Killing Eve, last year’s critical sleeper hit turned actual hit, returns to our screens today. Sam Brooks is ready to dive back in.
The most telling moment in Killing Eve’s second season premiere doesn’t focus on either deadly assassin Villanelle or the less deadly Eve, but mysterious intelligence officer Carolyn. Eve comes across Carolyn on a park bench, talking warmly and cozily to a young boy, who she then shoos off to go play on the swings. Then a man approaches the boy on the swing and takes him away. Eve, quite rightly, freaks out but Carolyn only shrugs. Contrary to appearances, she doesn’t know the kid at all.
The implication here is clear. Despite Carolyn being the most suspicious – possibly the most dangerous – character we’ve seen so far, she doesn’t register as a threat even to those who have good reason to be wary of her. She’s just a kindly matron. Villanelle’s just a pretty woman. Eve’s just a frazzled housewife. All three women, whether they know it or not, are using their femininity as a disguise, and more often than not, as a weapon.
In its first season, Killing Eve was television’s most brilliant and messed up love story. As Eve and Villanelle drew closer and closer to each other, the relationship got stranger – not because of its adversarial nature, but because increasingly they became the only people who knew each other best. It wasn’t a romantic love story necessarily, but one of deep knowledge and faith in each other. The fact that Eve wanted to stop Villanelle, and Villanelle wanted to kill Eve was just an unfortunate detail.
It was only at the very end of the season, where the two met and Eve, in a purely instinctual moment, stabbed Villanelle, that the entire thing fell apart. There was still a relationship, sure, but season two starts with that relationship on rocky ground.
Eve flees back to London, and to some semblance of normality. When her husband finds her in the kitchen, ostensibly making him a roast dinner, she’s an absolute mess. The piles of cut-up vegetables on the bench are almost taller than she is, and she frolics around her kitchen like she’s Nora dancing the tarantella in A Doll’s House. When she says that she’s almost finished making him Nigella Lawson’s roast chicken for dinner, he glumly pulls a clearly uncooked chicken out of the fridge. If Eve had once fit safely into the role of a housewife, it’s clear that time is over. She’s too big for that role now, and she can’t ever go back.
On the other hand, as she crawls and stumbles to safety after being stabbed by Eve, Villanelle finds herself robbed of the most effective tool in her arsenal: Her beauty. She tries consistently to hail a cab, but while her beauty may have literally stopped traffic before, her bruised and bloodied face invites nothing. She has to literally throw herself in front of a car before anybody notices her.
The season two premiere puts both Eve and Villanelle through their paces, while slowly but surely upping the stakes of the season. Eve is struggling to find out what the hell she does now that she’s entered into a level of intrigue she wasn’t prepared for, while still having to fit back into her home life. One of the funniest moments in the premiere is when, after ignoring constant calls from her boss, she answers an unknown number. It’s just a guy named Armando, selling windows. She reclines back into her bed, “Tell me about your windows, Armando. Tell me everything about them.” For a moment, banal normality is a refuge from her life, rather than an ill-fitting mask on a too-big face.
Meanwhile, Villanelle is stuck in a hospital, duping people with terminally-ill loved ones so she can steal a coin here and there. Her roommate, Gabriel, has recently been in a car crash that killed his parents, and left him disfigured. Villanelle’s sympathy, as you might expect, is limited. Killing Eve has no trouble making Villanelle likeable, and Jodie Comer digs her teeth into the role this season as much as she did in the first. Villanelle is a true sociopath, and it’s Comer’s playfulness that makes that sociopathy terrifying and compelling, rather than old-hat. She gives emotional depth and clarity to everything Villanelle does, deepening the character past the villain that she might’ve been, to make her instead a protagonist we almost want to see win.
But Killing Eve remains Sandra Oh’s show. If you stopped to think about Killing Eve’s fairly ridiculous premise then it might just fall apart, but Oh makes it all feel real. There’s something all too real, and familiar, about the moment that Eve, sitting in the bath, hears her phone ring. She picks it up and stares at it with the same kind of horror you might get when your phone lights up with “Maybe: The Bank”. Killing Eve is a ridiculous time, and its oil-black sense of humour is a part of its charm, but it’s Oh who grounds it in reality. Her performance in the first season was one of the finest on television last year, and there’s no reason that this season won’t continue that streak.
Season one of Killing Eve was at its best and most thrilling when it put Eve and Villanelle in the same room. Now that we’ve seen that – a turning point in each woman’s life, but for different reasons – the show can go deeper, and go bigger. This season is at its best when it sets its two protagonists against the assumptions set upon them by society, and allows them to overcome them through intelligence and will. Whether it’s Eve playing up the frazzled foreigner role in order to explain her ducking out of a security line, or Villanelle playing an aggrieved patient who just got her mortal test results so she can escape the hospital, it’s a thrill to watch these women succeed.
It also keeps the question constantly in the audience’s mind: Who the hell is going to win here – and how?
You can watch Killing Eve on TVNZ on Demand from 4PM today, or on TVNZ2 at 9.25PM.
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