Friday 23 August 2019

John Boland: Jodie Comer has become the main reason for staying with Killing Eve as Fleabag bows out with a pitch-perfect finale


Comic and terrifying: Jodie Comer has portrayed Villanelle with panache in Killing Eve
Comic and terrifying: Jodie Comer has portrayed Villanelle with panache in Killing Eve

John Boland

The first season of the much-lauded Killing Eve began brilliantly but fell away in its final episodes, having become too pleased with itself and with its gleeful notion that women can behave just as badly, and ultra-violently, as men.

The source novellas were actually by a man, Luke Jennings, but there was no doubting who was in charge here, not just blithe psychopath Villanelle and her dogged pursuer Eve but also, and more crucially, screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who clearly delighted in subverting the old cinematic tradition whereby it's men who are both the heroes and the villains, with women only given a look-in as damsels in distress or treacherous femmes fatales.

Waller-Bridge upended all that, playing games with audience expectations and introducing notes of very black comedy that were all her own. But it all became a bit repetitive, and it seems like we can look forward to more of the same in the second season (now scripted by Emerald Fennell), which RTÉ2 began on Wednesday night - way ahead of any UK showing, even though it's a BBC production.

And once again, even though Sandra Oh still impressed as Eve, it was still Jodie Comer's show. Her nonchalant psycho-killer had been both comic and terrifying from the outset, and I can't recall a performer in a major series who has inhabited a role with such panache and made it entirely her own.

She has become the main reason for staying with Killing Eve, which otherwise has shown signs of becoming too knowing and too far-fetched for its own good.

Meanwhile, Fleabag (BBC1), which is Waller-Bridge's greatest achievement to date, came to its end this week with a pitch-perfect, bitter-sweet finale.

Its creator-star has insisted there won't be any more seasons of the show, and I think her decision (if she keeps to it) is correct. Satisfying scores got settled here, though so good was the writing and playing that you almost felt pity for sister Claire's ghastly husband - though only almost, as he was truly loathsome.

There was a touching scene with her dithering, bewildered dad who finally managed to finish a sentence and tell her some truths, and a tremendously poignant bus stop scene with the priest, who provided some more truths as he reluctantly chose God over his love for her - a great pity as herself and the marvellous Andrew Scott were made for each other.

And I loved the final touch when, walking away down the darkened street, she turned around and waved us goodbye.

Rome vs the Republic (RTÉ1) was a 70-minute documentary in which barrister and former Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell looked back on the unholy alliance of Church and State in Ireland, tracing its history from the time of Wolfe Tone to our own era.

I didn't learn much that was new to me, but the film was engrossing, with good contributions from a variety of historians (though where was the ubiquitous Diarmaid Ferriter?) and with McDowell himself an engaging and sometimes impassioned presenter as he made the case for the prosecution.

Church interference in education, health and sexual mores were among the issues under scrutiny, as was clerical sex abuse of children, revelations about which shocked the nation in recent decades.

Programmes like this, though, can be so intent on pursuing their particular agenda that the truths about most people's lives tend to get lost, simply by being ignored. And so you seldom hear anything about people like my parents and hundreds of thousands of others who were ordinary decent Catholics compliantly following the basic tenets of their faith while otherwise uninterested in the Church and unbothered by its representatives.

I certainly don't recall a priest ever calling to our house, or advice ever being sought from a priest. Instead, my parents just got on with their lives, while going to Mass most Sundays - as I did, too, until my later teenage years, when I gave it all up without anyone noticing. Maybe I was lucky, but then so were most of the people I've known all my life.

That's not to minimise the dreadful things perpetrated by the Catholic church on many others, but it's to suggest that television documentaries should be more nuanced than they usually are.

Marty and Bernard's Big Adventure (RTÉ1) ended its two-part run with an hour in which the rural duo attempted the "ultimate survival challenge" of camping out in a field for 24 hours.

Having endured their codology a week before in which they sought to reinvent themselves as modern men by taking an entirely gratuitous trip to New York, I decided to leave them at it, while wondering why on earth RTÉ would foist such nonsense on us.

In the final of Home of the Year (RTÉ1), otherwise known as 'My House is Nicer Than Yours', the judges deemed the competing nine homes to be "fantastic" and "amazing" and "stunning" and "mind-blowing" and "super" and "gorgeous" and "fabulous".

Among these homes were a rustic cottage, a suburban terraced house and a vast manor in its own estate that 99.999 per cent of viewers couldn't afford to even dream of owning in 10 lifetimes. Needless to say, it won. I thought the series repellent.

In the second episode of Line of Duty (BBC1), Supt Ted Hastings peered worriedly out of his glass office as a bent cop identified the senior officer behind all the police corruption.

Could the unassailably upright Ted really be Mr Big? Maybe we'll find out tomorrow night.

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