This article contains spoilers from the entire first season of "Killing Eve." Don't say I didn't warn you.
Sometimes I stumble upon a particular artist and am instantly enamored. They might be imperfect and sometimes even problematic (Amy Sherman-Palladino), but I simply don't give a fuck; I will follow them to the ends of the earth. Phoebe Waller-Bridge fits into this category. After binging "Fleabag" in one day a few summers back, I was sold on Waller-Bridge's brilliance.
I won't dwell too much on "Fleabag" because I eventually want to write about it, but it's the only show I've seen aside from "The Office" that breaks the fourth wall in a way that complements the narrative. It's brutal, dark, hilarious, and completely unlike anything else. I was hooked after the first episode and excited to follow Waller-Bridge's career.
Thankfully, her newest project exceeded my expectations. "Killing Eve" is batshit crazy in the best possible way. Jodie Comer is the clear stand-out, but the entire cast is top-notch and incredibly fun to watch. All of the female characters are complex, which is unusual for an espionage thriller, and the entire show is masterfully executed and higly stylized.
Villanelle stares so hard that Eve asks if she's alright.
Eve (Sandra Oh) is a bored, middle-aged woman who has reached a tipping point in both her personal and professional life. Her job as an MI5 security officer doesn't properly utilize her talents. She clearly longs for a more active role in the field, but her attempts to branch out are constantly shot down by her superiors. She seems uninterested in her husband Niko (Owen McDonnell), a relatively decent man who does things like prepare shepherd's pie and worry about his wife's safety.
Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is a ruthless contract killer who is equal-parts danger and glamour. She enjoys the finer things in life, like shooting people in the face and buying $1,200 leather blouses. When their paths cross, Eve and Villanelle become equally infatuated with each another and spend the length of the series engaged in a game of sexually-charged cat and mouse. Will their relationship culminate in murder or cunnilingus? The show keeps viewers guessing as the final episode comes to a close. If you haven't watched yet, stop reading this and start streaming the series on Amazon, AMC, or BBC America.
From the start of the show, it's easy to see why Eve is obsessed with Villanelle. She's not a normal assassin, she's a cool assassin! And she's likely the only murderer committing offenses in a brocade Dries Van Noten suit.
It's hard to choose a favorite Villanelle look because she has so many good ones. My favorites are both in Episode Two, "I'll Deal With Him Later." She wears a pink tulle Molly Goddard Dress with Balenciaga Ceinture ankle boots to her Konstantin-mandated therapy session. This outfit makes me feel like I need to bring more sartorial pizzazz to life's mundane tasks. Why wear jeans and a t-shirt to the grocery store when you can rock a ball gown?
"I had quite a heavy period last week but other than that, I think I'm okay."
My second favorite look comes earlier in the episode. Villanelle murders a man in an empty office building while sporting french braid pigtails, a green satin Miu Miu bomber jacket, and high-waisted leather trousers. As the man begs for his life, all I can think about is the patches on her sleeve. Did she buy those separately or did they come with the jacket? I wish the camera would stop cutting to this annoying man, crying and snotting all over himself, so I can get a better look.
The top two patches come with the jacket, but I'm still not sure about the third.
As viewers, we're meant to share Eve's fixation with Villanelle. There's a reason why so many pieces have been written about her and not Eve. When someone says "assassin" I don't typically think of a gorgeous young woman with a snarky sense of humor, decked out in thousands of dollars of designer clothes. Villanelle subverts expectations and because of this, we long to uncover her true motivations. No one pops out of the womb with insatiable bloodlust, zero remose, and ridiculously expensive taste, right? There must be an explanation for her behavior. If there isn't, what does this say about humanity?
It's interesting, too, that the show is upfront about Villanelle's love for high-end material goods. It's not unusual for a TV character to have a pricey wardrobe, but it is rare for the show to draw attention to it. Leslie Knope frequently wears $400 blouses, but we never seen her obsessing over clothes or blowing off steam after work at Barneys. (Is there even a Barneys in Pawnee, Indiana? Probably not.) Plenty of characters are outfitted just as well as Villanelle, but their clothes aren't a component of their identity or something they think about constantly.
