Killing Eve Reviewed: A Villanelle for Sandra Oh
Killing Eve, BBC America’s new attempt at a cult hit is psychopathically fun.
BBC America has been in a struggle spiral since Orphan Black, their accidental cult hit, went off the air. Sold to AMC by BBC Worldwide a couple of years ago, the channel relies mainly on Star Trek reruns and Top Gear when Doctor Who isn’t in season. Their adaptation of Dirk Gently meant well, but never got the proper lift needed to maintain flight. So it’s a pleasure to report that their newest show, Killing Eve, is one of the most delightful new shows on the 2018 spring season.
Based on the series of novellas by Luke Jennings all of which are under the name Villanelle, (Codename: Villanelle, Villanelle: No Tomorrow, etc) the series is lead by the indomitable Sandra Oh, best known for her years as Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy. Oh plays Eve Polastri, an American living in London, working for a security firm that protects witnesses for the government on a temporary basis. (BBC America’s tradition of letting American actors not have to shoehorn in UK accents is a welcome one. Eve, we learn, is from Connecticut.)
Bored by her job, Eve has been quietly obsessed with serial killers, especially female ones. That obsession gets her noticed by the MI-5, in particular by Carolyn, the agent who is involved with the current case at hand (Fiona Shaw.)
But those looking for a Luther-like moody manhunt should check their expectations at the door. This is written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, of Fleabag fame, and her humorous bent is all over the script. Moreover, Oh is far too sunny, silly and well, American, to be a proper put upon-Sherlockian bloodhound. And her quarry, the Villanelle of the book titles (played by The White Princess‘ Jodie Comer) is far too fun a quarry for anyone to be glum.
That the books are named for the serial killer in question is obvious from the early episodes (six were made available for this review.) Especially in the early going, as Eve and her friends are finding their feet, the London parts can drag, with Oh seemingly pulling the series for by supreme effort of ferocious bubbly will.
The scenes all over Europe, on the other hand, as Villanelle carries out her murdering orders from high above are a positive delight, sometimes landing into laugh out loud territory. Comer is positively giddy in this Bond-like villain role, and her love of fashion and high end Parisian living in contrast to the job she does makes for a great juxtaposition.
Eve, on the other hand, is stuck in dowdy British living territory with a sweet but staid husband, who has no idea of his wife’s brand new job as a secret agent. After Eve gets fired for one too many questions and a botched job by her superiors, Shaw warns her “They all think we’re having affairs before they think we’re secret agents.” Pity the husband.
And this is a show where husbands are meant to be pitied before being brushed off. Like Orphan Black, this show puts female characters and their relationships front and center, whether it’s Carolyn and Eve, or even Eve and her assistant Elena (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, best known for Downward Dog.) Not that men don’t feature, the most notable being Bill (David Haig of Penny Dreadful), Eve’s boss who winds up working for her when things go topsy-turvy.
But the heart of the show is the cat and mouse game of Villanelle vs Eve. Once Eve realizes they’ve met, and Villanelle learns she’s being tracked by the UK team, things really pick up. (Side mystery: who is the mole is that’s feeding Villanelle’s superiors about MI-5’s dealings?)
Comer and Oh play the roles to look like opposites, but as the series goes on it becomes more and more obvious they are two peas in a pod, women in male-dominated fields, underestimated and held back by male superiors who would just do better to get out of the way. (In the case of Villanelle’s superior, getting out of her way would probably be a healthy life choice, considering her abilities.)
This show deserves to be a hit just for the two of them, with Comer giving a breakout performance in multiple languages, wigs, and characters, all of them devilishly murderous. Let’s just hope they don’t catch each other too quickly because I need this show to have a Season 2.
Killing Eve premieres on BBC America this coming Sunday, April 8, 2018, at 8 p.m. ET.