A pilot has to do an awful lot of work. By the end of 40-some minutes of television, a viewer needs to know some very basic facts about what and who they’re watching.
Killing Eve, the new series from Fleabag mastermind Phoebe Waller-Bridge, tells us exactly who our main characters are in the first ten minutes of the show. In our first moments with Villanelle, we know something is deeply wrong with her. She doesn’t know how to relate to a little girl, but on some level she’s curious about what she could do differently.
But that curiosity only goes so far, and by the time she leaves the ice cream shop, we’ve gotten a lot of details about someone who hasn’t even spoken yet. She likes being pampered—she’s an adult woman getting ice cream alone—and she’s utterly devoid of remorse.
We get plenty from the titular Eve in her first scene as well. She’s distinctly odd, and there’s an amoral glee in her willingness to absolutely terrify her poor husband over a little muscle soreness. But in moments they’re both smiling at each other. She may lack boundaries, but she’s still connected emotionally to the world.
That emotional connection is clearly about to be tested, though. In the way of clever good guys across pop culture, she’s way too admiring of the assassination work of Villanelle. The show is both following a few pop culture tropes and also overturning them. The lawman obsessed with his subject is nothing new, but the fact that cat and mouse here are both women comes into play immediately. Villanelle is successful in part because she’s a woman, as Eve points out. The first man we find out about her killing would never have seen her as a threat, and her beauty acts as a shield in Tuscany until she’s ready to strike. There are ways that a beautiful young woman can move throughout the world with ease that make her deeply effective. If someone had seen her scaling the outside of a building in her cutoff jean shorts, nobody would have done anything about it. And even Eve writes her off when she encounters her in the hospital bathroom.
Conversely, Eve’s encounters with being underestimated end much more poorly for her. She’s not getting away with anything. Instead, her work is so boring, and so beneath her abilities, that as soon as she gets caught doing an off-the-records investigation, her boss tries to get fired, too.
That’s only one of the many parallels established between the women in the first episode. For one thing, they’re both trying to get noticed. Eve knows she’s too smart for the tedious desk job she has, and spends her free time building murder conspiracies and coming up with elaborate ways to fake kill her husband. And Villanelle is obviously experimenting with how far she can take her kills before she gets caught. They’re both also partnered with an older man who endeavors unsuccessfully to rein in their more dangerous impulses. But while Eve and Bill squabble affectionately over croissants, Villanelle’s idea of a fun with her handler Konstantin is either watch a movie or stage a death scene for him. Every moment of their back and forth is laced with equal parts humor and danger. These are two people who are being useful to each other…for now.
Waller-Bridge was equally assured in Fleabag; here her dry wit finds its perfect avatar in Sandra Oh, who anchors the show so effortlessly it may be an actual crime that no one has been giving her roles this good. She imbues Eve with an effortlessly earthy vibe, simultaneously a little off-putting yet very real. Eve may be a murder scene obsessive, but you’d share your croissant with her, too.
The show isn’t shy about its influences. This is a spy show, with the glamorous locales and gorgeous clothes to prove it. But for once, that beautiful woman walking by is just as deadly as she seems, and the woman being ignored in a meeting? She might be the only person smart enough to catch her.
- Villanelle’s apartment is so well-designed. The old school radio, the drawer with bullets, razors, and tampons gathered together. Much as Eve is doing, you can already start to guess so much about her.
- “Just to be clear-” “You’re fired.” “Excellent, thank you.”
- “He’s really well. He’s really nice.” Never has a woman sounded more in love. Poor Nico.
- For the record: I haven’t read the books the show is based on. So I won’t be doing any “This diverged from the book!” type analysis for now. Are there fans of the books out there? Should I read them after I’ve finished the season?