Picking apart the details of Killing Eve is probably the most fun you can have. There’s so much to love about Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s glorious cat-and-mouse thriller, from its preposterous, hysterical tone to its triptych of female leads, all of whom could shatter the Bechdel test with a single withering look. Sandra Oh’s Fargo-esque Eve Polastri. Jodie Comer’s Villanelle, who is everything you would expect a psychopath dreamed up by the creator of Fleabag to be. And Fiona Shaw’s Carolyn Martens, who nails lines never before placed in the mouth of a possible double agent. Like: “I once saw a rat drink from a can of Coke there. Two hands. Extraordinary.”
But perhaps the greatest pleasure of this deeply pleasurable series is spotting all the ways in which it uproots the tired old sexist tropes of spy thrillers then repots them as feminist in-jokes, patriarchal piss-takes, tasteless murders and blooms of sapphic chemistry. Here are seven archetype-slaying moments …
Sending a man to get a cup of tea
It may be a minor moment buried in a quiet scene, but 15 minutes into the first episode, it sets the cheeky tone. Our dishevelled detective Eve is interviewing the girlfriend of a murdered Polish politician with a female translator. “Poor thing. Can someone get her a tea?” Eve asks, before dismissively addressing a man hovering in the background. “Max?” And, like so many frustrated women before him, poor Max goes off to get the tea.
The ‘fridging’ of the hapless boyfriend
As soon as Villanelle starts romancing her puppyish neighbour, we suspect it will end with murder. And not long after being introduced to sweet, mixtape-making Sebastian, it comes to pass. In a cunning reversal of “fridging”, a horribly sexist trope in which female characters are sacrificed in the service of plot, Sebastian sniffs Villanelle’s homemade perfume (laced with top notes of poison, naturally) and carks it. Murder doesn’t get more ironically feminine than that.
A man follows a woman … and dies
Killing Eve’s most distressing murder, and that’s saying something in a series in which castration is a signature, begins with a classic man-follows-woman scene. Except the man is Bill, who is lovely, brings his baby to meetings and must therefore die. And the woman is Villanelle. The setting is Berlin, with Bill tracking his prey through the streets at night, unaware that the mouse is stalking the cat. They end up in a nightclub where Villanelle flashes Bill a disturbing smile on the packed dancefloor, the place where many a woman has been groped. She chases him then stabs him to death, no doubt keeping perfect time with the techno.
Double standards dictate that when a woman covets nice things on screen she is shallow and materialistic (Sex and the City) and when a man does the exact same thing, he is a sartorial sex god (James Bond). Enter Villanelle, who lives in a Parisian apartment worthy of a Vogue shoot, has a fridge stuffed with champagne and sends the women she fancies and/or intends to kill French couture. In essence, she’s the kind of psychopath who gets the name of the designer who made her victim’s throw before stabbing him in the eye with her hairpin. Like a host of terrifying men before her, she is also controlling, instructing Eve to wear her hair down and complete an outfit with a particular belt. Nice (creepy) touch.
The nagging husband
Poor Niko Polastri. He is the moral centre of a story in which no one will listen to him. His wife never tells him anything, treats him with contempt (or the occasional shag) and won’t eat his stew. She is also sort of in love with a serial killer. Niko is basically the “everywife”, destined to nag, acquiesce and deliver 90% of his lines from the kitchen or bedroom.
The shower scene
Bathroom brawls don’t tend to end well for women. It’s either a classic Psycho situation or Glenn Close drowned 50 times in the tub in Fatal Attraction. But, in an explosive episode entitled Dinner Date, in which agent and killer come face to face in Eve’s apartment, when the action moves to the bathroom it quickly descends from horror to … hilarity. Villanelle turns the tap on Eve’s head to stop her from screaming. Then comes the explanation for her visit: “I just want to have dinner with you.”
The relationship with the handler
In Killing Eve, it is the grizzled male handler, Konstantin, who is unnerved by his uncontrollable female charge. “Letting yourself into my apartment and drinking from a tiny cup doesn’t make you intimidating, by the way,” Villanelle says with a winning smile when he pitches up at her place … to intimidate her. The role reversal reaches its apotheosis when Villanelle throws a really weird birthday party for him, although it’s not his birthday, and in a wickedly feminist sleight of hand comes dressed as … Konstantin.
By The Guardian