Even when she's on the job, Villanelle discovers new things she wants to buy. Before she kills the old man in Tuscany in Episode One, "Nice Face," she asks him who made the throw on his bed. He tells her the designer is Liliana Rizzari. After she stabs him with her hairpin, Villanelle walks over to his desk, grabs a pen, and writes "Liliana Rizzari" on her hand. Later, we see her lounging on the same throw in her Paris bedroom with a Rizzari box in the foreground.
Silk throw = acquired. Now it's time to plan her next murder.
There are several other examples of Villanelle's aesthetic apprecation throughout the series. When she first meets Sebastian (Charlie Hamblett), the guy she accidentally kills with a perfume bottle full of poison, the first full sentence she utters is, "I like your trousers." He's not terribly exciting or worthy of Villanelle's time, but those dope, handmade pants won him the privilege of moonlighting as her temporary boyfriend.
As the series progresses, we realize that Villanelle has a thing for older women with dark, curly hair. Eve, Anna (Susan Lynch), Eve's roleplay doppelgänger named Pamela, and several random women on the street who fit the bill cause her to do a double-take. Whenever she decides a particular woman is worthy, Villanelle attempts to woo them with fancy clothes and glass bottles of perfume. Villanelle does unto others as she would have them do unto her 🙏🏼.
Villanelle expresses affection with gifts and only seems truly happy when she's surrounded with beautiful objects or killing someone. It's possible this behavior is meant to humanize and complicate her, to show that even sociopaths aren't immune to the pitfalls of consumerist culture. Or maybe it's just an additional way for Waller-Bridge to glamorize her, to show viewers that grisly murderers and bon vivants can be one in the same. Whatever the intention, the end result is difficult to shake.
Image is everything; Villanelle knows this and exploits the shit out of it. She looks like a woman who works at a fashion magazine, not a contract killer who enjoys watching the life drain out of someone's eyes. Even people who know her, like Konstantin, occasionally fall under her spell. When she reminds them of what she truly is, it's jarring. Maybe after years of working as a killer for hire, Villanelle has learned from experience that it pays to look good. A polished facade lulls victims into false complacency and simplifies her job.
What looks like a lovely little tea party will soon become a hostage situation.
It's easy to understand why Eve can't get enough of Villanelle, but why is Villanelle so interested in Eve? Is it just because Eve fits her typical crush profile or is there something else at play? If we had been able to watch the progression of Villanelle's relationship with Anna, her old language teacher, would it mirror what we've observed with Eve? Is Anna her OG object of desire or is there someone who predates her? There are more questions than answers when it comes to Villanelle.
In her piece on the series for The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino hypothesizes about Villanelle's background:
"In its last few first-season episodes, it became clear that Villanelle, as her name suggests, may be following a certain compulsive pattern, replaying events from her childhood. She lost her mother early, and she’s looking for an older woman whom she can take care of, who will, in turn, be devoted to her. She wants to perform brilliantly and receive praise. We’ll probably find out eventually that something traumatic happened to her at a birthday party: in Episode 4, she throws Konstantin the same sort of elaborate cake-and-balloons affair that she threw for Anna after castrating her husband."
While Tolentino's speculation will probably come to fruition, I hope the origin of Villanelle's violence stays a mystery forever. I don't believe that there's an explanation for everything. I think some things are inexplicable and we often grasp for meaning that doesn't exist. Maybe some people are just fucking evil. Nothing makes them they way, it's just their baseline. In a similar vein, I hope that Villanelle's attraction to Eve and Anna transcends straightforward explanation. With Eve, I do believe that Villanelle's interest goes deeper and has more to do with her as a person than her adherence to a particular physical profile.
This outfit is the definition of normcore, but shit looks cozy.
When we first meet Eve, she seems like a relatively normal, responsible person. She's married, works for MI5, and is passionate about her job. What we don't immediately realize is that when Eve locks onto an idea, she refuses to let it go even if it leads to her own destruction. The idea that the killer is a woman eats at her and she breaks several rules to prove it's true. When she's fired after conducting an illegal investigation (and a host of other offenses), she's upset but still can't let go of the fact that she is right. Sure, four people are dead, but the killer is a woman and Frank (Darren Boyd) is a dickswab.
