[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for “Killing Eve” Season 2, Episode 7, “Wide Awake”]
In the week after “Game of Thrones” took a beating for giving one character an abrupt and perplexing villainous turn, “Killing Eve” takes another step in its season-long arc to lure MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) to the dark side. This subtle and seductive journey has been a gradual descent into depravity that shows just how much work and psychology goes into breaking bad.
In Sunday’s episode, tech mogul Aaron Peel (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) has become intrigued by Villanelle (Jodie Comer) — who’s working undercover for MI6 as disaffected rich American “Billie” — and invites her to Rome with him as he attends a tech conference. With Villanelle in place and equipped with a tiny surveillance microphone, Eve and Hugo (Edward Bluemel) station themselves in a nearby hotel to eavesdrop and learn what weapon Aaron is selling and to whom.
What once was Eve’s safe, albeit lurid fascination with a killer becomes something far more deadly when she loses control of herself. Carolyn’s (Fiona Shaw) pointed questions about increased attention-seeking and recklessness don’t just apply to Villanelle the psychopath, but to Eve as well. Although she doesn’t technically give into Villanelle’s charming exhortations, Eve crosses an increasingly blurry line when she sleeps with Hugo during the mission while Villanelle’s voice is in her ear.
This isn’t just a betrayal of Eve’s marriage to Niko (Owen McDonnell) — although that is troubling even if they’re estranged — but it’s a red flag because she does so without guilt for how she treats Hugo. As viewers had learned in the Psychopath 101 slideshow previously, psychopaths see others as “it” or objects, not people.
The biggest red flag, however, is an understated but heart-wrenching scene that comes before the mission. Eve sets up a consultation with MI6’s psychopath expert Martin (Adeel Akhtar), but he sees through this and understands it’s a cry for help. With each gentle question he asks — from “How much of the day to do you spend thinking about her?” to “Do you feel unsafe?” — Eve’s veneer of confidence begins to crack and reveal the fear and uncertainty beneath. Oh didn’t win the Emmy for her performance last year, but she’s proven she still deserves recognition in 2019. Then tension she exudes as Eve tries to control her brittleness is masterful and conveys an instinctive understanding of the character’s inner turmoil.
Of course, what’s unsafe for Eve is a hell of a lot of fun for the viewer to watch. The show adds yet another layer of voyeuristic entertainment this episode as viewers watch Aaron Peel watch Villanelle. As actor Lloyd-Hughes revealed in an interview with IndieWire, Aaron is a sensualist and aesthete, but the twist is that it’s only through Villanelle. It’s a creepy, vicarious thrill that he achieves by plying her with the most exquisite foods and stylish clothing, and yet he displays no physical desires himself. He literally doesn’t get his hands dirty with anything, whether it’s crime or just touching fabric.
Power dynamics have often been the key to Villanelle. She likes to take control, which is what draws Eve. Therefore, it’s fascinating to see Villanelle playing along with Aaron’s strict demands since she is not a submissive person and certainly doesn’t seem to get turned on by that. Instead, she recognizes in him a kindred psychopathic spirit, which bolsters her confidence and sparks her sense of play. Their interactions ooze suspense as she’s entertained by him for now, but at some point, his demands won’t align with her wishes, and then there will Villanelle to pay.
“Killing Eve” always returns to the killing to remind viewers what’s at stake, and this time it’s personal… almost. Villanelle has made sure that Gemma (Emma Pierson), the teacher who was moving in on Niko, would no longer be enjoying the missionary position again. His life is spared since Eve would “never forgive” Villanelle if she crossed that line.
Or maybe Eve would. Since Carolyn has allowed her to continue with the mission — despite all the people attempting to prevent this — Eve is operating unchecked and failing miserably at maintaining her moral core. The show had a few rough patches this season as it established a different cat-and-mouse dynamic, but Eve’s downfall has been steady and relentless. With only the finale left, viewers would be well within their right mind to fear — fear for Hugo, fear for Niko, fear for Eve.
”Killing Eve” airs its season finale on Sunday, May 26 at 8 p.m. on BBC America.