Wednesday 19 June 2019

Killing Eve review: 'Season two has been ragged, inconsistent and not nearly as much fun as the first'

2 stars

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in Killing Eve (BBC America)
Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in Killing Eve (BBC America)

Pat Stacey

It’s obvious that whatever else Killing Eve may be about, it’s not about killing Eve. In fact, that was obvious from pretty early on in the first season.

This black comedy thriller about a British Intelligence operative hunting a psychopathic assassin isn’t really a black comedy thriller about a British Intelligence operative hunting a psychopathic assassin at all.

That was just a bit of dressing-up: a costume, a disguise, much like the costumes and disguises — and this season, a literal mask — donned by Villanelle (Jodie Comer) before she carries out another one of her gruesomely theatrical hits.

Killing Eve is more a tale of mutual obsession, envy, yearning, identity, duality, lust and love. Yes, it’s ultimately a love story, albeit a warped one, about two very different women, Villanelle and her MI5 (later MI6) pursuer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), who discover they’re not actually all that different — a theme that’s been signalled a little too heavy-handedly this season by multiple shots of the women looking into mirrors, separately but usually simultaneously.

Jodie Comer in Killing Eve (Aimee Spinks/BBC America)
Jodie Comer in Killing Eve (Aimee Spinks/BBC America)

If anything, Eve and Villanelle are more compatible than Eve and her husband Niko (Owen McDonnell). Each possesses something the other one lacks and desperately wants. In Eve’s case, it seems she wants to be more like Villanelle. Recent episodes have even played up the possibility that she has psychopathic tendencies of her own, which have been awoken by her adversary.

It’s the old Batman-Joker story all over again, where the protagonist and antagonist are two sides of the same damaged coin.

Eve, played by Sandra Oh, in season two of Killing Eve (Aimee Spinks/BBC America)
Eve, played by Sandra Oh, in season two of Killing Eve (Aimee Spinks/BBC America)

For most of the first season, Killing Eve managed this audacious high-wire act with dazzling wit and cleverness, and no small amount of suspense.

Most of the credit for that has to go to chief writer showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who developed the series from Luke Jennings’s spy novel Codename: Villanelle. I haven’t read it (there’s since been a sequel), but apparently it has more in common with Ian Fleming than with the offbeat series it inspired.

Sandra Oh in Killing Eve (Aimee Spinks/BBC America)
Sandra Oh in Killing Eve (Aimee Spinks/BBC America)

But Waller-Bridge has moved on, handing control to Emerald Fennell for this second season, which ends next week. Frankly, the series has suffered as a result.

Season two has been ragged, inconsistent and not nearly as much fun as the first. Even Villanelle’s increasingly over-the-top murders have become repetitive and seem randomly dropped in to remind us she’s a cold-blooded psycho.

It wouldn’t be fair to say Killing Eve has already jumped the shark. The shark is circling, though, just waiting for one implausible plot twist too many to launch the series into a graceless arc that ends with a messy splashdown.

You don’t look for realism in a series like this. From the start, it’s been deliberately, gleefully absurd, playing with the conventions of the spy thriller in all sorts of delightful ways, yet always pulling back from outright silliness at the last second.

But you do need some kind of internal logic. It’s been all but abandoned this season. Eve drawing Villanelle out of the shadows by placing a contract on her own head was daft enough — and accomplished with ludicrous ease, by the way.

However, the moment she swallowed the three pills Villanelle had given her, believing them to be arsenic, was when absurdity finally did tip over the edge into foolishness. Having Eve and Villanelle working on the same side to bring down supervillain Aaron Peele (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) — whose late introduction followed several episodes of wheel-spinning — might have looked good on paper. It’s not working, though.

Even if Killing Eve pulls something spectacular out of the bag in next week’s finale, it might be time to consider letting Eve and Villanelle properly hook up and ride off into the sunset together at the end of season three.

Either that or have them do a Thelma and Louise and plunge off a cliff.

At the moment, that looks like where the series itself is headed.

Herald

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