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‘Killing Eve’: TV’s Newest Assassin Subverts Storytelling Cliches, Which Makes Her Scary as Hell

In episode 5, BBC America’s killer has a wicked sense of humor, but she is no joke.

Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and Eve (Sandra Oh)

Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”

BBC America

[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Killing Eve” Episode 5, “I Have a Thing About Bathrooms.”]

BBC America’s “Killing Eve” is doing something that TV shows haven’t been able to do in a while: attract new viewers each week since its premiere. Usually, the opposite is true unless a huge event – such as major stunt casting, a finale, or being tied to the Super Bowl – gives a show a boost. Already renewed for another season, “Killing Eve” is at the halfway point in its freshman run and looking to continue its upward trajectory. Judging by Sunday’s provocative episode, the show has nothing to worry about.

Built on two face-to-face interactions between MI-5 officer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and international assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), “I Have a Thing About Bathrooms” plays out the cat-and-mouse game on an intellectual, psychological level. Even with the killer in front of her, Eve can’t quite capture who Villanelle is as a person. After the events of this episode, it’s clear that understanding this young woman is increasingly important since she always seems to be a few steps ahead. But how can one outsmart a person who knows all the rules and yet bypasses them?

Unraveling Eve

In a moment of madness, Eve orchestrates their first deliberate meeting by stopping her car as Villanelle is in pursuit of MI-5 informant Frank Haleton (Darren Boyd), whom they’re trying to protect. It makes no logical sense to confront an assassin without being armed, and yet Eve seems to believe that she understands Villanelle’s motives. “She’s waiting for something. She’s waiting for me,” says Eve. She’s wrong though, and Villanelle ends the interaction abruptly, on her own terms.

Eve keeps banging her head on the enigmatic wall that is Villanelle, and this frustrating attraction is epitomized when Eve sees a crack in a bus stop partition, tests its strength, and shatters the pane of glass.

"Killing Eve"

“Killing Eve”

BBC America

With both the glass and Villanelle, Eve is intrigued by the irregularity and pokes at it, but without the proper understanding, it blows up in her face. Sadly, this is what happened to Bill when he underestimated the killer, and what occurs later in the episode when Villanelle learns the location of Frank’s safe house and kills him.

With Eve though, the setbacks just make her more determined and bloodthirsty in a frightening way. “I’m going to find the thing you care about and I am going to kill it,” she promises Villanelle.

Here’s a chilling thought: What if the thing that Villanelle cares about most at this point is Eve? Considering the title of the show, the possibilities are enough to drive a gal to drink:

"Killing Eve"

Opposing Eve: Villanelle

Villanelle escalates their relationship (let’s call it that even though they haven’t had “the talk”) with an impromptu social call. Silly Eve thinks this skilled assassin who had just murdered her colleague has arrived at her house unannounced to kill her, but no, Villanelle is just feeling peckish.

"Killing Eve"

One of the most appealing aspects of “Killing Eve” is how it subverts expectation, which allows the show to constantly surprise and delight. Similarly, Villanelle seems hyperaware of what the narrative is that is built around her and then willingly defies it. In fact, she seems alternately tired or offended by the usual tropes and will deliberately maneuver a conversation along predictable lines until she can upend it.

For example, when Frank pleads for his life and says, “I have children,” she replies, “I don’t want your children.” Of course she knows that he’s citing the dependence of his kids as a reason to spare him, but instead, she turns that idea on its head and tells him why it’s better if he dies: “This will give them something to bond over.”

We see this again and again during her dinner with Eve, like when she pretends she wants Eve’s help to stop killing or is offended by the word “psychopath.”

Perhaps the cheekiest moment is when Eve asks why she castrated her first victim, and Villanelle says, “Okay, but can we get one thing clear before we go on with this?” It seems she’s about to actual give insight, to open up about her painful past, but instead turns around and asks about Eve’s questionable fashion choices: “Is that a sweater attached to a shirt? Is it two separate pieces? How does it work?”

"Killing Eve"

The killer has a wicked sense of humor, but she is no joke. Something that Eve seems to miss, even though the clues have been there from the start, is that Villanelle is just plain bored. It’s why she’ll take risks and make a flamboyant kill, why she’ll leave her DNA on the suitcase, why she’ll plays with her victims like a cat plays with its prey, why she’ll have dinner with the woman who’s trying to take her down. Oh sure, there’s deeper damage somewhere in the past, but one of her current drives is to be challenged.

