Jodie Comer's Villanelle returns for Season 3 of Killing EveBBC America

From the minute Villanelle (Jodie Comer) swanned onto our screens in 2018, it was clear that tropes of the thriller genre were about to be subverted. Now nearing the end of its third season, Killing Eve is a show that reframes the classic spy-assassin thriller storyline through a refreshingly female and queer lens. In the first episode of season one, we see Villanelle sweeping through Parisian streets in a soft pink designer coat to the sound of François Hardy’s Il Voyage, having just returned from Vienna where she murdered a diplomat and tipped icecream over a child.  Not exactly a textbook assassin. But this is a show that delights in the unexpected. 

Killing Eve was first adapted from Luke Jennings’ 2014 novella Codename Villanelle by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The first season delivered visual splendour and energetic wit, striking a perfect, if not unsettling, balance of comedy and tragedy. The premise of the story seemed initially familiar- the MI6 agent chases the Russian assassin. The twist: they are both women, and have an increasingly sapphic obsession with one another, which Villanelle expresses through dangerous but sexy gifts- a stick of red lipstick with a blade hidden inside, a returned suitcase that she stole from Eve the week before, now filled with expensive clothes and perfume and complete with a note: Sorry Baby x.

Enter the object of Villanelle’s affections: Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), a newly recruited MI6 agent. Throughout the series, Eve’s fascination with psychopaths draws her away from her supportive but boring marriage as she channels all her energy into her job. After her first encounter with Villanelle, however, Eve’s fascination develops into something other than professional. ‘She had very delicate features’, she says, describing Villanelle to a police officer in the first season, ‘...Her lips are full, she has a long neck, high cheekbones. Her skin is smooth and bright. She had a lost look in her eye, that was both direct and also chilling...’ This perceptive and idiosyncratic display of the female gaze is drawn into sharp comparison when the male officer responds, ‘Errr, so is that like a square face or an oval face?’ Seeing the female gaze enacted  on screen in this way felt energised in a way that the male gaze had long since failed to be. Eve’s perception of Villanelle combined attraction with curiosity and empathy, making it both more powerful and more dangerous than one that is purely physical.

The relationship between Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) is at the heart of this innovative seriesVox

It is at moments such as this that the positive effects of having an entirely female written show were made obvious. The first season was written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, with subsequent series led by Emerald Fennell and Suzanne Heathcot. To have a female experience portrayed authentically on screen felt shocking and somehow delightful. When Villanelle used a tampon to get past a man trying to stop her from using the bathroom for customers, it felt like his aversion to an embarrassing conversation about periods was a subtle dig from Waller-Bridge at a regressive  attitude that pervades the male dominated spy-thriller genre. The Bond girls never had to deal with the inconveniences of feminine hygiene, they were too busy seducing men.

Too many shows of this genre are unwilling to delve beneath the surface of their female characters, writing them instead only to give sexual direction to a male-centred plot. As Waller-Bridge said in a 2018 Guardian interview: “We sexualise women all the time in drama and TV. They are objectified. But an exploration of one woman’s creative desire is really exciting’’. And so, watching Season One, it felt like a small victory every time Villanelle weaponised her period or her femininity; every time she exploited men to get closer to her murderous goals. The show has since exposed a different side of Villanelle, with most of her season three murders relating to families, and reflecting her personal loneliness and fragility: the woman with the baby, the Spanish lady in her family’s shop, the man at the child’s birthday party. Whilst watching this season, I sometimes found myself longing for the indestructible Villanelle of the first season, who never messed up a murder (her skills have declined alarmingly over the course of the three seasons). However, whilst glamour has been compromised in favour of emotional vulnerability in this season, the authenticity of Villanelle’s character has remained. 

Despite the constant sexual tension between Villanelle and Eve, the show has been accused of queer baiting, perhaps due to the fact that the first two seasons teased the audience constantly; whenever it seemed they were about to kiss, they would try to kill each other instead. The kiss on the bus in season three almost broke out of this pattern, until Eve ruined the moment by aggressively headbutting Villanelle. However, besides the tangled and tantalising will-they-won’t-they of the central pairing, the very fabric of this show is queer, in a realistically messy way that not many other shows manage to achieve. Rather than throwing onto screen a token gay character, whose entire identity is then defined by that label and who must function in an otherwise heternormative frame, Killing Eve is a show that takes the fluidity of sexuality for granted. Labels are rarely used but casual representation peppers the show- Eve’s boss tells her how he frequented Berlin’s gay scene in the 80s and another colleague declares her ‘massive’ crush on Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw). Villanelle has a thing for women with ‘amazing hair’, and goes round picking up women, in between kills, that look vaguely like Eve, just for fun. In Season Three, she even briefly marries a Spanish woman, before the ceremony descends into chaos after an awkward wedding toast - ‘when I think about my ex today, I realise, I am so much happier now she’s dead.’ 


READ MORE

Mountain View

TV and our desire to transform the on-screen fashion world into a reality

Ultimately, it is Comer’s Villanelle that makes this show so addictive; her character is at once petty and glamourous, childish and masochistic. She is a lovable psychopath with a flair for languages and a crush on the agent investigating her murders. The occasional vulnerability that we see only intrigues us further; a recent episode showed her disastrous reunion with her family, which pushed her closer to human emotion than we’d seen before. 

However, as the third season of Killing Eve draws to its close, I am left feeling nostalgic for the days of season one. For the tight plot lines and relevant characters, perfectly pitched humour and well paired characters. The characters that we see in this season are inevitably more jaded and distraught than they were when we first saw them in season one, and as a result, season three has not made for such captivating and exhilarating viewing (if I see Geraldine trying to counsel Carolyn one more time...). But whilst this emotional baggage of season three is perhaps inevitable, given the amounts of trauma that each individual character has experienced, it feels wrongly distributed, with not nearly enough screen time devoted to the one pairing we care most about: Villanelle and Eve. 

I still love Killing Eve, but it has suffered from the too-frequent changes in show writers; a bit of the show’s adrenaline is lost in each changeover, and the second and third seasons sometimes feel tonally confused. In this season, we see experimental forays into surrealism, such as when Villanelle’s Russian family explodes into a rendition of Elton John’s Crocodile Rock around the dinner table, which was enjoyable but disconcerting. The emphasis on Villanelle’s childishness is also overdone in this season, and we see her acting in ways that would have been inconceivable to season one Villanelle. However, despite the tonal inconsistencies of this season, the show has retained its subversive and humorous charm, and still flies far above other shows in the genre. Now all we need is an emotionally honest final episode in which Villanelle and Eve are allowed the space and time for some catharsis, in an interaction which provides enough energy to propel the show into its next season. 

(All three series are now on BBC iPlayer)

Sponsored links

Partner links