Channel: BBC America
Recurring Cast: Jodie Comer, Sandra Oh, Fiona Shaw, David Haig, Kim Bodina, Sean Delaney
Where did that come from? Killing Eve sounds like the kind of show viewers really want to do well, but almost never actually does. An exotic hitwoman attracts the attention of a MI5 operative and the pair of them engage in a deadly chase across Europe. The opening premise is meaty enough to sink your teeth into, but it takes more than a premise to win over a crowd. For one, this is created by the BBC, which might be the forerunner in British television, but the minimal British budget for these sort of things means that the Beeb is often trapped in their comfort zone. With the exception of Doctor Who (which is guaranteed revenue, no matter how risqué it makes itself seem), the BBC like to play things safe with detective shows and smaller character dramas. Even its best shows (Luther, Doctor Foster), are trapped in an air of familiarity. The Brits, it seems, would rather put its money into another final season of Big Brother than try to follow in America’s mind-blowing approach to the small screen. Is Killing Eve the show set to change that?
Right from the opening moments, this new eight part drama is world’s away from the content the BBC have come out with before. If the opening feels partially familiar (MI5, a murder investigation), it is the tone that draws in your attention. There is a punchy air of comedy to proceedings rarely seen in British television. The material is never lightened due to its freedom of cracking the odd joke, the gruesome bits still gripping an audience, but the show feels confident enough in its story that it has the freedom to keep its tongue firmly placed in its cheek. It makes a massive difference to the pace of the story. Usually, the BBC equate depth with mood. The heroes of these dramas are often complex, broody figures, carrying out their jobs despite the weight of various subplots on their shoulders. However, with Killing Eve, we get characters surprisingly three-dimensional, because they are not trapped in a box of smouldering, misunderstood hero. If anything, it makes them more relatable. Sandra Oh won over an entire audience with her first scene, exclaiming that some bloody crime scene photos were “cool”. And the more attached we are to these characters, the more we get sucked into the story. Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), gets her dream job of tracking down a female assassin, she believes is behind a string of high-profile murders. However, as she uncovers a conspiracy that stretches farther than you can fathom, she finds the tables turned on her, when the assassin, Villanelle, realises she is being hunted and decides to come after Eve. Villanelle is a cracking character: she could be described as the Joker to Eve’s Batman, a psychopathic killer that becomes obsessed with the superhero of the story, but that isn’t really doing the narrative justice. She is complex, even if the script never truly reveals why – there is simply something behind the killer’s mind, that perhaps even Villanelle doesn’t truly understand. But she is powerfully magnetic, either becoming one of the BBC’s most complex antagonist characters or simply having fun being a badass assassin, as proven in the multiple kills she racks up over the course of the season’s run.
What a story of this calibre needs are some top actors on form. On paper, Killing Eve hasn’t actually got that. If you had to cast your female spy thriller, few people would have landed on Sandra Oh or Jodie Comer. Sandra Oh is good, for sure, but has never really set the world alight. And Jodie Comer is more a rising star than a sure-fire hit. But someone clearly made a stand for these two actresses and the show is miles better with that decision. Both characters are pleasantly feminist, but at opposite ends of the spectrum. Jodie Comer is the more traditional feminist character, simply because it is the kind of part that every woman in the acting industry dreams of having. She is a woman living the life she wants to lead. Putting the pesky moral question aside of slaughtering helpless people, Villanelle has the life you want. Looked after by mysterious (although charming), handlers and given all the money she could dream of, Comer is constantly clad in the finest dresses and residing in the best hotels. She has a ferocious sex life (both male and female), but emerges from her one night stands without the label of promiscuous. She is simply living in the moment. She will likely be the poster child for what the rest of television, and cinema, should be doing with their female heroes. But Sandra Oh represents the other side of feminism. Oh plays her dogged investigator with a hyper-real normality. She is obsessed with her work, but her job doesn’t define her. She is both sharp, but a klutz. Her social ineptitude is relatable. The character of Eve Polastri is wonderfully stripped of all of the silly television quirks that usually make up a character. She is never anything less than totally real and relatable, never seemingly like she is trying to uphold the feminist debate, yet making it stronger because of it. If the first few episodes revel in this woman-rule vibe (Fiona Shaw also stars as the scary, although charismatic, MI5 superior), it eventually focuses on the story at hand. Both performances are wonderful. Comer probably pips the MVP competition, however, simply because her character is so much fun. She jokingly dodges around the usual story beats of the genre, mocking anyone who tries to find a hidden regret over her line of work and laughably shrugging off any emotional attachments you think she has made. Even when she is at her deliciously creepiness, stalking Eve in her own home, she is totally captivating. The writers know this making you look forward to the milestones of the show (Villanelle starts her hunt for Eve, Villanelle and Eve meet for the first time, the final showdown). They are always worth the wait.
Perhaps the biggest thing worth complimenting is where all this came from. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the world’s unlikeliest candidate to pull a spy thriller out of her script draw, but she has done it better than genre professionals. Known for her break-out sitcom, Fleabag, and also for playing a feminist droid in Solo: A Star Wars Story, she is probably the craziest thing about this crazy show. While, as detailed above, her comedy roots are used with precision, this should be world’s from her comfort zone. Yet she thrives in the material. It proves that the BBC should be taking more risks, because in it is there, evidenced wonderfully by Killing Eve, that television gets its more exciting.
Final Verdict: Waller-Bridge has come out of with the best British drama in years, with two powerful performers gifted two outstanding characters.