Pop Culture Advent Calendar, Day 3: Killing Eve
Inspired by NPR, every day (gulp) from December 1st to 24th, I will be highlighting
a pop culture moment from this year that I loved. Today I talk about everyone's favourite assassin, Villanelle
Killing Eve is a drama thriller that first aired on BBC America this year, later coming to BBC UK. It stars Shandra Oh as Eve, a very intelligent, slightly bored MI5 agent, and assassin Villanelle, played byJodie Comer, and their growing obsession with each other.
There's a deliciousness to Villanelle's evil. I find it hard to stomach any sort of violence, but Jodie Comer's acerbic performance of Killing Eve's antagonist is so mesmerising and so enjoyable that I'd cackling through kill scenes (!)
Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman wrote that Jodie Comer always manages to find an edge to the vulnerability of her characters, and I agree – it is one thing l love about Jodie Comer's performances across the board. The few episodes of Doctor Foster I've seen bring to mind a scene where her character, who is having an affair with Dr Foster's husband, and has become pregnant as a result, is seeing Dr Foster for a routine appointment in a tense, slowly drawn out scene, both women exchanging cloaked barbs at each other, putting a lid on what they actually want to say. Her fierceness in this scene is tempered by her helplessness (also by her age). When she’s playing a traumatised young woman recently escaped from thirteen years of captivity in Thirteen, she still manages to convey something sinister that keeps the viewer from fully trusting her.
And then there's Chloe from My Mad Fat Diary, who I could write a dissertation on. Comer plays Chloe, Rae's childhood best friend. Throughout the series, the viewer, like Rae, isn't sure whether they want to hug her or throw her out a window. She seems to oscillate between wanting to mesh Rae in with her new friends and wanting to ostracise her so she doesn't take her friends away. All throughout the series you are slung between frustration at her ill timed and thinly veiled mean comments towards Rae (sometimes not veiled at all), and a deep empathy for Chloe's struggle with seeking validation from all the wrong places, the only places that are offered to her.
In Killing Eve, Villanelle is actually evil. Due to the story beats we’re used to following, the way evil female characters are generally written and the fact that we like Villanelle, I think the average viewer is being lulled into a backstory that will explain her, explain why she is the way she is.
But Phoebe Waller Bridge's brilliant script upends that expectation.
The moment that really exemplified this was when Villanelle mauled her ex-lover Nadia with a car. In the 4th episode of Killing Eve, Sorry Baby, Villanelle, who has been demoted from solo assassination missions, is on a mission with her Nadia and a guy who is louder and more incompetent than both women (which feels weird to say about an assassination). Towards the end of the episode, after an argument where he is shot, Villanelle looks to reconcile with Nadia, and cajoles her by apologising, acknowledging that she knows it will take a while to trust her. Comer's performance is so genuine here that as a viewer you think the thing we have been expecting is here - the soft spot from Villanelle's past.
Then, in the kind of moment I expect many film and TV makers dream of, where good writing and good performances and interesting direction meet. Nadia, hesitant but encouraged by Villanelle's words, goes to put something in the back of the car. The camera lingers slightly too long on Villanelle's lovestruck face in the side mirrors, then her view of Nadia in the front mirror, and less than half a moment later, showing a quick shot of the ignition and brake, and she puts the car into reserve, and then drives the car forward before saying ‘oops’ at her Nadia’s screams of pain. The ex is NOT a weak spot, the script is saying, and the thing you are looking for that you expect is not here, is not Villanelle. And even though she is a psychopath and morally abhorrent, she is all the more beguiling for it.