With Season Two, ‘Killing Eve’ Murders The Eve And Villanelle We Knew (And For The Better)
The cat-and-mouse game couldn't last forever.
In Season 2 of Killing Eve, MI6 agent Eve and Villanelle — the psychopath she’s been playing a sapphic game of cat-and-mouse with — start working together. And viewers didn’t know what to make of the new dynamic.
Don’t worry if you haven’t watched: it’s not really a spoiler. Besides, Killing Eve‘s plot has always been pretty irrelevant to the show’s main draw, just as Eve’s (Sandra Oh) obsession with Villanelle (Jodie Comer) isn’t really about trying to bring down the Twelve.
— Mild spoilers follow for Killing Eve Season 2 —
In their first professional meeting to discuss an undercover mission, Villanelle (Jodie Comer) circles around Eve (Sandra Oh) while pitching characters she can morph into.
As she reached for a previously-unheard Australian accent to play a Bondi heiress, it’s a meta-moment. It’s a hard one to pull off for the best actors, and just as Eve is impressed by the good-enough attempt, so is the audience.
Villanelle is showing off, as is Comer. For now, it works. But will they — and the audience, and Comer and Oh, two now-massive names — eventually get bored, and move on?
Some reviewers definitely are leaning that way. Some say the show’s now off the rails, its plot too muddled or too flat, lacking tension. In one particularly hot take, ‘the queer subtext’ was apparently ruined by the show’s insistence to turn it into ‘text’ (but we’re not sure it ever was ‘subtext’).
But S2 replaces that tension with something more confusing. While Eve spends this season dodging questions from colleagues about what’s “going on” between her and Villanelle, it’s clear, over time, neither of them have an answer.
For some critics, it feels like the show — with its duplicitous plot to get them working together (almost as duplicitous as Eve’s own reasoning to her co-workers) — doesn’t either.
While S2 was a little slow to start up, the season’s tail-end moves the show into completely new, exciting territory outside of the cat-and-mouse game. It’s unclear if the characters or the show, as we know them, will survive — or, at the very least, live up to our S1 expectations. But Killing Eve might be all the better for it.
“She’s Like Me”
Despite where it ends up, S2 picks up literally seconds after the last, with Eve in Villanelle’s Paris apartment.
She follows a bloody trail, but Villanelle’s already gone. After the incident, Eve’s team’s is told to focus on a new assassin, a much more covert ‘Ghost’.
She, like Eve, is a middle-aged Asian woman, a figure who her powerful, mostly male targets don’t notice. Despite the obvious parallels, the obsession doesn’t shift over. Eve has little interest in The Ghost as a persona; she already knows that role too well. We saw this in the show’s pilot, where male co-workers scoff at her (correct) suggestion their assassin is a woman.
But where Patrick Bateman would go on a self-indulgent monologue, Villanelle has no care for existential angst.
In her review, The New Yorker‘s TV critic Emily Nussbaum said that the show has been such a critical and cultural hit because it captures something of the moment, writing that “murderous rage seems, right now, like a relevant basis for female bonding”.
But Villanelle is rarely angry; as she so often says, she’s bored.
There’s a joy to her murders, sure. As Nussbaum writes, Villanelle loves to “exploit society’s misogyny by imitating a victim of it, using her pretty-white-girl-ness (and multiple accents) to attract sympathy”. Still, the thrill fades, and yes, Villanelle can act out in result, but it tends to be based more in frustration than anger — frustration at her own boredom.
But where Patrick Bateman would go on a self-indulgent monologue, Villanelle has no care for existential angst. She just acts, knowing she won’t change — which is why when she stalks two women late at night, a threesome is just as likely as a double-homicide.
Eve is bored too — but Villanelle, as she says, makes her “feel alive”. As a result, her marriage crumbles, as does her concern for appearing ‘normal’. Instead, she cosplays as Villanelle-lite, enacting dumb revenge on her husband’s potential new lover, and flirting with pushing an inconsiderate man onto the tube tracks.
