Killing Eve is a spy thriller as we’ve never seen before. It’s funny, it’s disarming and it has introduced us to some of the most complex, fierce and irresistible females we’ve ever seen on television.
Of course, considering it’s been adapted from Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle series of novellas by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, we know to expect the unexpected.
And unexpected it is: three strong female leads, role reversals, queering the spy thriller, seamlessly mixing stunning aesthetics and silliness, and creating a psychopath we’re all terrified of and simultaneously would love to befriend. No wonder it’s picked up scores of awards, including the BAFTA for Best Drama series (Jodie Comer and Fiona Shaw bagged the leading and supporting actress BAFTAs, too), while Sandra Oh has won a Golden Globe and SAG award for her work on the hit series.
The show is back on TV with its second season, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge has moved to an executive producing role, but it hasn’t lost its original lustre - in fact, actress and Waller-Bridge pal, Emerald Fennell, who calls the show “a feminist masterpiece,” has taken over as lead writer.
Here are three reasons Killing Eve is feminist TV at its finest.
The three protagonists of Killing Eve are deeply flawed, but when it comes to feminist dreams coming true, they’re flawless. They answer to no one (especially no one male), they’re sexually in control and they are whip-smart.
Waller-Bridge has said that she thinks women are exhausted by constantly seeing other women brutalised on-screen, so this wasn’t going to be another show with a nameless female corpse in a body bag, episode after episode. Villanelle’s well-dressed, childish psychopathy is thrilling to watch – Waller-Bridge has called Villanelle’s violence “empowering.”
Comer, in a recent Stylist interview with Lily Allen, also explained how she admires the character of Villanelle, saying: “...this person is fearless and acts on impulse and you know she’s awful but there’s something quite admirable about that. In this day and age we’re riddled with fear and this woman doesn’t have that. I think that’s why people have enjoyed watching her.”
Then there’s MI6 agent Carolyn Martens, played to perfection by Fiona Shaw, whose buttoned-up persona is revealed to be mysterious and mischievous, and whose one-liners always inject humour into any serious scene (rats drinking Coke with two hands, face cream made from pig placenta). Of course, the show centres around the erotic, obsessive relationship between Sandra Oh’s agent, Eve Polastri, who would much rather be in pursuit of a murderous psychopath than trying to deal with the humdrum realities of fixing her marriage (wouldn’t we all?), and Villanelle.
The sex appeal – in everything
As any woman will tell you, sexiness isn’t found in a tight, short skirt. It’s in an airy Parisian apartment that’s “chic as s**t,” it’s in dressing like a character out of Brideshead Revisited while stalking your obsession’s husband in Oxford and it’s in wearing the most outlandish head-to-toe vibrant pink outfit that begs to be photographed, before shouting at an Instagrammer to “Get a real life!” when she asks if she can photograph you.
Killing Eve is effortlessly sexy as strong female protagonists often are. Any performance that happens (a particularly exuberant gesture, murder or outfit from Villanelle) isn’t happening to please a man, but for herself (or to impress Eve), makes it even sexier.
The twist on the classic spy thriller stereotypes
Waller-Bridge has been open about wanting to get rid of spy-thriller cliches, the “cold-blooded assassin” turns out to be the woman who is both sexual lure and sexual agent, the super-smart, multi-lingual chameleon who can charm anyone and be whatever she needs to be to get what she wants. Similarly, Eve is a twist on “brow-beaten cop” – with her enviable hair and Canadian-Korean background. Sandra Oh neither looks nor acts like the typical spy, and she also happens to be smarter than all of the men around her. In fact, in Killing Eve, it’s the men who end up being a bit left out and pathetic: Eve’s husband is the constant nag who has no idea how many secrets his wife is keeping from him, while men are used and disposed of as objects: see Villanelle’s brief fling with Sebastian, who dies strangely and dramatically after inhaling poisoned perfume.
We also think it’s all of the little details and absurdities of life – the bathos of the everyday – that make this show so great, so real and so feminist-y: take the scene in the first episode of the second series, where Eve is panicking that she has just murdered Villanelle, so she buys an outrageously large bag of pick-and-mix at the station and stress eats it. Or noisily munching the croissant at her meeting with MI6.