*Spoilers Ahead! For season 1 of BBC America’s Killing Eve (2018)*
Sandra Oh’s recent Golden Globe win for her portrayal of Eve Polastri on the hit BBC America drama Killing Eve encouraged many people who hadn’t got around to watching the show to check it out, and encouraged me to revisit this televisual masterpiece, this time with a keen critical eye for what really makes it so great.
Obviously, a big part of the show’s success came down to its two incredible leads — Sandra Oh of Grey’s Anatomy fame trades her stethoscope for a badge and jumps across the pond to play a British intelligence agent who gets caught in deadly game of cat and mouse with one of Europe’s most wanted assassins.
That assassin is the mysterious (and very, very dangerous) Oksana, known to most as “Villanelle.” Jodie Comer plays the crazed hitwoman, and does so with a stunning balance of effortless poise and unsettling eccentricity. And this here brings me to one of the most important distinctions about this show: Villianelle is unlike anyone else we’ve ever seen before. As the title of this article suggests, what makes this show so good is its mastery of the element of surprise. Lots of spy thrillers makes use of a good plot twist, but Killing Eve throws a twist in every character, every action, every detail. There’s a constant feeling that everything you’re watching is completely bizarre, but the show and the characters take it so seriously that you can’t help but believe its actually happening.
Villianelle especially contributes to this feeling, as she is both a murderous assassin and a normal girl who likes strolls with boys in parks and shopping and visiting coffee shops on the weekends (and this is severely understanding the complexity of her character). Most of all she’s unpredictable, and no matter how smart other crime TV shows have made you, you can never guess her next move. More than that even — you can’t guess what she wants, you can’t guess who she cares about, you can’t guess who she’ll die for, you can’t guess who she’ll live for. She’s endlessly surprising, which makes her relationship with Eve that much more interesting.
Eve, unlike Villianelle, has pretty clear goals in the beginning of the show. She’s clever, witty, a bit of a trouble maker, but very passionate about her work. So passionate, in fact, that she’s prepared to let it take over her life when it becomes by and large the most exciting thing about it, despite her having plenty of comforts back home with her husband. Eve is the kind of person that needs a little bit of crazy in her life, because otherwise she makes it for herself. Suddenly, a character that feels ordinary is anything but. Eve surprises us because we think we understand these kinds of characters, but there’s several moments throughout the season where she’ll pivot a totally different direction than we expect her to.
The central tension here is that Eve wants to catch Villianelle, mostly to prove that she can, and she’s faced with a choice when she finally does — turn Villianelle in (or kill her) and put an end to the chase that made her feel the most alive she’s ever felt, or let Villianelle go and compromise the morals she built a life on and endanger others in the process. Whereas in other stories these kind of decisions are established early and rarely change much, the surprise in this dynamic comes from the constantly shifting balance between what she has to lose and what he has to gain.
I cannot speak highly enough of this series, and how unafraid it was to be something different. Every episode felt fresh and even when I thought I knew where the show was going, it surprised me in the strange new ways it chose to get there. I definetely think that Killing Eve exemplifies some of the ways the television landscape is changing and proves that females at the forefront of action series are more than capable of carrying an interesting narrative. This was easily one of the best shows of 2018, and it will be exciting to watch how it develops in the coming year. We can safely assume that there are plenty more surprises ahead.
Stream Killing Eve on BBC, BBC America, & Hulu. Killing Eve season 2 airs April 7, 2019 on BBC America.