Throughout the season, Eve’s actions keep both the audience and herself on their toes. There’s a sense that Eve (and Killing Eve) is falling out of control, reaching for Villanelle’s manipulative powers, but unable to control or commit to it.
“The idea that undergirds the show is a potent one,” writes Nussbaum, “that femininity is itself a sort of sociopathy, whose performance, if you truly nail it, might be the source of ultimate power.”
But that ultimate power is undefined, likely unreachable. In Killing Eve‘s world, the shadowy Twelve who Villanelle works for remain a mystery. They may even be controlling MI6, given Eve’s boss Caroline’s relationship with Villanelle’s handler, Konstantin Vasiliev. Who knows? Who cares?
The show certainly doesn’t seem to. In S2, the Twelve storyline involves evil tech so vague it’s almost as if the writer’s are saying, “whatever, you get the idea”. If Eve and Villanelle are working for two sides of the same coin, then it’s no surprise S2 sees them pair up.
“Don’t Forget, The Only Thing That Makes You Interesting Is Me”
Killing Eve‘s plot moves in confusing ways, as if a higher power is controlling Villanelle and Eve’s movements. And, well, they might be.
Through S2, Caroline and Konstantin’s advice to their subordinates match up; they seem to say the right thing at the right time. More than once, both play Villanelle and Eve by telling them one objective, knowing they’ll achieve the real, bloodier one along the way.
Even Villanelle can’t escape the Twelve. When she goes off-the-grid, they always know where to find her, and when to appear — repeatedly offering her the only out in a sticky situation.
Despite being the show’s protagonists, Eve and Villanelle are merely cogs in an uncaring machine. Sound depressingly familiar?
Unable to make any major waves in their world, Eve and Villanelle exert power by pressing against each other, forcing the other to twist and turn. The question throughout is who controls who the most.
In S2, Villanelle pulls the puppet strings in Eve’s love life like a soap opera villain — before eventually taking a more ‘hands-on’ approach. Eve, meanwhile, pushes at Villanelle to control her during the mission, coaxing her through secret ear-pieces as if a psychopath whisperer.
Ultimately, she — and we, watching — struggle to tell who’s actually holding the reins.
In one pivotal scene, Villanelle is crying in character at an AA meeting, giving a very Patrick Bateman-esque monologue about how bored she is. It’s all very cliché — her character’s designer clothes and designer drug habits only offers a little moment of reprieve — but the group applauds her for being truthful.
There’s a sense that Eve (and Killing Eve) is falling out of control, reaching for Villanelle’s manipulative powers, but unable to control or commit to it.
Eve, listening over an earpiece, straightens in her chair, having mentally replaced ‘drugs’ with ‘death’. As the camera closes on Villanelle’s face during her Big Moment, the audience does too, as if we can scan for clues. Is this real? Or just acting?
It’s unclear, but it feels real: as the AA head says, “I think we can all relate to that”. We all have methods of medication, and at the end of S2, both Villanelle and Eve’s — their obsession with each other — has run its course.
Unlike Eve, Villanelle has an answer when Konstantin asks her what it is, exactly, that makes Eve so important. “We’re the same,” she says — but she soon finds out she’s wrong.
The two have a similar emptiness, or boredom, sure. They can even push the other into new acts (Eve’s first killing, for example), but they aren’t the same person. In Season 2, they get close enough to see their images of the other didn’t match up to the projection.
Season 2 could never live up to our projection, either. The biggest question overhanging it wasn’t whether new show-runner Emerald Fennell could fill the shoes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but where on earth Killing Eve would go next.
Could the game of cat-and-mouse last forever, and if we moved on, would anyone — Eve, Villanelle, the audience — still care?
With the two working together on an intelligence mission in S2, the tension of Killing Eve — that Villanelle will come good on the show’s title — is removed from most scenes. Something else, harder to define, takes its place.
The Eve and Villanelle we thought we knew are dead. The search continues.
Killing Eve Season 1 and 2 are available to stream for free on ABC’s iView.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.