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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Killing Eve combines nauseating tension with love at first sight

Illustration for article titled Killing Eve combines nauseating tension with love at first sight
Photo: BBC America

Is Killing Eve a love story? It may be a spy versus spy show, but it’s also very clearly a romance. In one episode, we get both our first Eve/Villanelle face-to-face interaction, as well as the outlines of what Eve is up against. Or possibly, Eve and Villanelle, since Villanelle now seems to be interested in who’s calling the shots.


Part of what makes the central relationship so fascinating on this show is that it is permanently tense. Whatever else happens between them, there’s no looking past the fact that Villanelle is an incredibly dangerous person. And the writing and directing are so good that it’s perfectly possible to have scenes with Villanelle where you know no one is really in danger (i.e., when she talks to Konstantin) and still have her be a terrifying person any time she interacts with anyone else (i.e., Eve and Frank). The construction of her character has been so efficient that it’s impossible not to grit your teeth during her entire dinner date with Eve.

On one level, of course Eve is going to be OK. She’s the main character, and she’s not going anywhere (we’ll just ignore the title of the show for now). But no matter how clear Villanelle makes it that she’s not going to kill Eve, the whole scene is taut with menace. Villanelle’s cheerful mention of Nico’s nice mustache makes that perfectly clear. Anyone in Villanelle’s orbit is in danger, subject to her whims and paychecks. The sequence in which she tries to play on Eve’s sympathy for her is almost heavy-handed. Even five episodes in, we know that’s not who she is. And Eve, armed with the information about her early penchant for violence, knows full well that Villanelle would be a killer even if she wasn’t paid to be one.

And yet. Their first long look face to face, earlier in the episode, is so strained with emotion, considering one of them is a psychopath. It’s hard to know when to trust the emotions that you see on Villanelle’s face. When she looks upset, is she? When she looks surprised, overwhelmed, is she? When Eve puts her hand over her heart, what does Villanelle feel about it? 

One of the things Killing Eve has done extraordinarily well so far is to make you really look at people. The characters on this show are so often framed in ways that force you to examine them, when there’s no dialogue occurring, and you’re forced to wonder if someone is watching them. Or to wonder how aware they are of the effect they’re having, like Carolyn Martens’ habit of appearing to be perpetually hanging out alone in rooms, waiting for Eve to enter. She somehow manages to make a dramatic entrance each time, even though Eve is the one entering.

Carolyn remains one of the biggest mysteries. She’s always so aware of how she’s perceived in any given moment. It doesn’t seem accidental that we see her preparing to do something drastic to get Frank to talk, and then the next thing we see is her bare arm. It’s not just that it’s a hug, it’s that it’s a hug that involves stripping a layer so that she’s that much closer to him. That bare arm also subverts the notion that a female spy in that moment in a far more traditional story would be using her feminine wiles on a man. But Killing Eve is not interested in women using their bodies to get their way, or in even having their bodies serve as an element of danger for them. In fact, when Villanelle brings it up as a plot point in her half-assed construction of what happened with the other assassins for Konstantin at the end of the episode, it’s completely laughable, despite the fact that Villanelle is gorgeous. 


But Konstantin has bigger problems than Villanelle’s murdering his other freelancers. For what might be the first time, she’s got a little more information about her employers than he realized. And given that there are now three people still alive who have heard about the mysterious Twelve from Frank, the world’s worst mole, that information is only going to keep spreading.

Stray observations

  • When Villanelle makes off with the phone, it’s clear that she’s going to use it to go kill Frank. But the concept that the information in his confession would also be new to her was a nice extra detail.
  • This is the type of show that features both complex psychological warfare and also a line about someone’s knob being cut off followed by a scene of someone frying sausages.
  • I’m a little less invested in Villanelle’s mystery trauma than Eve is. There isn’t a satisfactory explanation for what she does, and I don’t need to know that she went through some hideous thing as a kid to understand her.
  • Wait, Carolyn Martens has a dog named Martin? I have a cat but I didn’t name him Weidenfeld. That would just be silly.
  • Another very pointed musical cue in this episode: As Eve approaches Villanelle, we hear someone singing “If I gave you my heart/would you break it.”
  • I didn’t get into it above, but the scenes of Eve breaking the glass and then trying on the clothes were fascinating. All of us at one point or another have wanted to just hit eject on normal life, and Eve is actually doing it.
  • Also will be very interesting to see if/when Eve’s clearly erotic interest in the clothes and perfume transfers to Villanelle in the flesh. She’s threatening to kill what Villanelle loves, but there’s ample evidence that will turn out to be Eve herself.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.