When I see entertainment media associated with or containing the words ‘murder’, ‘killing’, ‘crime’ and ‘thriller’ I generally tune out. The world is so depressing as it is, people are being buried in mass graves, the planet is dying, police are routinely murdering Black and Brown people at vastly disproportionate rates to white. None of this is ‘thrilling’, so I choose not to engage in media that seems to think true crime or stories centred on murder are anything but depressing.
But lockdown finally got to me, and I watched all three series of Killing Eve in a week-long bender. Now I’m asking myself: why did I sleep on this show for so long?
I know I know, this is a show which is past the hype. You’ve heard it all before. Everyone has already seen it, it has been showered with awards since the first series aired in 2018 with 30 wins and 91 nominations. Anyone with access to the BBC must have at least seen an advert for it in the last three years. I had been absolutely inundated with recommendations of the show, the press couldn’t stop talking about it.
With a stellar first series setting astronomical expectations, the following two series received a mix of criticism. My middle-aged mother, perhaps a member of the prime demographic for female-centred crime television, said that she gave up with the last series because: “how many times can she actually kill her?”. Fair enough, the name does suggest itself to be a short-lived plot for a show. No one wants a return of Prison Break, the plot of which rendered the title basically irrelevant after season 3.
Nevertheless, I am in love.
If you haven’t seen it, Killing Eve is about the developing obsession of MI5 security operative, Eve Polastri, with a flamboyant (and equally obsessed) professional assassin, Villanelle. Rather than being, as many thrillers are, about delving into gruesome murders for far fetched clues, Killing Eve is a programme that from the outset places the relationships of the characters at the forefront of the storyline.
There is murder, but boy is it minimal for a spy show. Some episodes, especially in the third series, even go by without a single instance of bloodshed! Often, dare I say it, the bloodshed is not even terribly gruesome (although I will not make this as a blanket statement as some scenes definitely might be distressing, my least favourite being the incident with the clown).
Perhaps what makes the senseless killing more palatable is the show’s flamboyant, artful directing style. The focus is not on the blood, it is on Villanelle and her fucked-up quest to win Eve’s attention. Lucy Mangan writes that “the series remains visually more appealing than almost anything else currently on screen” and I certainly agree, killing included.
Even so, there isn’t too much to be said about Killing Eve being a family friendly programme.
It is about a psychopathic assassin, afterall.
What really drew me to seeing this show as being ‘not like all the other girls’ was the evident and nuanced female writing that backs it. Something as small as having almost every position of power being filled by a woman is refreshing.
And, gasp, old people having sex? Inspired. Never have I seen a women past the age of 40 be portrayed in such a fantastic, sex-filled, blasé, powerful way. Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens, the MI6 boss who facilitates Eve’s investigation into Villanelle, is truly the highlight of the show. She is a dry-humoured, fiercely intelligent women who oozes power and whose presence simply demands respect.
I’d suggest that the writers, notably Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, had taken all the characteristics of a traditional man-in-a-thriller and deposited them into the delightful Carolyn, but that would do an injustice to her character. Carolyn is the epitome of the masculine, emotionless and driven TV boss yet at the same time could not be separated from her femininity. The line in the second episode of series two about her moisturiser being made of pig’s placenta is a beautiful embodiment of this. She owns her womxnhood with the ferocity with which she owns her job.
Killing Eve is an enjoyable watch because of the absolute array of interesting characters. Yes, it’s based on an assassin, but the murders are almost inconsequential, a cry for attention. The plot is driven by the quests of two enthralling women to understand each other, having them revel in being constantly surprised by their devotee. Fundamentally it is also a funny show, with Villanelle being a constant source of ridiculousness and humour. There just happens to be a bit of blood in the background.
What stands out is that it takes the nature of most murder-for-hire shows and flips it on its head. It’s not dull or grey or trying to take itself too seriously. It depicts realistic relationships and the real life ups, down and awkwardness of balancing said relationships in both home and work environments. All in a beautifully designed world with a queer hit women at its core. And honestly? It’s got a sexy soundtrack too.
Essentially, this can’t be a programme that’s in for the long haul. It just can’t. My mother is right: sooner or later, and preferably sooner, one of them is going to have to die. If the producers know what’s good for them, they’ll allow the story to naturally curtail at the end of the already renewed fourth series. Even so, it is an excellent watch, especially if you can sandwich all three series into one heady week of avoiding your dissertation in favour of watching Jodie Comer (Villanelle) being the girlfriend you never knew you wanted. I highly recommend giving Killing Eve a shot.
All three series are available to watch on BBC iPlayer here.