Killing Eve – Love the sinner, hate the sin?
“It’s witty, well-written, innovative and unlike anything else in television these days” said my wife when I asked why she liked watching it. “It’s edgy, out of the box, with great characters and female leads, and very funny. But it’s full of complex characters and situations, and touches on deep questions about the meaning of life and how we live it.” What more could you want from a gruesome chick-flick story-line where a professional contract killer invents ever more colourful and better-costumed ways to kill her victims, and anyone she allows herself to develop a relationship with ends up dead? Can Eve survive without being killed, or will she too have to become the killer of her infatuated nemesis Villanelle in order to solve the crimes and save her skin?
Killing Eve is top of the UK TV ratings and the most frequently downloaded box-set from BBC iplayer. It stars Sandra Oh as a British intelligence investigator Eve Polastri who is obsessed with capturing a psychopathic assassin, portrayed by Jodie Comer. It is based on the Villanelle novel series by Luke Jennings.
Eve is a security officer at MI5. She likes her job, her boss, her friends and her husband, but she is bored. When a Russian diplomat is assassinated in Vienna and Eve is given the job of looking after the witness, a casual bet about the identity of the killer gets out of hand, and Eve finds herself drawn into a cat-and-mouse game across the continent, looking for a deadly, elusive and fascinating suspect.
The show has received critical acclaim for both seasons in the U.S. and U.K. The first season received unbroken weekly ratings growth among young adults, which no other television show had accomplished in more than a decade.
In 2019, it was awarded a Peabody Award. In its first season, it won the BAFTA award for Best Drama Series and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Drama Series. Sandra Oh was awarded the Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and Critics' Choice Award for her performance in the first season. She also received a nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards. Jodie Comer won the BAFTA award for Best Leading Actress.
The premise of the series is that Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), a desk-bound British intelligence officer, must track down talented psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), while both women become obsessed with each other. The traditional spy vs. spy format is developed to provide not just intrigue, complicated plot twists and turns, and understated sexual and violent themes throughout, but also a complex love-hate relationship which turns into mutual suicidal love-pact and psychodrama.
The relationship between Polastri and Villanelle, according to Ben Goldberg, is "often sexual, at times romantic, and occasionally vengeful". Their mutual attraction and repulsion suggests an alternative lifestyle, the couple performing an "elaborate dance, edging closer to one other while always being just slightly out of reach" (Shannon Liao). The characters’ mutual interest is "rooted in a desire of an unknown – a life away from the men that presently structure their lives".
What is so compelling about the series?
According to Buzzfeed’s Kate Arthur
“There's a lot to love about Killing Eve, including its stylish aesthetics, Villanelle’s killer costumes and a cinematic score by David Holmes. But there’s no question that the heart of Killing Eve's appeal is its fascinating character study of two very different women: one a happy-go-lucky assassin, the other a married bureaucrat who gives up her conventional life when she's given her dangerous dream job. And Killing Eve has created a relationship between Eve and Villanelle that has never before existed between women on television: a queer will-they-or-won't-they romance in which one suitor is an admitted psychopath.”
My wife and I love this series – its quirky humour, complicated twists, sympathetic portrayal of two women in impossible situations, and the quality of the production make it compelling viewing. But for me the title is the most ironic and interesting – Killing Eve.
The Eve of the TV show is in danger. A psychopathic assassin is out to kill her before Eve can catch her and bring her to justice. But Eve herself, by transference of emotions, becomes so caught up in the identity of mad Villanelle that she becomes capable of the very crimes that she is trying to arrest her adversary for. Target becomes shooter, victim becomes oppressor, and enemy becomes friend, perhaps even lover. Tempted becomes tempter.
The Eve of the Hebrew scriptures is similar, and the complexity of her character and relationships is a similarly compelling story of love, betrayal, death and survival. Of course, there are many differences between the TV series and the biblical story, but the themes of love and longing, the drama of evil and redemption, and the optimistic hope that despite the messiness of relationships, the world we live in, and the nature of being human, some solution might be found, are all the same, powerfully portrayed in a plot which, with all its twists and turns, pacts and betrayals, murders and mayhem, mirrors the descent into chaos and evil that the opening chapters of the Bible unfold. In Series 2, before committing a murder, Vallanelle leaves a red apple for Eve to discover – a warning of what she is about to do, and an invitation for Eve to join her.
We first meet Eve in Genesis chapter 2, but she is there, in embryo, or rather, in Adam’s rib, from the sixth day of creation, in Genesis 1. Her name means “life”, coming from the Hebrew name חַוָּה (Chavvah), which is derived from the Hebrew word חָוָה (chawah) meaning "to breathe" or the related word חָיָה (chayah) meaning "to live". God creates her from one of Adam's ribs to be his companion. At the urging of a serpent she eats the forbidden fruit and shared some with Adam, causing their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The dialogue of Genesis 2 is intricate and fascinating, and would challenge any modern script-writer as a model of concise but understated emotion, moral ambiguity and spiritual tension.
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
While the plots are somewhat different both Eves experience the murderous intent of an enemy out to get them. Both are draw into a web of deceit and deception. Both experience the lusts and longings of temptation, knowing that to give in to a powerful and attractive love interest will only lead to trouble, yet both find it hard to resist. Both are troubled by conventional behaviour, and want to step outside the box. Only the fashion accessories differ, from nakedness unnoticed to Dries Van Noten.
Why are we so quick to see the truth in a work of fantasy and imagination, and ignore the reality of the biblical story? Killing Eve for all its guilty pleasure tells a similar story, the need for conflict to be resolved, relationships to be put right, and the unnatural disorder of a fallen world, with its violence, broken relationships and love that turns so quickly to murderous hate, all needing solutions before each episode ends on a cliff-hanger. Life is like that, and all of us experience some of the ups and downs, perhaps without the cloak and dagger, haute couture and bloody endings.
The Eve of the Hebrew scriptures can’t but point to a better way, and the Eve of the TV series can’t see it. God’s plans are a mystery, and most of us don’t notice them, or try to get by on our own wits and initiative. Whatever you think of Killing Eve, it makes a strong case for the need for love, for meaning, and for forgiveness. Eve gives humanity its character and destiny, and shows us why Killing Eve is such compelling viewing. As Joe George says “we watch without judgment because we know, too. We’ve seen it a million times before, not on TV, but in our hearts.”