Killing Eve Review: Sandra Oh Is Superb In BBC America's Devilishly Fun New Thriller
Sandra Oh. Fun, guilt-free spy thrillers. Original BBC America series. These three things, TV viewers can never have enough of, but that magical trifecta comes together beautifully with Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Killing Eve, a devilishly delightful adaptation of Luke Jennings' Villanelle novellas. At a time when entertainment is dominated by near-faultless superheroes and sympathetic anti-heroes, Killing Eve is injected with a refreshing dose of everyday humanity and subversive genre-bending, with Oh and co-star Jodie Comer taking the slow-burning brilliance to even greater heights. It is the perfect antidote for Peak TV's over-seriousness.
Of the many elements that make Killing Eve so attention-grabbing, Sandra Oh's Eve Polastri and Jodie Comer's Villanelle lead the pack in a rare case where the metaphorical cat and mouse are as interesting and intelligent as the cat-and-mouse plot they're wrapped up in. And in Killing Eve's case, viewers aren't even always sure which character is filling the predator and prey roles. Which isn't to say the lines between good and evil are opaque, exactly.
A world away from her Grey's Anatomy surgeon Christina Yang, Sandra Oh's Eve is a security operative working with MI5 who upends her rather drab work life, cultivating some grand ideas about a series of seemingly unconnected murders. Before we learn any of that, though, we're introduced to two of Eve's most fabulous traits. One: she's only half-British, meaning Oh doesn't have to awkwardly feign an accent. And two: her sense of humor couldn't be darker. Her relationship with risk-averse husband Niko (Owen McDonnell) is pleasant and natural enough, though it soon faces the same strains and sprains as everything else in Eve's life, once her workplace obsessions guide her to deeper and more dangerous places.
Speaking of Eve's work, that's where we meet Bill and Carolyn, as respectively portrayed by the always-excellent David Haig and the Harry Potter franchise's Fiona Shaw. Haig plays Eve's bemusedly gruff and worn-out colleague Bill, who finds himself unwillingly drawn in by Eve's hunches, while Shaw plays the determined and no-nonsense Carolyn, the head of MI6's Russia desk. It's Carolyn who takes Eve's murder theories to heart and heads up a secret unit dedicated to tracking down the supposed killer tying it all together, though she may know more than she's letting on at any given moment. One of my only complaints about the show is that these two characters -- and to a lesser extent, other side characters like Darren Boyd's Frank -- aren't initially set-up enough, which weakens their arcs ever so slightly. It's a small ding, though, since it's arguably necessary in some cases.
Surprising no one, I'm sure, is the fact that Villanelle is the demented assassin with mysterious motivations, and Jodie Comer is a firecracker whose embrace of the character's more animated wickedness is perfectly fitting of the character's pathological and empathy-lite mindset. With a razor-sharp smile as her go-to reaction, Villanelle is as enigmatic and toying as fictional assassins get, somewhat like Dexter Morgan's narration personified, and her thirst for controlled chaos knows no bounds. And every time viewers find themselves hoping for Villanelle to prolong her mayhem, a new layer of ruthlessless arises and makes us feel guilty for wanting more.
Even Villanelle's fearless handler Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) isn't always sure what to expect from the assassin from one moment to the next. Villanelle's self-serving existence and rampant dishonesty don't allow for lasting friendships or romances, with Konstantin as one of her few regular contacts, but something clicks inside her upon crossing paths with Eve, and the obsessive hunt begins. Unfortunately for the good guys, Villanelle's skills include staying a step ahead of authorities, and Eve soon finds herself unwillingly stalked by the very woman she's trying to find.
As much as Killing Eve can be viewed as a straightforward spy thriller, the series also works as a character study, not just of Eve and Villanelle specifically, but of this genre's role-based stereotypes as a whole. (Not to mention most of the plot mechanics inherent to these kinds of stories.) Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge most definitely did this by design, aiming to flip any and all expectations upside-down through the course of the first season. So don't expect Eve to be a Jason Bourne stand-in with all the right tools and training, and don't expect all of Villanelle's distinct viciousness to be blamed on Big Bad Mother Russia. But even when story elements play out similarly to how they would in traditional thrillers, Killing Eve still goes the extra mile to guarantee the tone is jostled around and twisted in fascinating ways.
With the Amazon co-production Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge brought a delectably filthy and errable humanity to the "sex and relationship dramedy" subset of modern TV genres, and Killing Eve feels crafted from the same revisionist toolkit. From the trailers and loglines, one cannot properly imagine how funny this show is, but I spent the majority of my viewing time smiling and joyfully howling at the audacity so regularly employed. Just about every scene is an exercise in perceived emotional responses getting antithetically thwarted. Hanging over every vicious murder and depressing tragedy is a surreal levity, while happier circumstances are spiked with darker edges. And it all works rather splendidly, because we're so invested in these characters.
With its top-notch cast, its whip-smart creator, and a storyline that will keep viewers humorously horrified throughout all of the smart twists and turns, Killing Eve has already earned its place as one of the best shows of the year, new or otherwise. (And the already ordered Season 2 will hopefully expand the story in even more interesting ways.) If you feel like you can't possibly fit another new TV series into your life, just quit watching your favorite show and make Killing Eve a higher priority. If you disagree with anything I've said, you can send Villanelle over to accept my apologies in whatever brutal manner she prefers.
Killing Eve will make its debut on BBC America on Sunday, April 8, at 8:00 p.m. ET. (And you can currently watch the first episode on the network's website for free, even without a subscription.) To see what other new and returning shows are on the way, hop over to our midseason premiere schedule and our summer premiere schedule.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.