Right now, Eve appears to have a grace period. So far, everything Eve knows about Villanelle is stuff she’s heard before (she’s bright, she’s a psychopath, blah, blah, blah). Like the genius who causes trouble or is a delinquent at school, she just craves stimulation. Unfortunately, when Villanelle is bored, her playfulness comes out in murder. Creative and showy murder, but murder nonetheless.

Deceiving Eve

When Eve goes to Carolyn’s (Fiona Shaw) house in a panic to reveal that Villanelle knows the location of Frank’s safe house, the team’s web-specialty guy Kenny (Sean Delaney) is already there eating dinner. It turns out that he’s Carolyn’s son.

Although this may have seem like an insignificant revelation at the time, it’s still worth noting because Carolyn deliberately withheld this vital piece of information. As Eve’s boss, that’s her prerogative, but it also means a) she could have been using her son to spy on Eve this whole time, and b) she may rationalize other, bigger deceptions. On the heels of last week’s episode when we learned about Frank’s betrayal, this does not seem like a reassuring trend.

Also not comforting is Villanelle’s assertion, “If you went high enough, you’ll find we work for the same people.” Maybe listening to a paid assassin isn’t the wisest course of action, but staying vigilant and suspicious of everyone couldn’t hurt.

Killing Everyone Except Eve

As witty, smart, and loyal as Bill (David Haig) was, his death was a shock and a loss. The same cannot be said of Frank, who has been painted as insufferable from the get-go — from his disregard of Eve and deliberate lies about the CTV footage to his love of brown sauce and a loathsome sense of entitlement. The process of his death does offer two insights into Villanelle though. The first is her take on what happens to a person when they die.

“Your eyes will just empty. Your soul goes in. People think your soul or your personality or whatever leaves the body when you die; I swear it just goes further in. It falls so far in it just becomes so small that it can’t control your body anymore. It’s just in there, tiny forever.”

We’re not quite exactly sure what to make of that except that maybe Villanelle gets a kick out of making someone’s soul small, controlling them.

Read More:‘Killing Eve’ Review: Sandra Oh Slays in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killer Cat-and-Mouse Thriller

The other puzzle piece is what she does with Frank’s body after killing him. She “chopped his knob” off and then dressed the corpse in the evening gown she had bought for Eve. It’s still not clear what is going on in Villanelle’s mind, but this could be read in a number of ways. By wearing Eve’s dress, Frank could be a stand-in for Eve, which means that Villanelle was “killing Eve” when she was killing Frank. Or, one could look at the postmortem castration of her victims as having less to do with the harm the men have perpetrated against her and more to do with making them like women. Regardless, Frank’s castration also set up the sight gag in the next scene of Villanelle frying up some tasty bangers. Anyone else sense a trend on this show?

"Killing Eve"

Also, cross off one kill from last week. It turns out that Nadia (Olivia Ross) survived getting run over twice. Hooray! But Villanelle knows where she is currently. Boo! It’s just a matter of time.

Styling Eve

There’s no denying Villanelle’s excellent taste in clothing (and all aesthetic trappings for that matter). She has an eye for quality and making a statement – whether it’s that frothy, pink confection she wore to her psych evaluation (yeah, that screams stable and reliable) or the hunter green leather jacket with the ruffled placket and collar she wore to keep a low profile while she spied on Eve.

When she purchases a replacement wardrobe for Eve’s luggage, however, she enters the realm of sexy elegance. Seriously, can we leave our luggage out to get a similar switcheroo or hire Villanelle as our personal stylist? Eve certainly appears to appreciate the monochromatic sheathe with the halter neckline paired with the perfect black heels.

Something to note when Eve dons the ensemble though is that she pulls her hair down. Throughout the series, Eve is constantly toying with putting her hair up or down, and this action is what prompted her first interaction with Villanelle, who told her to wear it down, in the hospital bathroom. So far, we’ve seen Eve wear it down when she’s trying to be more dressy – such as when she goes to dinner – or during unguarded moments, like at the bus stop. Perhaps she feels more like herself with Villanelle.

Quoting “Eve”

Elena (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) about Frank: “God, look how excited he is about brown sauce. Makes me sick.”

Villanelle: “Did you make this?”
Eve: “No.”
Villanelle: “Your husband?”
Eve: “Yes.”
Villanelle: “He has an excellent mustache.”

Eve revealing her phone’s PIN at knifepoint: “1,2…3… (tear rolls down)… 4.”

And again, for the last time, Frank has the final say:

"Killing Eve"

Grade: A-

”Killing Eve” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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