Eve is the type of person who thinks everything can be explained by history or psychology. If she digs deep enough and really does her due diligence, she seems to believe that she'll come to some satisfying conclusion about Villanelle. In Episode One, after everyone dismisses her suspicion that the killer MI5 is investigating is a woman, she tells Bill (David Haig), "Nothing ever happens, see ... but now, this woman is happening and either someone is stopping it from coming out or someone is too lazy to follow it up." After arguing for a bit, Bill tells her that their job is boring and "I'm sorry if your husband is boring you, too, but that doesn't give you an excuse to go rogue at work."
As we get to know her, it becomes apparent that Bill is right ... Eve is bored with her marriage. It initially seemed like she kept Niko at arm's length in order to protect him, but it's obvious after a few episodes that he has officially become an annoyance and an afterthought. He doesn't titillate her like Villanelle does. In Episode One, Eve asks Niko if he wants to have sex but then gets immediately distracted by work and the CCTV discrepancy. When Eve finds out that Niko is potentially in danger after Villanelle breaks into their house, she doesn't even tell him. She treats him like a roadblock, not a partner.
Press too hard on a crack and everything shatters.
Villanelle is unpredictable and Eve won't rest until she makes sense of her. Nothing else in her life excites her at the moment, so Eve is able to give Villanelle her full attention. At her gin and tonic breakfast meeting with Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), this is how Eve describes Villanelle:
"She is outsmarting the smartest of us and for that, she deserves to do or kill whoever the hell she wants. I mean, if she's not killing me ... then frankly, it's not my job to care anymore."
Eve puts herself directly in the path of danger and makes it her job to care. Villanelle is drawn to Eve because she knows that she has her full attention. Eve thinks about her all the time, spends every waking hour trying to pscyhoanalyze her from afar. What could be more flattering? There's nothing better than finding out a person you find physically attractive is literally obsessed with you.
Throughout the course of the series, Eve throws everything away for Villanelle: her old job at MI5, her new job at MI6, her relationship with Niko, the lives of countless people, and her sanity. Villanelle might be a ruthless killer, but she's not devoid of all emotion. She's intrigued by Eve and marvels at her single-minded pursuit and displays of vulnerability. Eve is willing to put herself in danger for the chance to get to know Villanelle better. The potential for deeper knowledge and intimacy outweighs the looming threat of violence.
It's hard not to think of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham.
Villanelle's obsession makes just as much sense as Eve's. At the end of Episode 8, "God, I'm Tired," both women confess their feelings.
Eve: I think about you all the time. I think about what you're wearing, and what you're doing, and who you're doing it with. I think about what friends you have. I think about what you eat before you work, or what shampoo you use, and ... what happened in your family. I think about your eyes and your mouth and what you feel when you kill someone. I think about what you have for breakfast. I just want to know everything.
Villanelle: I think about you, too. I mean, I masturbate about you a lot.
Villanelle's feelings are simpler, more overtly sexual and likely a result of Eve's unrelenting pursuit over the course of the first season. Eve's feelings are deeper ... more tied to what she thinks she might want at this point in her life. As time crawls on and we find comfort in certain people or routines, it's easy to feel complacent and to forget what it's like to be on the precipice of something foreign and exciting. Villanelle makes Eve remember; Eve makes Villanelle feel wanted.
Even though Eve ultimately stabs her in the stomach, I do believe the feelings she expresses are genuine. Villanelle does excite her, but she's also aware of her true nature. No matter how sweet she might seem at time, Villanelle is a sociopath. In another life, at another time, maybe these two could have consummated their relationship and had a happy life together but as it stands, I think they'll need to remain foils instead of lovers. The show has already been picked up for Season Two 🙌🏻, so we'll find out eventually.
If you want to read more about the series, I highly recommend these two pieces:
- "Killing Eve’s queer representation could have gone very wrong — then it didn’t" by Shannon Liao
- "All Hail Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the Auteur of Female Dysfunction" by Alison Herman