A deskbound MI5 agent comes up against a Russian assassin in Killing Eve

by Fiona Rae / 24 July, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Killing Eve

Killing Eve, Tuesday.

A combination whose results make Killing Eve funny but terrifying.

Two sitcoms and a brace of TV comedy appearances would not, you might think, be the best training ground for a series about a psychopathic female assassin, but if there’s anything that Phoebe Waller-Bridge has shown us with her series Fleabag, it’s that she is a completely new voice.

Killing Eve (TVNZ 2, Tuesday, 9.30pm), which Waller-Bridge has adapted from a series of novellas by Luke Jennings, may have the structure of a traditional cat-and-mouse hunt, but its leads are a different kettle of fish. Combined with a script that can swing between hilariously, blackly funny and terrifying, this may be the most surprising show about a psycho killer we’ve seen all year. Perhaps ever.

The eight-part series stars Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh as Eve, a deskbound MI5 analyst who is drawn into the hunt for Jodie Comer’s Russian assassin, Villanelle. Both women are complex, layered and nuanced – and complete opposites, in that Eve is not an empathy-free murderer who likes to watch the light go out of her victims’ eyes. Nevertheless, they become fascinated with each other. Comer plays Villanelle as a bouncy, entertaining agent of chaos, a “manic pixie dream assassin”, joked Rolling Stone.

“I wanted her to be lovable in her conviction and dismissal of consequence,” Waller-Bridge told Variety. “There’s something funny about people who laugh in the face of convention or surprise us morally. You’ll enjoy her playfulness, but then the things she does are genuinely shocking.”

Villanelle is dangerous and her handler, Konstantin (The Bridge’s Kim Bodnia), can’t really control her. As a lowly analyst, Eve is out of her depth; she is messy, empathetic and emotional – and smart, funny and instinctive, qualities recognised by a top spymaster, played with suitable severity by Fiona Shaw.

Although we’re loath to talk about female-centric drama – isn’t that just drama? – it is refreshing to have two fascinating female lead characters and, crucially, more women around them. There is Shaw’s brilliant MI6 boss and Eve’s assistant, played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste. It seems like a gender balance, which shouldn’t feel different, although it does.

Don’t worry, the blokes aren’t left out. Eve is married to Niko (Owen McDonnell) and has a charming working relationship with her associate Bill (David Haig). But, says Oh, “these characters are not women in relationship to their men. Villanelle has her handler and Eve has her husband, but we’re not defined by them.”

This article was first published in the July 21, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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