In this era of Peak TV, making an impact with an all-new series is nigh-on impossible. Considerable talent would be required not just from a potential cast, but the showrunner as well, in order to make a breakthrough in a saturated television landscape. Moreover, it would need to be a programme so exceptional that it redefines the medium.
Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) leads a very mundane life – she lives in London with her affable, if bland, husband Niko (Owen McDonnell) and works as a lowly analyst at M.I.5, Britain’s top intelligence agency, where the most exciting activity is swapping lunches with her colleague Bill (David Haig). Despite her best efforts and instincts, Eve’s superiors often refute her input, which only leads to further discontentment.
On the opposite side of the English Channel resides Villanelle (Jodie Comer), an assassin-for-hire who lives alone in Paris, spends her earnings on lavish luxuries and is a diagnosed psychopath. Villanelle’s sole source of socialisation is Konstantin (Kim Bodnia), with whom she has a fractious relationship – although they are somewhat friendly and playful with one-another, Konstantin often has to discipline Villanelle for her antics.
Villanelle first comes to the attention of Eve after one of her many murders is investigated by M.I.5. Although they don’t have a suspect, Eve correctly assumes that the killer is a woman, and clandestinely begins her own reconnaissance without the knowledge of her employer. Watching her closely is Carolyn Martens (Fiona “Petunia” Shaw) of “Russian Section”, who believes that Eve has the potential to locate, and detain, Villanelle.
Killing Eve has the distinction of being the first wholly-original production to be broadcast by BBC America, a cable channel that would otherwise be airing repeats of British programmes. But don’t be fooled by the “America” moniker, or the casting of Sandra Oh as the lead, because this is not an American television series – in fact, most of the series takes place, and is filmed, across some of the most picturesque locations in Europe. (And some barren ones, too.)
Further removing the programme from its connections to America is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the British actress and playwright responsible for the hugely-successful Fleabag. Unlike her previous work, Killing Eve is not a product of Waller-Bridge’s own creation, for she has adapted the show from the Villanelle novellas of author Luke Jennings; she is, though, a driving force behind the scenes, having been credited as head writer and one of the executive producers.
Undoubtedly, Waller-Bridge’s screenwriting is what makes Killing Eve so special. The dialogue is sharp and rapid, with plenty of one-liners and idiosyncratic statements to be heard – particularly from Fiona Shaw, whose direct, succinct declarations are the most delightful of all. Moreover, every character has been superbly written, with their complex, intriguing personalities making them unique to any other character currently appearing on the telly.
What’s most fascinating about these characters is not only how different they are to their contemporaries, but how similar they are to each other. It’s made abundantly clear that Villanelle is psychopathic; less discernible is that Eve also demonstrates sociopathic tendencies, pursuing her goals selfishly and failing to consider those around her. Between both women, Killing Eve blurs the line between hero and villain, proving just how multifaceted humans can be.
Equally interesting is the allusion that many of the characters are on the Autism spectrum. An example already cited is Carolyn, owing to her peculiar way of conversing; both Eve and Villanelle also possess Autistic traits – the former in her determination to find the elusive female assassin, and the latter in her inability to socialise with others. Yet another case in point is Kenny (Sean Delaney), the intellectually brilliant, socially inept hacker working as part of Carolyn’s team.
As per usual, it’s the cast that helps bring these characters to life. Sandra Oh does superbly in the role of Eve, showing the protagonist’s manic side without coming across as deranged; Jodie Comer does much the opposite, embracing Villanelle’s freaky persona while providing her with an underlying sweetness. The supporting actors are equally convincing in their roles, yet the most impressive is the fatherly, gentle – and uncommonly moustache-less – David Haig as Bill.
Mention must also be made of the soundtrack, which complements Killing Eve perfectly. The show’s credits list David Holmes and Keefus Ciancia – from the band Unloved – as chiefly responsible for the music, with some of their previously released tracks able to be heard during key moments. Their sound blends contemporary jazz with psychedelic pop, and is made all the more enjoyable by singer Jade Vincent, whose sullen, sultry vocals add to the tense atmosphere.
Although Killing Eve is enjoyable throughout, nothing can quite prepare audiences for the first season’s culmination. The final scene of the eighth episode is one of the most gloriously, unexpectedly thrilling moments ever seen on television, with a cliff-hanger ending that will leave the viewer desperate to watch the second season immediately after. Of course, it would be a crime to reveal what actually happens – it’s best left for one to discover it for themselves.
Through the stewardship of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Killing Eve has positioned itself as a landmark achievement in television. The writing is masterful, showing its characters to be intricate, connected, and distinct from all others in the medium, while the cast and soundtrack assist in making the programme an exhilarating one. It truly is an experience not to be missed.
3 thoughts on “Killing Eve: Season One”
No, the part about autism is wrong. It’s extremely damaging when autism gets conflated with psychopathy.
Simply put, there is emotional and cognitive empathy. Emotional is the ability to put yourself into and feel another persons feelings, happiness, sadness, anger, whatever.
Cognitive is the ability to read people. To see the expression on their face and to piece together why someone might feel one way or another.
The psychopath is nearly void of emotional, but has cognitive up to their ears. This is why they are superficially charming and glib. They read people like a book, but they don’t care about them. In fact, they can’t, grey matter in their brain related to empathy and consequence is missing
An autist is the reverse. They have very high emotional empathy, but tend to be lacking with or struggling with cognitive. Difficulty reading people comes across as callousness, but it’s just a lack of understanding. If you get an autistic person on the spectrum to realize that someone has been hurt, they tend to react stronger than the average person. Autists are what people call “empaths” even though it’s a silly mystical term, it’s about the closest approximation. Autists also don’t deal well with sensory experiences, including strong emotions from others because it sets off their emotional empathy to a higher degree than normal.
While both are a spectrum, Autism seems to have a much wider range of “function” than psychopathy does.
It’s really frustrating to see so many people, even doctors and psychologists parrot information that has long been proven to be incorrect over 10 years ago.
A psychopath and an autist are opposites of each other. Even down to statistical IQ. Psychopaths/sociopaths are often of lower IQ, impulsive, shallow and incapable of caring about others in so far as what they can get from them. On the outset, they seem similar because both are a different way of thinking and perceiving the world, but they have vastly different inner worlds. There is no actual comparison anymore than a simple stomach ache is the same as appendicitis.
Villanelle is a great example of a psychopath, in fact she’s one of the few more legitimate looks at psychopathy in Hollywood. Tropes like Hannibal and such are not a good example at all. She’s impulsive, methodical, constantly bored or unimpressed except the few times the boredom is quelled. Most psychopaths are not calm, not even particularly intelligent. Much like many mental disorders, it’s a spectrum, but the majority are pretty ill equipped in our world to function well in it. Villanelle is a “high functioning” psychopath whose job allows her to do whatever she wants. They are goal oriented and don’t care who or what is in the way.
Thank you for you contribution, Gracie. Please note my comment below.
Further to the comment posted above, I am aware that this review is being cited on Reddit to reinforce the notion that a certain character in ‘Killing Eve’ is Autistic, rather than sociopathic, and I’m guessing that’s what is directing most people to my blog.
I would like to stress that I am in no way conflating Autism with psychopathy or sociopathy. If that comes across in my review, I can only apologise.
This article was written three years ago, and since then I have developed as a writer and a reviewer. If I were to write this piece again today, I would phrase my words differently and avoid such inferences.
Please be mindful of this when sharing or commenting on this article in the future, and always remember to engage in a respectful discussion when doing so. 🙂