The first scene in Killing Eve makes an ice cream parlor, the most innocent of places, seem as sinister as a serial killer’s walk-in freezer. This is where we meet Villanelle, a cool beauty played with creepy brilliance by Jodie Comer. The way Villanelle holds a little girl’s gaze then twists it into a queasy look of fear is enough to put you right off your sorbet. Watching Villanelle appropriate social cues from a waiter, from his smile to his exact number of blinks, we get the feeling we’ve happened upon a psychopathic killer who loves her work.
Just when we think we’ve crossed over to the dark side with no hope of escape, we meet Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh). Granted, she’s screaming; but she offers a dark comic relief that will become one of the BBC America drama’s best and most unique qualities.
Villanelle has a sense of humor, too. Sort of. When she plays a trick or cracks a wicked joke, she smiles like the cat that ate the canary — and one that is about to eat a whole lot more. In the case of Killing Eve, however, Villanelle is the mouse and Eve is the cat. Or rather, they take turns being hunter and prey.
Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and based on the Codename Villanelle novella series by Luke Jennings, Killing Eve updates the classic suspense genre by centering it around both a female protagonist and a female antagonist. Killing Eve holds you in its grip by getting inside your head.
Eve is an American in London; an MI5 agent who mostly sits at a desk and admits to having “a thing for assassins.” Everything changes when she catches the attention of an MI6 commander named Carolyn, played by the great Fiona Shaw with enough steely insouciance that it would make 007 fumble his martini. Carolyn puts Eve in charge of finding Villanelle and uncovering who is paying her to kill high-level targets around the world. Carolyn lets Eve assemble a team, including cranky Bill (David Haig), Elena (a spy’s BFF, played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and lovesick computer genius Kenny (Sean Delaney). Weirdly and amazingly, these co-workers share such a warm and funny camaraderie, it’s like The Office, if The Office took place in the Upside Down. That’s lucky, because Killing Eve is so taut and razor-sharp, we need to laugh every once in a while just to remember to breathe.
Villanelle has interesting work relationships, too. She and her handler (the wonderful Kim Bodnia) share a dynamic that fluctuates between tender and terrifying. When Villanelle goes in for an assessment, it is a perfect example of how the show combines the very dark with the darkly comic. Not an easy achievement, and yet it does that again and again. You can’t help liking Villanelle just a little.
Sandra Oh was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Actress for her role. Claire Foy ended up winning for The Crown, but Oh made history as the first woman of Asian descent to earn the accolade. Fans will have to be content with the fact that Killing Eve will be back for a second season. And it’s sure to slay.
Out of the Box is a semi-regular column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.