Stay Tuned: Sandra Oh tracks a femme fatale on ‘Killing Eve’

Melissa Crawley More Content Now
“Killing Eve” is on Sundays at 8 p.m. EDT on BBC America. [BBC]

BBC America is so confident in the new series “Killing Eve” that it renewed it for a second season before the first episode premiered. In a press release, BBC America President Sarah Barnett said that the decision was due in part, to “the fact that we wholeheartedly love this original, funny, thrillingly entertaining series.” The lavish praise is justified. “Killing Eve” is addictive.

The Eve of the title is Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh,“Grey’s Anatomy”), a smart MI5 operative who spends her days behind a desk but wishes she was a spy on the hunt. When her frustration with her boss leads to an unfortunate outburst, she is unceremoniously fired but quickly recognized for her talent by Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw), the MI6 agent in charge of the Russia desk. Carolyn recruits Eve to lead a secret unit investigating a string of un-attributable global assassinations. As it happens, Eve has secretly been collecting information on a female assassin because she’s bored and slightly obsessed with the idea of a femme-fatale. The object of her fascination is Villanelle (Jodie Comer), who kills on order, without question and without remorse.

The set-up is cat and mouse as Eve and Villanelle begin a dangerous game to outwit one another. Focusing the action on two female leads is intriguing as is making the assassin a woman who is elegant, skilled and a brutally cold, indifferent killer. Villanelle enjoys killing and Comer plays this with glee, using facial expressions that go from wide-eyed, bemused pleasure at watching her victims plead and writhe as they are dying to smiles of satisfaction when they take their last breath.

It’s a strong performance of a quirky killer who is truly horrible yet strangely magnetic. Part of the reason for this is that Villanelle’s murders are approached with a somewhat lighthearted sensibility as she happily travels across Europe (in a stylish wardrobe) coming up with clever ways to kill before returning to her Parisian apartment. One murder is death by hairpin. Another is courtesy of a poisonous perfume Villanelle makes at home. The unconventional murders turn much darker in future episodes, a reminder that the series’ tone isn’t so easy to predict.

Villanelle remains invisible to authorities but her increasing recklessness is causing her handler Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) concern. Their relationship is boss/employee and Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. Konstantin’s commitment to the shadowy group of people who order the kills is unimpeachable. Villanelle’s is less so, which adds another interesting layer to the plot.

But this is a show about killing Eve so the focus is on how Villanelle will eventually make that happen. Or not. Their shared obsession, which for Eve borders on a bizarre admiration is not treading new territory. Television’s “Hannibal” had a similar tone. But how it plays out between these two women makes this cop versus criminal story a fascinating one.

“Killing Eve” is on Sundays at 8 p.m. EDT on BBC America.

— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.