Killing Eve, the BBC American production of the Codename Villanelle novella series, starts off with a bang. It’s off-kilter enough that you can’t help but wonder what sort of world this is because it sure as hell isn’t ours. The writing is sharp and the characters are charming. What more do you need?
(Spoiler warning: I’m going to be talking about the story of the first season of Killing Eve at tremendous length. It released and wrapped in the span of two months in mid-2018, so this is on you if you keep going. Also, I hope you have a good day.)
A lot, as it turns out. As the series goes on, it loses much of these psychopathy heat and devolves into generic spy thriller fluff. When we first meet Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), she is a fascinating figure. She fits with her peers but she doesn’t quite fit with her job as she manages to do the thing that all good hero spies do and pulls on the one thread everyone else ignores. This, both fortunately and unfortunately, leads to her getting fired but also hired by MI5.
That’s because this thread is tied directly around the inscrutable hits of Villanelle (Jodie Comer), an elite assassin with a penchant for the stylish. Our introduction to her is a wordless visage of this…thing trying to understand how to be human. And just as she’s beginning to get it, she willfully—gleefully, even—abandons it and hits a kid in the face with some ice cream.
It’s a fantastic setup to the very traditional spy versus spy premise. It’s refreshing, even, as we get to see this through the lens of female leads in a male-dominated genre. The surprise of seeing how they attempt to present the two characters as two sides of the same unhinged, singularly minded coin is even a bit seductive. There’s not much more inviting than something that’s new.
And for a while, this works. Eve and Villanelle’s trajectories dance and flirt around each other like strangers at a bar, each trying to catch the other’s eye. It’s disorienting and psychosexual and layered in ways you don’t see often, especially as you see that the attempts at drawing in the other character reveal more about the person doing the drawing than the target. And you begin to confirm your greatest suspicious: this is one fucked up coin.
Then, somewhere around the halfway point of the eight-episode season, it begins to falter. Characters, for instance, start and don’t ever really stop making dumb decisions. As Eve, her assistant Elena (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and her traitorous ex-boss Frank (Darren Boyd) have successfully evaded certain death raining from Villanelle (and her formerly functioning assassin coworkers), Eve decides to stop the car. And sit there. And think. And then get out of the fucking car to talk to her.
Yes, this show is about obsession. Eve is living and breathing everything Villanelle, and Villanelle conversely is obsessed with Eve filling a void in her life. But the idea that someone wholly invested in getting away and surviving one moment and then absolutely endangering multiple lives to catch a glimpse of someone that might be a certain person is a bad one. That’s not obsession. That’s writers poorly constructing an impetus.
I won’t get into the immense insanity of telling Frank to just run away from professional hitmen across a massive and open field when they have the means to track his precise location (hey, concessions need to be made in storytelling), but the show never quite recovers from this episode. In fact, the downward slope begins in the previous episode as it engages in the absolute worst iteration of the Bury Your Gays trope I’ve ever seen. Eve’s former supervisor Bill (David Haig) reveals to Eve that he’s queer, having been in gay relationships before marrying his wife. And mere scenes later, he is stabbed in a nightclub and killed. At least Willow and Tara got a full season of being together before they were nixed.
The show then begins to lean into going for laughs through incongruous moments. The one that really sticks out is at the end when Eve is in a standoff with Villanelle and Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) and his daughter Irina (Yuli Lagodinsky). Both Eve and Villanelle have guns, both on ostensibly even ground in this precarious situation. And then, for a chuckle, Eve throws her weapon down at Villanelle’s insistence and says, “You’re right, I don’t know what I’m doing with that.” It’s a move either completely motivated by a cheap laugh or built on poorly communicated motivations. Either way, it’s insufferable.
Oh, and then the twist? Or, I guess, twists as it’s revealed that Konstantin is a government official and Eve’s MI5 handler Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) is involved and there’s a shadowy organization with an ominous name attempting to orchestrate the world through murder. Could it possibly get any more rote than that? I refused to even throw those out as legitimate predictions as I was texting my friend because they felt too dull for such a smart show. And then it turns out they weren’t, and it isn’t. (And come on. The slowly deteriorating relationship back home? The show would have been better for it if he didn’t even exist.)
Granted, there’s still a lot to like about the show. Comer and Oh’s performances alone are worth the watch. They are absolutely mesmerizing in just about every conceivable way. But they are stuck in a story of tropes, meaningless turns, and bland arcs. I can absolutely understand the accolades heaped upon Killing Eve, but everyone should also be talking about how it so thoroughly beefs it.