A spy thriller for the #MeToo era, Killing Eve centers on two extraordinarily focused women — sociopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and stubborn MI5 agent Eve (Sandra Oh) — and lets them dominate the action, and each other, while the men (inevitably) fall short.
Ensconced safely in a comfortable marriage and a uninteresting desk job at the UK intelligence agency, Eve Polastri channels her low-level life boredom into a side obsession: Proving that an unknown female assassin is taking down powerful figures all across Europe, and doing it with dramatic flair. (Think: weaponized hairpins and poisoned perfume.) Though Eve’s (male) boss dismisses this theory, her hunch is confirmed by a formidable foreign intelligence officer (Fiona Shaw), who recruits Eve to help bring the stylish assassin down.
As for Villanelle? She’s a glamorous, leggy a–hole — or as a witness describes her, a “small-breasted psycho” — capable of scaling walls while wearing short-shorts, taking morbid delight in the act of approximating real human emotions. Once she realizes Eve is onto her, she develops a fascination, almost an infatuation, with her pursuer, which makes her bold — and perhaps a little careless.
The exploration of the symbiotic, almost sexual tension between hunter and hunted is not a new idea (and do I need to tell you that Eve and Villanelle are more alike than either of them would care to believe?), but in the hands of showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), the trope becomes a triumph. Deftly paced and shot through with dry, politely randy British humor, Killing Eve (April 8 at 8 p.m. on BBC America) is a riveting showcase for Comer, whose Villanelle hides her misanthropy behind a mischievous smirk and deadpan demeanor. (When she describes Berlin’s Jewish Museum as “massively poignant,” it is somehow a laugh-out-loud moment.) Oh uses her brusque charm and uniquely expressive brow as Eve, a somewhat clumsy American bull in a veddy British china shop. She is wholly believable as a woman who would cry tears of rage while threatening Villanelle (“I am going to find the thing you care about, and I am going to kill it”), but also as a person — an MI5 agent! — whose phone password is, gallingly, 1-2-3-4.
Having gobbled up the first five (out of 8) episodes, I’m both excited and reluctant to see how Eve’s first season ends. (BBC America has already renewed the thriller for season 2.) The joy of watching two women trying simultaneously to understand and outthink each other — all the while acing the Bechdel Test in nearly every scene — is something to be savored. B+