Look, it shouldn’t be a big deal in 2018 that a show, written and executive produced by a woman, stars two women in roles typically assigned to men. But it is. So, before I begin my review of Killing Eve, let me just say, “Yes. More of this, please. Thank you.”
Thankfully, the new BBC America series, which has already been picked up for a second season, has a lot more going for it than a compelling back story. Sandra Oh stars as Eve Polastri, an MI5 security officer who knows she can do more than sit behind a desk. She’s figured out that there’s a highly skilled female assassin, Jodie Comer’s Villanelle, carrying out stealth, untraceable killings all over the world. Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and based on the novellas by Luke Jennings, this is a very different series than Waller-Bridge’s beloved Amazon series, Fleabag. Yet what the series does have in common with Fleabag is Eve, a fully realized and fully flawed character who is smart but still makes mistakes, is kind yet can still be cruel, is loyal yet still not completely trustworthy. Eve doesn’t act like your typical heroine, and Villanelle isn’t your typical villain. For one thing, I really appreciated how sexy Villanelle could be while remaining fully clothed.
Eve was born in England and raised in Connecticut—hence, Oh doesn’t need to attempt a British accent—before moving back to London. Villanelle is much more mysterious. We are introduced to her as she purposely spills ice cream all over a little girl’s dress. In the four episodes (of eight) made available to critics, I still don’t know why she does what she does. What made her this way?
As the two women become aware of each other, the hunt begins. Comer is downright chilling. She easily kills her target by effortlessly morphing into who they want her to be. She is seemingly without morals or a conscience—a real psychopath. This is a game to her. Her conniving, sly smirk ricochets with evil intent. Comer’s facial expressions are simultaneously terrifying and hilarious. One of the most delightful parts of the series is Villanelle’s relationship with her handler, Konstantin (Kim Bodnia). While the danger of their relationship is never forgotten, their tit-for-tat banter as they both try to gain the upper hand in the relationship brings a bit of surprising comic relief to the series. In one exchange, Konstantin laments that one of Villanelle’s hits was supposed to look like a suicide. When she insists that it did, he replies, “She slit her own throat and killed four other people?” Trust me: It’s actually kind of funny.
Anyone who ever watched Oh on Grey’s Anatomy knows what a compelling actress she is. As the everywoman thrown into an incredibly high stakes situation, Oh shines. You’ll believe her every step of the way. Eve’s relationship with her husband, Niko (Owen McDonnell), offers a unique, rarely seen take on a long-term, basically happy marriage. “We all know you care about me. Sometimes I think that’s all you have,” she screams at him at one point.
In the age of binge watching and constant surprising reveals, Killing Eve unfolds as more of a slow boil. This may take some getting used to. But by the end of the fourth episode, which ends in a jaw-dropping, nail-biting cliffhanger, I couldn’t wait to get to episode five.
Through it all, Waller-Bridge’s gallows humor comes through. When Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) assigns Eve to the task force looking for Villanelle, she says, “No one cares what you do next. I mean that in the nicest possible way.”
One small quibble—a frustrating aspect of the series is that Eve doesn’t seem particularly concerned that a trained assassin knows her name. (Perhaps she’s unaware that the title of the series is Killing Eve). She blithely goes where Villanelle was last seen and isn’t even concerned when just her luggage and not her colleague’s is stolen. Eve isn’t the only one making convenient-for-the-plot mistakes. Her co-worker, Bill (David Haig), follows Villanelle into a dark, throbbing nightclub. I’m no covert MI5 agent, but even I know not to do that.
Although the show is called Killing Eve, who will eventually prevail is not at all clear. The series is structured such that it could go either way. With a second season already planned, I’m so curious to know where the show goes from here.
Killing Eve premieres Sunday, April 8 at 8 p.m. on BBC America.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .