2018-12-27 by W.M.
The Best Thing on TV This Year Was: ‘Killing Eve’
BBC America’s Killing Eve became one of the biggest surprise hits of the year. It’s reexamination of the very structure of a detective show, paired with a fantastic performance by Sandra Oh and seemingly endless twists and turns, made it truly one of the best things on TV in 2018
Oh plays MI5 desk jockey Eve Polastri, who is promoted to detective and tasked with hunting down a skilled assassin named Villanelle (Jodie Comer). The two grow obsessed with one another, and the season narrows in on the emotional intimacies of the chase. It’s a spectacular success—one of the rare shows where viewership steadily increased over the course of the season.
“Don’t I Know You?” —the show’s third episode—hit like a rampart to the face. It’s a major turning point in the series, the first taste of the show’s obsessive underbelly. You realize this isn’t a cat and mouse detective show in a traditional sense, where the lust for catching the killer is purely intellectual, like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock mimicking the mental machinations of Moriarty. Instead it’s lust as lust. Sexual tension is foundational to the show’s plot, and this episode is a teaser for the way Killing Eve intertwines different kinds of “transgressive” acts—both the morbid, as in Polastri’s obsession with true crime to the point where she cuts herself in the season’s pilot to understand the flow of blood, as well as a kind of forbidden sexual tension between the two women.
The episode opens with a monologue from Polastri, where she describes Villanelle to a police department sketch artist. The camera slowly pans around Oh’s expressive face as she describes Vilanelle’s affect more than her appearance—her gaze is “almost entirely inaccessible,” her hair is the color of “honey,” and her features are “very delicate.” It feels more like a love letter than a description of a suspect, one that tells you more about Polastri than it does Villanelle. Oh’s delivery is mesmerizing, causing delicate goosebumps down the spine.
The rest of the episode details Polastri and her case partner Bill Pargrave’s (David Haig) international escapades as they attempt to track down the organization Villanelle works for. It’s a showcase of dramatic irony—Villanelle is watching her the whole time, and she steals Polastri’s suitcase, checks out its contents, and buys her a new, flattering, luxury wardrobe. Villanelle also takes some time to try on Polastri’s clothes, and engages in a sexual fantasy with another woman that involves making her wear these clothes and calling her “Eve.” It’s disturbing and sensual, a standout in a sea of exposition that’s frankly, less engaging.
Villanelle decides to wear Polastri’s scarf around town—and this is how Pargrave spots her. An assassin by trade, Villanelle always has the upper hand. But what makes her so fantastic as a villain(elle) is the swagger of her kills. Villanelle lures Pargrave into a nightclub where the loud, chaotic atmosphere emboldens her to murder him in plain sight. The only cover is the sheer density of humans on the dance floor. When Polastri finally finds him, he’s already bleeding to death from his stab wounds. Her calls for help are smothered by the music. This scene—much like the most arresting parts of Killing Eve as a whole—are haunting and nightmarish.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Nicole Clark on Twitter.