Celebrating Killing Eve
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
As Killing Eve concludes Season III, I struggle to summarize why the BBC series is so sublimely seductive. The complexity of its appeal does not lend itself to the usual critique of a successful show. There is nothing prosaic or predictable about it. The spies’ sexuality does not drive the drama because the interplay of attractions is never that one-dimensional, traditional, or cliche. By the same token, the show does engender a powerful intimacy that draws you to its characters, despite the unsavory, depraved nature virtually all of them possess. The most patently likable characters do not live long enough to become boring; the survivors who rightfully should have been punished or imprisoned for their crimes stubbornly persist, and become more head-scratchingly fascinating and confounding with each episode.
Visually, the production is flawless in its creation of profound moodiness and overall sophisticated slickness. It is at once modern and classic, taboo-shattering and comfortingly familiar, a vibrant stream of contradictions which intoxicates the viewer. In the same scene, one’s mouth is agape over the perfection of the main character, Villanelle’s outfit one minute, and over the brutal, pathological killing of a victim by the same well-dressed fashionista, the next. The evocative interiors and beautiful camera shots of cosmopolitan European capitals contrast with the starkly macabre tale of spy craft and coldblooded assassinations. No; this is not a knockoff of your favorite Bond flick, if for no other reason than Bond would not have been caught dead in fabulous pink tulle.
The performances of Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer, Fiona Shaw and Kim Bodnia are masterful, but more importantly, endearing and addicting. One has the distinct feeling throughout the three seasons that the characters are as alluring as they are quirky and indecent, and we happily surrender ourselves to the ambiguities and ironies that give the three seasons their gritty, smart appeal. There is no tidy, implicit message in the storyline, and between giggling at the impossibly clever quips and superb banter, and gasping at the sociopathic outrageousness of the behavior, “Killing Eve” devotees somehow recognize that perhaps their own obsession with the bizarrity of the characters’ connections and antics should be deeply disturbing.
The attraction which simmers and builds between Eve and Villanelle underpins the greater plot, but the parallel, undefined subplots of the other characters are no less compelling. Fiona Shaw unabashedly steals the series’ thunder, despite playing a “supporting” role. Shaw is unflappable, impeccable and unfathomable, and I found myself hanging on her every word, gesture and stiff-upper-lip smugness. In essence, her portrayal of the MI6 maven, Carolyn Martens, is impervious to being trivialized or stereotyped and in that sense is a metaphor for the series’ enigmatic allure. In the final analysis, none of the unforgettable cast can be deciphered or fully understood, but their oddity is quintessentially cool and their humanity, however dysfunctional, keeps us clamoring for more of this British black comedy-drama spy thriller.