To paraphrase the dearly departed Tom Petty, sometimes the waiting is the hardest part. Though the action picks up just 30 seconds after last May’s finale — in which (10-month-old spoiler alert!) MI6 officer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) stabbed Villanelle (Jodie Comer), the female assassin she’d spent eight episodes hunting and obsessing over — season 2 of Killing Eve begins with everyone more or less in a holding pattern. A shell-shocked Eve must shake off her post-stabbing haze and resume the search for the escaped Villanelle, who herself must find a way to stay out of reach long enough to recuperate. As for the viewers, we must cross our fingers and wait for an answer to the question that churns queasily in our hearts: Should Killing Eve have ended after season 1?
Developed by writer-actress wunderkind Phoebe Waller-Bridge and based on novellas by Luke Jennings, season 1 of Killing Eve was phenomenal, offering a sharp, clever and decidedly female twist on the spy-thriller genre. Former Grey’s Anatomy star Oh earned a Golden Globe and a raft of other much-deserved nominations for her brusque brilliance as Eve, while Comer gave probably the single best TV performance of 2018. (Her nominations, let’s assume, got lost in the mail.) After crisscrossing Europe in a bloody, funny (and bloody funny) cat-and-mouse chase, Eve and Villanelle came together at last for a showdown that was teeth-grindingly tense and unexpectedly moving and wonderfully playful and just so satisfying. It felt complete, and I’ll admit that a little part of me was disappointed that it didn’t stop right there, with Eve ending Villanelle’s life — and the obsession that threatened to ruin her own.
That’s just crazy talk, of course; stories aren’t allowed to end anymore. Killing Eve was a ratings hit for BBC America, a network — like all networks — that’s struggling to compete against the firehose of content gushing forth from the Streaming Industrial Complex. Promising shows are sometimes even renewed for a second season before they premiere, as Eve was, in large part because it’s the most cost-effective plan.
So, here we are. Once Eve makes her way back to London post-stabbing, she’s unfired from MI6 by her formidable boss Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) and tasked with investigating the death of a powerful internet mogul. Villanelle, meanwhile, is lurching through Paris in search of money and medical care. There are some wonderful moments in the two episodes BBC America made available for review: The long, impatient pause as Eve and Kenny (Sean Delaney) wait for a nosy new colleague to finish filling his water bottle. (Oh is such a master of micro-expressions, even her rigid silence is funny.) Or the brisk, sibling-esque banter between Villanelle and a seriously injured French boy (Pierre Atri) she enlists to help her escape from the hospital. Just as Villanelle reels her victims in with her disarming charisma, Comer lures viewers to the brink of hope — There’s some good inside Villanelle after all, I knew it! — before slitting its throat without a word.
But there are worrisome problems. When Eve realizes that there’s a new female assassin in the mix — of course there is — her flush of giddy glee feels a little too familiar. And oy, Villanelle’s situation in the second episode is one of those awkward TV contrivances clearly, painfully designed to keep a character in one place. It’s a funnier, darker version of Kim Bauer getting caught in a cougar trap on 24 — but it’s a cougar trap, nonetheless.
Now for the disclaimers: Sophomore slumps are not a new thing in TV, and it’s impossible to say after only two episodes whether Eve is in a true slump or just experiencing a minor speed bump. I was pleasantly surprised by the new episodes of HBO’s Barry — another complex dramedy-thriller whose season 1 finale would have been a perfect series finale — so I’ll place my faith in Comer, Oh, and Eve’s new showrunner Emerald Fennell. To paraphrase Villanelle herself, it’s going to be hard to trust Killing Eve again, but let’s give it time to prove itself. Grade: B
Killing Eve season 2 premieres Sunday, April 7 at 8 p.m. on BBC America.
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