At its core, it’s a familiar concept: it’s Sherlock vs. Moriarty, Harry Potter vs. Voldemort. Two foes, one good and one evil. The protagonist and the antagonist. Enemies that become obsessed with each other, not least because of a bizarre and grudging respect for one another’s powers and talents. We’ve seen it so many times down the years that it’s become a staple trope in literature and drama, pretty much since their invention. And so it goes with the BBC’s remarkably sharp, witty, thrilling and enjoyable new crime thriller Killing Eve.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (writer of Crashing and the critically-lauded Fleabag) adapts this eight-part series based on Luke Jennings’s popular Codename Villanelle series of novellas. While its cat n’ mouse premise may be recognisable, few other things about this opening episode smack of commonplace. Is it a crime drama? A spy thriller? A comedy? A tale of obsession? A feminist parable? Or a little of all of them? Well, we guess we’ll find out over the next two months’ worth of no doubt engrossing and unmissable Saturday night programming…
Killing Eve sets its tone stall out nice and early with a cool, classy and visually stunning pre-credits sequence – one that evokes a genuine belly laugh by the time the huge bold letters flash up on screen telling us what we’re watching. A beautiful woman sits alone in a Vienna café, casually watching a cute little girl on the table opposite smiling as she spoons ice cream into her mouth. Initially refusing to smile back to the woman, the kid watches the woman get up and walk over to her. Then quite deliberately she tips the kid’s dessert all over her. The woman, we immediately learn, is quite, quite psychopathic. Deliciously so, in fact.
She’s Villanelle (Jodie Comer – Thirteen, Doctor Foster), a talented, eccentric and skilled hit(wo)man. One, we soon learn over the course of two precise hits and one rather horribly violent bloodbath, that likes to get her perfectly-manicured hands dirty. Across the events of the opening episode, we discover that she’s highly intelligent, nimble, conniving, manipulative, brutally funny, a stone-cold killer and more than a little reckless.
The Sherlock to Villanelle’s Moriarty? Sideways and Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh. She’s the Eve of the title, Eve Polastri. An MI5 officer who yearns for a chance to get out from behind her desk and get out ‘into the field’. Something she’s allowed to do by the end of the opening episode, but only after showing equal amounts of insight, initiative, cunning and, well, recklessness.
Eve, while being briefed on the latest of Villanelle’s assassination, has a hunch that the killer is a woman. Scoffed at by her male superiors, she conducts a little light extra-curricular investigation and has her suspicions rather quickly confirmed. It ends in some ‘nastiness’ that sees both her and her immediate boss (quite rightly) being fired, but it’s not long before her nose for the Russian killer gets her back in the fold, this time with MI6.
The rest of the cast isn’t exactly showy, but it’s nicely put together. Fiona Shaw impresses as the head of the Russian division of MI6 who recruits Eve, and it’s always fun to see Four Weddings… and The Thin Blue Line’s very own DI Grimm, David Haig, in something. Fans of The Bridge and/or Nicolas Winding Refn’s tremendous Danish Pusher trilogy will recognise Kim Bodnia as Konstantin, our assassin’s patient but wary handler.
The basic idea behind the series may be familiar, but nothing else about it is. While it’s absolutely grounded in reality and far from surreal, it’s certainly subversive. And not just because it’s so stylish or because it places two unique and richly imagined female leads at its centre. Killing Eve‘s real pièce de résistance comes from its ability to simultaneously present a glamorous James Bond-esque world of spooks, spies and assassins alongside one that’s packed with humdrum normality and reality (Eve’s flaky croissant and hangover at her Saturday morning meeting is a perfect case in point). It’s this clever little juxtaposition that allows the show’s humour to really make an impact.
After this debut episode it’s difficult to know who to root for, if we’re honest – the sexy, insane, murderous and yet oddly likeable killer or the rebellious, sardonic, tetchy and yet oddly likeable spy.
Maybe we’ll pick a side next week.
Did you tune in for Killing Eve episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!