It seems unfair that Killing Eve, the new crime drama from Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, was aired in the US first, because not only is Waller-Bridge one of our most exciting voices (and a national treasure to a certain tribe of angry, confused and Obama-loving women), but because a large part of the show is set in London. After all, what better territory for a feminist writer to subvert the crime genre than the home of Sherlock Holmes.
The series, based on the Codename Villanelle novels by Luke Jennings, focuses on the cat-and-mouse chase of MI5 detective Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh, Grey’s Anatomy) and serial killer Villanelle (Jodie Comer, Doctor Foster). The women soon become obsessed with one another, as they chase each other around Europe. London is damp and dank, its wet streets and mac-wearing detectives underlined by the contrast to Villanelle’s beautiful Parisian loft apartment and her next-level, luxury-fashion wardrobe. And that’s what is most enjoyable about Killing Eve: things look familiar – the tropes and stereotypes of detective stories and a murderous psychopath can be spotted a mile off – but they’ve been played with, turned upside down, reconfigured. What do serial killers look like when they’re written by subversive women? How do MI5 bosses behave when they’re a woman used to being overlooked? And my favourite one: why do women do what they do if they aren’t motivated by men?
Killing Eve takes the stalkerish obsession that often runs through thrillers and wraps it round the two women, binding them together in an exciting, funny and, at times, sexy race to find each other. But it also takes apart the stock character of detective and killer. Unlike many great detectives, who are typically dysfunctional lone wolfs, Polastri has a loving, understanding partner at home, but she feels removed from, and possibly even bored by, the stability. Instead, she’s fascinated by the gore and blood of murder and she’s longed for the intrigue and mystery of the case she’s found herself working on. She sees the world slightly differently to those around her – something great detectives typically do. But, in this instance, her talent is aided by her perspective as a woman. In the opening episode, Polastri tells a room of colleagues who are hunting for the killer of a prominent Russian that the killer must have been a woman, contrary to their assumptions. Her hard work uncovers other clues that the assassin is a woman. The humour of these scenes is delivered with what feels like a smirk, direct from Waller-Bridge: look how women can see the world, if only you’d let them.
Even with the high drama and suspense of assassins and MI5, Waller-Bridge’s ability to paint the absurdity of women’s lives, in a hilarious and bitingly honest way, shines through
If Polastri is our relatable hero and everywoman – initially self-doubting, nervous, always in need of a drink; intelligent, shrewd and dark tendencies hidden under a veil of supposed acceptability – Villanelle is a transfixing riddle that will soon become your obsession, too. She looks fantastic, and never more so than when she lures in her next victim, murders brutally without a flinch, revelling in watching them die. A nod to famous female killers; her methods are wrapped in her femininity. She takes lives as if a game – it is a skill and talent she has, and she has a pleasure in carrying out her work to the highest standards – but there is no motive, no psychological web to unweave. And it’s wonderfully refreshing. Not only because the screen is littered with dead male bodies, for a change, but because this femme fatale is not driven to despair and derangement over a man – her habit to kill is for her own morbid pleasure. When she does become infatuated with someone else, it is a woman.
Fleabag fans won’t be disappointed. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are both excellent and a joy to watch, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s presence is apparent. So much so that Killing Eve can feel as much of a Charlie's Angels trio as just a double act. The playful idiocy of the supporting male characters and the repeatedly feminist undercurrent of how Waller-Bridge depicts women in men’s worlds are both funny and exceptionally relatable. Even with the high drama and suspense of assassins and MI5, Waller-Bridge’s ability to paint the absurdity of women’s lives, in a hilarious and bitingly honest way, shines through. Even something as small as Polastri having to hand over her croissant, which she’s brought to deal with a hangover, to her male boss when he demands it puts Waller-Bridge firmly in the room.