The unforgettable frothy pink tutu that our favorite female assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer), wore in the first season of BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” sits in a trash bag in the back of a white van. Crocs with floral Jibbitz and blue graphic pajamas proclaiming “Pow!” and “BLAM” are this season’s replacements for Dries Van Noten patterned suits and Miu Miu bombers. Glamour takes a backseat in the show’s second season premiere. Fabrications of normality are a temporary reprieve from the heart-racing tension that otherwise predominates the action. And normality is exactly what Villanelle claims she wants when asked by MI6 agent Eve Polastri (played by the terrific Sandra Oh), in the season one finale: “Nice life. Cool flat. Fun job. Someone to watch movies with.”
“Killing Eve,” adapted from Luke Jenning’s series “Codename Villanelle,” follows Eve’s transnational pursuit of the cunning hired hand, Villanelle. In the first season, show-runner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of the critically adored “Fleabag” and the underrated Channel 4 “Crashing”) revitalized the day-old conflict between a detective and their pursued target by casting the narrative through the female gaze: a cop procedural with leather and lace. Waller-Bridge’s fascination with the dynamics of female relationships and the human need to find vessels for love are reiterated in all the shows she’s headed.
Although the name Villanelle originated from a play on the Bond term ‘villainess,’ the cat-and-mouse interplay between Eve and Villanelle seems to follow the poetic form of her namesake. Waller-Bridge has set up a dance between the two leading ladies, accumulating near-meets and almost-fatal-misses, before plopping the two onto Villanelle’s bed in the season’s final moments. The two are lying down, facing each other. The lighting is soft. They’re in Paris. Eve says, “I’ve never done anything like this before.” Villanelle, smiling, reassures her. Eve drives a concealed knife into Villanelle’s stomach. Requited obsession blips past sapphic undertones straight to literal stabbing. Two steps forward, one stab back.
For season two, Emerald Fennell takes over the role of head writer while Waller-Bridge stays on with a producer credit. Nonetheless, Waller-Bridge’s signature brand of comedy-laden cruelty and morally incapacitated adults remains constant (as well as the music supervisor’s apparent affinity for the dulcet and sultry tones of the band Cigarettes After Sex). The season two premiere, titled “Do You Know How to Dispose of a Body?” kickstarts in the immediate 30-second aftermath of season one’s cliffhanger.
Much of the hour revolves around Villanelle and Eve’s individual recuperations. Eve flees, suspiciously backtracking out of airport security to dispose of the bloody knife in her pocket and attempts to submerge herself in familiar domestic tasks to the tune of “Kids in America.” Alas, the knife she uses to dice carrots has been weaponized in her mind by her earlier actions. She soaks in the bathtub with a look of abject horror. She fears phone calls from her M16 supervisor and is over-enthused to receive a telemarketing call about window treatments. Meanwhile, Villanelle flings herself in front of a passing taxi in order to secure a free ride to the hospital. She pretends to be the wife of an abusive officer in order to circumvent the hospital’s policy of notifying authorities. She tells her suite-mate Gabriel (the owner of the aforementioned blue graphic pajamas) that she needs to go to London to find her ‘girlfriend’ who stabbed her to show how much she cares. Stripped of her high fashion fineries, Villanelle’s sophistication is undermined and her pouting adolescent tendencies take center stage.
The episode runs like a split-screen love story, like the montage of separation typically lodged in the middle of a romcom. Although the show is most memorable when Oh and Comer share the screen, the two are still dynamic apart. Separation anxiety settles in. The thrill of the chase still invigorates both women. Their magnetic attraction stitches havoc in their old living patterns and recolors their understanding of normality. Both women have become addicted to their desire for the other. By the end of the episode, a recovering Villanelle is en route to England while Eve reembarks on her search for Villanelle.
The threat of the ‘sophomore slump’ looms over every successful series and the same anxiety now surrounds “Killing Eve.” The show could have been a one-season marvel with Villanelle fulfilling the prophecy of the show’s title and killing Eve. While I can’t complain about having more time with these fabulously twisted women, the villanelle must come to its final quatrain at some point before the cat and the mouse run their course.