A little over five months since it premiered in America, Killing Eve has finally come to the UK – and, with the whole series available as a boxset on BBC iPlayer, it’s immediately easy to see just why this subversive spy thriller is so widely acclaimed.
What stands out about Killing Eve – and it feels like a fairly superficial observation to make, though that doesn’t mean it’s any less true – is that it’s very, very good. There’s an almost effortless confidence to the show, a certain skill and swagger not unlike that of Jodie Comer’s assassin Villanelle; Killing Eve is a series that almost defies efforts to review it, because elaborating beyond “just watch it” feels as though you’re wasting time, time that could be better spent watching (and rewatching) Killing Eve. From its witty, charming script to the electric performances from its leads, Killing Eve is a programme where its quality leaps off the screen, the first thing you notice about the show – seemingly, there’s a certain simplicity to it.
But that seeming simplicity, that apparent effortlessness, obscures the clever tricks at the heart of Killing Eve. It is a very talented, very competent execution of all the tropes of a spy thriller, with globetrotting agents uncovering an international conspiracy, entirely recognisable in terms of the conventions of its genre – but there’s an obvious self-awareness to Killing Eve too, and a clear drive on the part of showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge to tell a much more idiosyncratic, much more new and interesting story within the skeleton of the spy thriller.
On one level, there’s the fact that we’re watching Killing Eve rather than Killing Evan – any other piece you might care to name as an example of the same genre would be a male-led story. That Killing Eve isn’t, that it pivots instead around Sandra Oh’s Eve and Jodie Comer’s Villanelle, immediately marks the series out as something different. You wouldn’t be able comb through the script and make a few quick changes to turn it into Killing Evan, though; Waller-Bridge’s self-proclaimed interest in “transgressive women” is evident throughout, the whole series fascinated by its leads and their inner lives, both vast and intimate at once.
That fascination, of course, explains another of the clever tricks at the heart of the show. For all that there’s an obvious fluency in the conventions of a spy genre, there’s a sense that isn’t really a language Killing Eve is interested in speaking: where another show (probably Killing Evan, in fact) might have been more fixated on, for example, the shadowy organisation ‘the Twelve’, here it’s largely an afterthought. No, instead Killing Eve is far more concerned the relationship between Eve and Villanelle – and it’s this that makes the show feel so vital.
As executive producer Sally Woodward-Gentle noted, “[Phoebe Waller-Bridge is] not that interested in genre; she’s interested in relationships, and the complexity of relationships” – hence vaguely sketched clandestine groups take a backseat to Eve and Villanelle’s building obsession with one another, a dynamic borne of the gap between who they are and who they want to be. It’s unfamiliar and challenging and enthralling, for both the characters and the audience, and it’s this that makes Killing Eve such an engaging, entertaining watch.
Here, then, it’s worth emphasising just how perfectly cast Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are in their respective roles – after all, as well written as the material is, it’s Oh and Comer who realise and elevate it with their performances. Where Oh centres the drama with her portrayal of an out of step everywoman, Comer in turn is impish and anarchic – both are compulsively watchable, each gradually unveiling new depths to their characters. Indeed, though Comer’s portrayal of Villanelle offers more opportunities for her to impress, it’s worth noting how subtle Oh’s take on Eve is, and how many interesting decisions she makes across the course of a given scene. It’s obvious why Oh was nominated for an Emmy, and it’s a huge shame that Comer wasn’t as well; in a way, it feels strange to nominate either without the other, so strong is their chemistry, so intertwined their best work on the programme. When the pair finally meet properly in the fourth episode, it’s electric, the show grabbing onto the third rail and holding on – and the intensity only builds from there.
Ultimately, then, it’s not hard to see why Killing Eve was so successful in America, and why it’s easy to assert with confidence that it’ll be a hit here in the UK. From the stellar leads to the charming script, from its expertly balanced blend of levity and tragedy to the sheer vitality of it all, Killing Eve is a show that’s very, very easy to become obsessed with.
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