Spy versus spy: An intimate look at Killing Eve

By in Culture

Killing Eve made its smouldering debut on Canadian television this summer, with the story ending on a delicate cliffhanger earlier this September, and the series presents a thrilling new take on the spy genre.

In its short time, Killing Eve has garnered two Emmy nominations and has secured a second season. But despite the usual accolades, and the usual financial security of sophisticated television shows, Killing Eve isn’t quite like its comrades.

The show stars the familiar face of Grey’s Anatomy actress Sandra Oh as obsessive MI5 turned MI6 operative, Eve Polastri — her appearance on screen lulling the audience into a false sense of comfort. Alongside Oh is the lesser known British actress Jodie Comer, in the role of Villanelle — a Russian assassin with psychopathic tendencies and a killer wardrobe.

On the surface, Killing Eve is your traditional spy-versus-spy showdown — the good operative hunts down the bad operative with it all leading to a bloody climax. We have seen this dynamic many times before — another BBC series The Fall starring Gillian Anderson as a troubled detective on the hunt for a rapist and murderer played by Jamie Dornan, gives us a similar portrayal.

Killing Eve, however, breaks past the shallows and goes much deeper than this. The usual cat-and-mouse pairing of man against man, or even man against woman, has been replaced with a woman-versus-woman dynamic — where the characters are presented as equals matched in their intellectual power.

Oh has been quoted saying that the psychological link between the two women, and the exploration of the female psyche, is what initially got her interested in the role.

Killing Eve is a show that is accurate in both its tone and its exploration of the dangerous depths of women. It succeeds in illuminating its characters’ darkness with grace, elegance and a little violence. The series is not all death and gloom — it is punctuated with moments of surreal and sardonic humour, with Oh as the perfect vehicle for the delivery of dark comedy gold.

What makes Killing Eve so appealing is the complexity of the two female characters and the questions that arise from their interactions with one another. The series succeeds at pulling the metaphorical shadows across the screen and obscuring the characters — successfully instilling doubt in the viewer.

It blurs the lines between the traditional good and bad roles by teasing out the subtle psychopathic tendencies that lay beneath Eve’s outwardly awkward façade. As the show progresses, Eve becomes entangled in her growing obsession with the assassin — bringing into question her true motives behind the hunt for Villanelle.

The tense relationship between the two women, revolving around their intellectual prowess and curious obsession with one another, is something that is not often explored on television in this depth.

It harkens back to Bryan Fuller’s interpretation of Hannibal, ending in 2015 — which explored a tense and seductive cat-and-mouse relationship between the two male characters, posing questions about motive and psyche. But Killing Eve, unlike Hannibal, has its feet firmly planted in reality, leading to a much stronger execution of this dynamic.

The psychology of Killing Eve is what draws you in. Over the story arc, you are able to see cracks in the outward appearances of the characters. Villanelle displays many traits of psychopathy, yet she becomes careless when she should be calculated and anxious or unhinged when she should be calm and collected.

Then, on the other hand, you watch Eve darken as she descends deeper into the hunt for Villanelle — moving from a quirky, neurotic woman to a cold, focused agent who gradually begins to explore the violence that has always been simmering just beneath the surface.

Killing Eve is a smart, seductive series not afraid to explore the hidden depths of the lives of women who have usurped the traditionally masculine characters of prestige spy thrillers. It leaves the audience wondering just how far Eve will go in her obsession as the series moves into its second season, which is slated for release in the spring of 2019.

Erin Matthews / Opinions Editor

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor