eve, she’s hung over, late for a meeting, and brazen about wagering that the assassin was a woman while her colleagues solemnly discuss the case. Eve’s office job primarily consists of scut work, which inevitably causes her mind to wander, and the series homes in on her interest in what drives a person—specifically, a woman—to kill. At times, her morose curiosity seems to border on envy, as if she too could kill, if only she possessed the motivation. At home, poring over images of the aforementioned Russian politician, Eve admires the skill with which Villanelle, according to the MI6 report, is able to swiftly locate and attack the femoral artery—and so she punctures her own thigh with a paring knife, curiously watching the blood ooze from the wound. Later, when she attempts to explain her fascination to Carolyn Martins (Fiona Shaw), a lead MI6 agent who taps Eve for an unofficial secret agent gig, she can only manage to sputter, “I’m just a fan.”
The series combines a dry comedy’s affection for the mundane with the slick style of a psychosexual thriller.
There’s a sense that Eve represents a stand-in for Waller-Bridge, who’s similarly focused on the relationship between femininity and criminality. Eve’s fascination with Villanelle partly has to do with the prolificacy and panache of the woman’s crimes: Villanelle has carried out murders in at least 10 countries, using objects as unassuming as a hair pin (her weapon of choice to kill a Tuscan mafia boss). But Eve is also impressed by how Villanelle seems to have no moral code. There’s something undeniably alluring about Villanelle’s complete disregard for the consequences of her actions, and it helps that her behavior is often mordantly funny. When we first encounter the killer, she’s sweetly smiling at a little girl in a restaurant, only to knock the girl’s ice cream into her lap as she exits, a smirk plastered on her face. Later, she relishes in undermining her compulsory psychological assessment, arriving to the meeting in a flamboyant pink dress just to get a rise out of her superior.
When Eve sets out to gather information about Villanelle, the assassin begins to conduct detective work of her own, researching her pursuer’s identity following a tipoff from an MI5 mole. Villanelle uses devious tactics to intimidate and puzzle Eve, and it’s not long before their cat-and-mouse game takes on a sexual valence. When Eve describes Villanelle to a forensic artist, she notes, with a far-off look in her eye, the killer’s smooth, bright skin, her arresting gaze that’s “both direct and also chilling.”
Killing Eve suggests a delightfully demented, considerably more violent spin on Broad City, Insecure, and Waller-Bridge’s own Fleabag. Those programs are wryly comical and sexually frank, with complex female relationships at their center, and Killing Eve brings us all those attributes in the guise of a crackerjack mystery. The series combines a dry comedy’s affection for the mundane with the slick look and tone of a psychosexual thriller, and the result is something wholly original, suspenseful, and caustically funny.