As the shape of televisual entertainment has evolved considerably over the past 10 years and continues to do so at an exponential rate, so have the demands of the viewership of popular shows. The ‘water cooler’ moments of the past have been replaced with the immediate sharing provided by social media. ‘Cinematic TV’ is a phrase often used as a variety of new shows swell with huge budgets and feature star power on par with the biggest box office examples. It opens up the world of the visual narrative and I for one, love it. To see actors allowed the opportunity to flesh out the character they portray and experiencing their journey through the added benefit of episodic structure, enabling longer run times and multiple seasons so that we, the viewers, can establish a connection with them.
As feature films increasingly push the 2-hour (and sometimes longer) runtime barrier more and more in order to deliver their narrative journey, TV offerings are allowed, through the structure of the medium, to breath, expand their story and develop character. This year there were two particular shows I was tremendously excited for, the almighty Game of Thrones finale, which polarised audiences and received a lot of negativity and I was, for my part, rather disappointed. The other was the return of BBC America’s Killing Eve, the spy thriller loosely based on the Villanelle novels by Luke Jennings. First airing in the US in serialised form and then landed on UK shores in full ‘bingeable’, non-episodic form on BBC iPlayer on the 8th June, the reviews were positive and the hype compelling. I worried that this could be a possible repeat of the follies of Westeros, but I am happy to report, this was not the case.
The plot resumes immediately (30 seconds later to be exact) following the first season and Jodie Comer’s Villanelle staggers through the streets of Paris following her knife wound to the abdomen inflicted by the titular Eve (Sandra Oh). This first episode takes great pleasure in demonstrating to the audience that even at her most vulnerable, Oksana Astankova (Codename Villanelle) is still a force to be reckoned with. This season follows Villanelle’s recovery and return to the hired assassin game, all the while stalking Eve from near and far with mischievous abandon. To discuss further the plot further would do the show a disservice and we all know spoilers are the bane of all that is kind and good.
The creative writing mind behind the first season of Killing Eve was the incredibly talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge (also responsible for the wonderfully original Fleabag), the reins for season 2’s writing honours were handed to producer Emerald Fennell. I was worried that the loss of Waller -Bridge’s input as a writer may deliver a sub-par experience compared to the beautifully written and darkly funny original series. Fennell manages (at least for myself) to improve on the formula and elevate it above the first. Characters are now established and there is no need for expositional tidbits. We as an audience care about the central relationship so much due to the tightly written dialogue and strong performances that the core plot elements from the original series continue seamlessly.
Sandra Oh, is a coiled spring on a stark realisation of self-discovery and the flip side to Villanelle’s cruel and carelessly inquisitive killer. Both characters are cut from the same cloth, a hall of mirrors distorted reflection of one another, albeit Villanelle chooses to embrace her psychopathic tendencies whilst Eve does her best to recoil from them. It is morality and the ability to control one’s own ID that separates them. Villanelle is mischief and guiltless impulse whilst Eve is restrained against her will by the bindings of socially and morally acceptable acts. Sandra Oh is wonderful as Eve, and her entangled infatuation for Villanelle is gripping, all-consuming and wholly understandable. Comer’s assassin is carefree charisma personified and Eve is seduced almost completely by her.
This would not be a fair review of Killing Eve without waxing lyrical about MVP Jodie Comer. Her performance as Villanelle is fantastic and she captivates with her charisma and careless attitude while remaining incredibly likeable, relatable and most of all you root for her to succeed. Somehow, she manages to make the heinous things she does laugh out loud funny even if the giggle is partly generated by shock. One scene early in the season has her perform a rather horrific spontaneous murder yet for some reason, you cannot help but chuckle. Black humour is rife, and sarcasm peppers the dialogue setting out as if to prove it certainly is not the lowest form of wit.
The production of the entire series is excellent, all aspects from the soundtrack to the cinematography and lighting have a quality to them that ranks the show above many others striving to deliver similar experiences. The acting is fantastic by all, especially the cold and unpredictable MI6 section head Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), delivering a performance that sees her part warm and approachable and part the type to leave you to die in pain alone and not give you a second thought. Credit to Henry Lloyd-Hughes as Aaron Peel, who is most recognisable as Mark Donovan, the aggressive bully from The Inbetweeners and Ralph Whelan of Indian Summers. In Killing Eve however, he ramps up the psycho to eleven and stands out as an unpredictable antagonist.
At the heart of the show are the interactions between Villanelle and Eve, which are far more than simple clashes of old fashioned good and evil, they are entirely complex and riveting to watch. There is palpable sexual tension between the two, but it transcends basic attraction. It is blissful to watch the chemistry between Oh and Comer act beside each other, and the show crescendos with sporadic confrontations of the two as you wait and savour these interactions that drive the narrative forward.
Both seasons of Killing Eve offer a such an engaging and exciting viewing experience with season 2 advancing on the formula beautifully. Villanelle is one of the best anti-heroes of current times and she is almost impossible not to love.
She also has great taste in pyjamas…