It’s hard for TV shows to really make enough noise to get noticed in this era of Peak TV. And then, if they do, harder still to sustain what made them so exciting and different to begin with. Some take breaks, some go through sophomore slumps, but here BBC America’s fantastic, twisted drama Killing Eve is, returning almost exactly one year later just as sharp and engrossing as before.
The series’ key dynamic remains the same, but writer Emerald Fennell — who has taken over from creator and EP Phoebe Waller-Bridge — has placed Eve (Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in very different circumstances to start the new season. Picking up 30 seconds after Eve stabbed Villanelle in the Season 1 finale, both women tumble out of that Parisian apartment trying to pull themselves together. Eve has to come to terms with her act of violence, which she thinks might have murdered her assassin obsession, while Villanelle (not, indeed, dead) just needs to survive. Both women are spiraling out of control, and yet, both are still tethered mentally and emotionally to one another. Eve’s preoccupation over what might have happened to Villanelle is a showcase for Oh’s nervous charm in the role (her gleefully answering a telemarketer’s call is outstanding), while Villanelle being humbled and forced to operate outside of her preferred milieu similarly provokes a tour de force from Comer.
And that, of course, is what makes Killing Eve so special; it’s a series that puts two amazing women in roles typically reserved for men: that of the international assassin and the government agent tasked with hunting them down. Their cat-and-mouse (or cat-and-cat) game also includes a psychosexual dynamic, one that Eve is not yet comfortable exploring but also doesn’t deny (one of the series’ best moments was her admitting how much she obsesses about Villanelle to Villanelle herself). Killing Eve made it clear at the end of Season 1 that the two are not destined to become a pair yet, but as Villanelle recounts, starry-eyed, to a fellow hospital patient later, “she [stabbed me] to show me how much she cares about me.”
That problematic way of thinking is also an example of how corrupted this attraction between the two women really is. Killing Eve has shown us over and over again that Villanelle is apparently a psychopath, which is something that could lead to the series feeling empty if that’s all there is to it. It’s fun, of course, to see Comer relish in all of the different accents and outfits and characters that Villanelle embodies, but it’s also natural for viewers to consider whether or not Villanelle can, in some way, be redeemed. Is there more to her than being a soulless killer? The first season showed us how tracking Villanelle woke Eve up to a life far more exciting than the doldrums she was used to (my apologies to Owen McDonnell’s Niko, you mustachioed Bridge-loving stud), so does it not stand to reason that perhaps Eve has awoken something inside Villanelle as well?
Though only two episodes of the new season were available for review, they continue to be as sleek, seductive, and unexpectedly wacky as Season 1. The series’ soundtrack also pulsates with an evocative, hypnotic, synth-heavy score that help immerse us in this wonderfully strange world. It’s a little dreamy and off-kilter, which perfectly mirrors the tonal shifts from spy thriller chic to hilariously small-town and domestic. Villanelle is not in her element in these episodes — she’s forced to confront a number of horrors, including slipping her feet into bedazzled Crocs and wearing superhero-themed pajamas. But there’s something thrilling about seeing her have to resort to her most basic street-smarts to survive, the very opposite of the Cheshire Cat toying with her prey that we’ve seen before.
Eve, on the other hand, seems to be thriving (after her initial shock, at any rate). She’s back to working for MI-6, with Carolyn (a magnificent Fiona Shaw) who is ever-cryptically incorporating back into the fold. That includes the introduction of a second female assassin, someone who appears to be Villanelle’s opposite. She’s not showy and flamboyant, but incredibly disciplined and detailed. Discovering her proves that Eve does have excellent investigative instincts, and it also opens the world up a little bit so we aren’t just getting a repetition of the Eve and Villanelle dynamic. Instead, Eve has a new killer to track, and as she astutely notes to Carolyn, “this is going to drive Villanelle crazy.”
Where it’s all going is uncertain, and yet, also feels unimportant. The world that Waller-Bridge has built and that Fennell is continuing is one worth spending endless time in. Oh and Comer are vitally magnetic in their roles, and the second hour (which is even better than the first) proves the series is still looking to more or less embrace a kill-of-the-week format, leading to some really grisly fun, short arcs. (Fun is the operative word here — the series is at its best when it smash-cuts dramatically to the most ordinary British villages). That second episode, which features The Mighty’s Boosh’s Julian Barrett, is particularly disturbing, and it continues to play on a theme of things not going according to plan for Villanelle — at least for the moment. As for Killing Eve, though, everything is still going very right.
Killing Eve Season 2 premieres Sunday, April 7th on BBC America and AMC.