[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Killing Eve” Season 2, Episode 2, “Nice and Neat.”]
Sunday’s anxiety-inducing “Killing Eve” introduces viewers to Villanelle (Jodie Comer) at her most fragile, and it’s a shocking and heartbreaking sight. Always portrayed as the most confident and competent of assassins, she’s never been at a loss even after being thrown in a Russian jail, getting stabbed, or laughably demoted. However, hubris is her worst enemy while she’s on the run as she’s overestimated her resources and underestimated the creepiness of men.
“What does it feel like to be a woman who’s used to doing whatever they want, but is suddenly seriously, physically compromised in danger, and starting to get sick?” said showrunner Emerald Fennell in an interview with IndieWire. “And then for Villanelle, if you believe that you’re immortal because you have been up until that point, and you’re a psychopath, what does it feel like to to have everything just taken away from you quite quickly? So it seemed like the most obvious and depressing truths that the biggest threat to women who are vulnerable are men who are not worth their time.”
In the episode, the injured Villanelle has left the hospital and acquired less attention-grabbing clothes than boys’ pajamas. Her next step: seek a mark at the grocery store. She needs food, shelter, and medication if she’s to healthy enough to reunite with her so-called girlfriend, MI-6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) in London.
She finds the awkward and mild-mannered Julian (Julian Barratt), who is taken in by her fabricated tale of woe and offers her a place to hide out. However, she soon discovers that she’s completely at his mercy, locked in a house where he controls what she eats, drinks, watches, and whether or not she receives medical care. Out of touch with reality, he appears to want to keep her as a live-in girlfriend.
“You see her walking round the supermarket trying to engage with people and not quite succeeding, and then when she sees Julian and thinks, ‘bingo,’” said Comer. “She thinks she’s got it sussed, that she knows it all. She’s gonna play him.
“Little does she know that that is not how this guy rolls. She very much thinks she’s in control, which she is not. She gets the rug pulled from under her feet.”
Fennell added, “A thing that I’m always fascinated by is a woman like Villanelle who was objectively an extraordinary human being, but left alone, a woman can be in the right circumstances scuppered by a completely boring, ordinary man. And that is really frightening. That to me is a terrifying thing.”
Although Villanelle eventually escapes Julian’s clutches by killing him, their violent struggle is hard to watch. Even though she’s a cold-blooded and accomplished killer, she’s weak from getting stabbed and significantly smaller than him. Even though she’s victorious, he is able to get a few significant blows in, and if she were any more exhausted, he could have prevailed. Later, when Villanelle meets her new handler Raymond (Adrian Scarborough), he also uses physical force to choke her into submission.
It’s humbling and disturbing to witness Villanelle at her lowest. Even though she murders people for money and the thrill of it, “Killing Eve” had draped these deaths with a sheen of fantasy that allows her to be seen as kind of a feminist avenger. Viewers shouldn’t condone the killing of her victims, but it is satisfying to see a young and confident woman overcome gender norms to be such an efficient operative. But she without all of her resources this time, and that includes her Season 1 handler Konstantin (Kim Bodnia), whom she thought she killed but is revealed to be alive at the end of the episode.
“As far as Villanelle is aware, he’s dead and she’s accepted that. She fucking shot him to kill him, so even though they both have an understanding of, ’It’s you or me, man,’ there is also that mutual thing of, ‘Listen, I can understand why you did it,’” said Comer. “You’re just never quite sure of each of their motives throughout. I think that’s what is interesting about their relationship this season. He’s also not around to control her. He was a huge part of keeping her on track and focused, and she’s without that.”
While Eve now has Konstantin to consult on all things Villanelle, she also has one other resource that she failed to use in Season 1: her husband Niko (Owen McDonell) with the excellent mustache. Despite her undeniable fascination with Villanelle, she hasn’t abandoned her marriage yet, and in this episode, it appears that she is actually making an attempt to be as open as she can be about her work.
Niko won’t be fridged or sacrificed to the narrative gods to give Eve her drive. She already has it. Instead, it seems that her relationship with her husband will help her explore who she is, what she really wants, and what she’s willing to sacrifice for it.
“What we’re trying to do, which we explore very much in [Season] 2, is a marriage,” said Oh. “In a trope-y kind of way, usually in thrillers or spy [stories], the significant other is not important and is basically, quickly killed off. That is not the case; nor do I want that to be the case. Because I want to see Eve try and struggle and find a way to have her marriage. You’ll see in a very important way within a long-term relationship and within a relationship, what you are willing to fucking put up with and what you’re willing to demand and give to the other.”
Sounds a lot like Eve’s relationship with Villanelle.
”Killing Eve” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.