DVD Review: Killing Eve, Seasons 1 and 2
By Chris Chan
The curse of many terrific television shows is poor reviews. By “poor reviews,” I don’t mean reviews that evaluate the show negatively. I mean badly crafted reviews, which praise the show in such a way that the show comes across as unappealing. Over the past couple of decades, I was turned off of shows I later came to love, such as Arrested Development, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and others, simply because the prominent reviews of these series painted the programs in such excruciatingly pretentious terms, playing up minor or nonexistent themes, or effusively lauding the shows in such a way that they sounded like exhausting slogs. Sometimes a poor ally can be more destructive than an enemy.
A similar problem affected Killing Eve. Prior to watching the series, I had read several reviews, all of which managed to make the show sound tacky, cheap, tawdry, and sleazy. The descriptions of the character of Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) bore little if any resemblance to the woman on the actual show. Many of the best parts of the series were overlooked. Essentially, the show that critics were raving about was depicted as a violent, hypersexualized, sexually politicized piece of exploitative garbage. I wish to set the record straight. Killing Eve is definitely violent, but it’s actually a terrific show, a surprising thriller, with a dark, slightly twisted sense of humor, blessed with a pair of outstanding leads and some of the most enjoyable supporting performances in recent memory.
The plot revolves around Eve Polsatri, an intelligent British government employee who discovers patterns others miss connected to a series of assassinations across Europe. The hired killer in question is Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a mercurial young woman with a flair for the dramatic and a deep love for fashionable clothes. Villanelle is human nitroglycerine, and her handler Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) has his hands full keeping his charge under control. Eve is soon recruited by Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw) to work on a secret team to solve these crimes. Soon, Eve’s life is dominated by her growing obsession for catching Villanelle, at the expense of her relationship with her husband Niko (Owen McDonnell). The narrative becomes a grand tour of Europe, from the hidden alleys of London, to the country villas of Italy, to the red-light districts of Amsterdam, to a Russian prison.
Like some other great dramas, like The Sopranos, Better Call Saul, and The Closer, a very strong case can be made that Killing Eve is as much a comedy as a drama. The gloriously over-the-top yet hysterical lines, the surprisingly farcical situations, and the pitch-perfect delivery of the actors help create a compelling atmosphere of emotional volatility. Notably, every character has a different style of humor, from Carolyn’s bone-dry delivery to Eve’s flustered attempts to keep her head above water, to Villanelle’s magnificently outrageous bursts of psychosis. The humor is often extreme while always being believable. For me, the funniest moments come from a mouthy yet surprisingly tough little girl at the end of season one.
Alfred Hitchcock once explained the difference between “surprise” and “suspense” in a movie. If characters are sitting around and a bomb suddenly and unexpectedly goes off under the table, then the viewers are surprised for fifteen seconds. If the audience is made aware that there is a bomb under the table at twelve forty-five, and it will detonate at one, the audience is then treated to fifteen minutes of suspense. Killing Eve is a deft blend of surprise and suspense. Every now and then something crazy happens out of nowhere, while other scenes take a slow burn and develop it over an extended period of time. When Villanelle is on the loose, we know that she’s going to try to kill somebody, but who, how, and why keep the viewers constantly guessing. Killing Eve knows that viewers need to be unable to guess who survives an encounter with Villanelle in order to keep the confrontations exciting.
It’s the performances that make the show really work, from Shaw’s deceptively placid company woman to the fatherly warmth of Eve’s friend and mentor. Of course, the heart and soul of the show comes from the two leads, who shine in their individual scenes, but when they perform on-screen together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Oh is terrific as an intelligent woman who finds herself drawn into obsession, as the hunt for Villanelle becomes the center of her life. Comer’s assassin is always compulsively watchable, whether she’s having a temper tantrum, plotting an attack, or trying to make a genuine personal connection.
The second season of Killing Eve has just been nominated for eight Emmys, and though I often have major quibbles with the caprices of prominent awards for creativity, all of these nods are very well deserved. Kim Bodnia was unfortunately overlooked, but the biggest problem is that Oh and Comer will be going against each other. If the publicists behind Killing Eve’s award campaigns are reading this, I should like to point out that a few years ago, through some loophole in the rules, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler shared an Emmy nomination for Guest Actress in a comedy for co-hosting an episode of Saturday Night Live, and won. The Killing Eve team should definitely look into the possibility of wheedling the Emmys and any other awards they want to win to looking into a shared nomination.
Hopefully, this review will serve as an antidote to the reviews that made the show look dark, twisted, and unpalatable; and present the show as it truly is: dark, twisted, funny, suspenseful, well-acted, and bizarre in the best possible way.
Killing Eve: Season 1
Killing Eve: Season 2