Every woman alive knows what it’s like to be obsessed with another woman. Conjure her in your mind. You can see her. She is impeccably dressed. Maybe you hate her. Maybe you idolize her. Maybe she’s your best friend. You might want her, but even if you’re as straight as a ruler you still know what it’s like. You love your boyfriend, but you’re obsessed with her.
Killing Eve is a show about this type of obsession, which for most of the world’s history has operated like a hidden current, moving the world along yet invisible to the people writing the histories. But by shining a light on this potent, mysterious force, Killing Eve has become the most startlingly original show of 2018.
Let us begin with our women. The first goes only by the name Villanelle (which is a play on “lady villain” and a type of fancy, complicated poem). Within thirty seconds of meeting her, she does something so outrageously, needlessly cruel that you know you will never be able to forgive her, but she does it with such pleasure that you also know that you will never look away. Villanelle (the hypnotic Jodie Comer) is an immensely talented contract killer with a total lack of empathy but a beguiling passion for life. She loves the finer things: silk duvets, the viscera of a fresh tomato, and sex with male and female partners.
Over the first three episodes, the show makes very clear that Villanelle is not some wounded, ultimately sympathetic heroine being preyed upon by powerful men who force her to kill. Well, she’s actually all those things, but she is also a sociopath who likes seeing the light go out of her victims’ eyes and has a total lack of interest in why she is ordered to kill these specific individuals. Despite this, it’s a challenge to hold her behavior against her, because she is so clearly acting according to her nature. She’s the answer to the question “what would your housecat do if it were the size of a leopard?” It would rub against you and purr, and then it would kill you and take a nap in the sunshine next to your cooling corpse.
In the opposite corner is Eve Polastri, brought to life by the magnificent Sandra Oh.
Eve is a British-American spy whose talents are being wasted at a dead-end desk job, until she crosses paths with Villanelle. Part of the show’s brilliance derives from combining familiar elements–procedurals, workplace comedies, and a dose of the messy empathy of Grey’s Anatomy’s central relationship–but in unexpected ways, and nowhere do the disparate elements come together more effectively than in Sandra Oh’s performance. Her Eve is a messy, lovable, one-too-many-drinks woman, at least to her coworkers and husband. She also keeps much of her personality submerged: both her cleverness, and a barely-controlled attraction to the dark side. If her relationship with Villanelle is a game of cat and mouse, the mouse is playing too.
Their first meeting takes place in a women’s bathroom, each not yet knowing who the other is, and they have the kind of small, fraught interaction that women share in private all the time and remember forever.
That’s the only time they’ve met face to face so far, but as Eve’s investigation heats up, they become more and more fixated on one another. Eve wants to catch her, but more than that, she wants to know her, to reach out and touch her darkness. And Villanelle, for her part, finds an American tourist, insists on calling her “Eve,” and has sex with her for multiple days. So there that is, in case you were worried it was all going to be subtext.
It’s still early in the season, but the show has already made it clear that it plans to confront the truths of female obsession, which is that is dwells in a twilight between platonic, sexual, and romantic feeling, with one or the other rearing its head when you least expect it. And aside from the central dynamic, the show also features sumptuous cinematography, strong supporting performances (especially from the stupendously versatile Fiona Shaw), and a soundtrack like bloodsoaked cotton candy.
I honestly don’t know what to expect from Killing Eve, though I certainly don’t see these two women building a tiny house and raising goats any time soon. But I am more than happy to set myself adrift on this current and see where it takes me.
Killing Eve airs Sundays on BBC America.