Audrey Kupferberg: Killing Eve | WAMC

Audrey Kupferberg: Killing Eve

Jul 8, 2020

Now that the third season of the award-winning BBC One television series Killing Eve has finished airing, I am wondering if season three was warranted?  In order to give proper consideration to this point at issue, it was necessary to revisit the 16 episodes making up seasons one and two and then consider the content of the most recent season.  To summarize the plot of Killing Eve in a sentence, when a trained assassin is hunted by an unconventional and inexperienced intelligence officer, the two women click.

For those who have not yet seen any of Killing Eve, I will attempt to reveal no spoilers.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emerald Fennell—they are the lead writers, the show runners, the executive producers-- and others who have worked to make this series a success—describe Killing Eve as a character study.  Indeed, it is the depth with which each character is presented that turns a series that could have been a gory crime comedy-drama into a fascinating and unique depiction of a beautiful young psychopathic assassin who has chosen the name Villanelle (played by Jodie Comer) and Eve Polastri, whom the viewer meets as a forty-something bureaucrat in London whose job with MI5 is fairly boring and whose marriage is warm but hardly exciting.  Eve is played by Sandra Oh.  The character of Eve has her own vulnerability, and even an odd dark side.

These two characters quickly become a sizzling, if long-distant, couple.  Is it a physical attraction, an obsession?  Could it be love?  Through the entire series, this issue is explored.  As Villanelle carries out assassination after assassination all across Europe, and as Eve is promoted to leading exhilarating projects for MI6 tracking female assassins, Killing Eve never forgets its primary aim:  exploring the relationship between Villanelle and Eve. The times that Villanelle and Eve meet are filled with high sensory excitement.  The final episode of each of the three seasons brings Villanelle and Eve to a particularly dramatic moment. 

In the first two seasons, Villanelle makes herself clear: “I’m not normal.  I don’t feel things.”  At a telling moment, Eve divulges to her: “I know you are a psychopath.”  Ah, but you should never tell a psychopath that you know what they are…. Violence ensues.  The violence throughout the series is gruesome but comic, too– not dissimilar to the violence in a Tarantino film. 

Several strong characters contribute to making the series a dazzler.  Carolyn Martens, played by Fiona Shaw, is an enigmatic MI6 leader. Shaw’s interpretation of Carolyn is breath-taking.

Unlike some series where women play the main roles and men are ignored or made less likable, Killing Eve offers males in well-developed, appealing roles.  The most significant is Kim Bodnia as Konstantin, Villanelle’s handler and Carolyn’s mate of sorts.  He has such a screen presence that I am making it my business to see more of his work.  We learn about Carolyn and Konstantin mainly in the first two seasons, although season three adds frosting to the cake.

The intelligence organizations are presented in very shrouded, confusing ways. The organizations are mysterious, and include a powerful international group called The Twelve. 

In the first two seasons, the viewer is given more than sufficient examples of Villanelle’s assassinations, her quirky personality,and often strangely childlike expressions. Whether Villanelle’s character is capable of growth is questionable.  Eve’s character does grow.  Well, it’s a growth or it’s a deterioration. In fact, one of the show’s creators has said that the real question is who is killing Eve.  She may be killing herself!  This matter is addressed in very interesting ways during the first two seasons.

Those who have seen season three, available on Hulu, likely will find it entertaining but largely made up of more-of-the-same, along with some rather dramatic filler about Villanelle’s background. The vital information of Killing Eve is revealed magnificently in the first two seasons.  And so I conclude that Killing Eve is a work of art complete in two seasons.  However, because Killing Eve is a commercial television series, not a museum piece, as long as viewers crave more, there will be more. Season four arrives next year.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

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