We’ve had to wait patiently while American audiences gorged on the second instalment of Killing Eve, but now it’s finally our chance to catch up with the cat-and-mouse thriller that had us all hooked from the moment psychopathic assassin Villanelle tipped the ice-cream over that child in the opening shot of season one.
Months might have passed since we watched the season finale, but we reunite with intelligence operative Eve (Sandra Oh) mere seconds after she’s stabbed Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in the stomach. Clearly traumatised by her actions, Eve is still clasping the bloodied knife as she stumbles out of Villanelle’s apartment in the first sequence of series two. “It’s tempting to do the very spy genre thing and start the season six months later where everyone is healed. However, we wanted to pick up directly after the fall-out of such a momentous thing,” explains lead writer and executive producer Emerald Fennell, who took over writing duties from her close friend and Fleabag star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
“We are so used to seeing acts of violence on screen that we have forgotten to ask, what it would feel like to actually look someone in the face and stab them? For me, the question is how do you get home - both physically and metaphorically - when you have done something so shocking? That’s at the core of this whole series.”
The power dynamic between the two women, how it’s evolved and what impact this has on both their lives, also looms large. “All of the hallmarks from last season are still there: the obsession, the fascination and inability to leave it alone, even though it is compromising. What we see this year is that the women are bonded in a sadomasochistic way by an act of extraordinary violence. It has changed their lives massively in different ways and it is now more dangerous than it was,” says Emerald.
“The theme which was started so beautifully by Phoebe is that of the nature of good and evil. It seems clear-cut that Villanelle is an assassin and Eve is this kind, intuitive and empathetic person. But the question of who is good and who is evil isn’t always clear. No matter what Villanelle did, people still loved her, and the darker Eve got, people still felt the same towards her.”
In the new eight-part series, Eve is brought back into the fold by her enigmatic boss Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), as they need to “draft in the head of the fan club” Carolyn quips in their search for Villanelle, as well as another killer who’s on the loose. But Eve’s struggling. “She’s pushed to the limit in every way - in her marriage, at work, in her personality and sexually,” says Sandra Oh who won the Golden Globe for her performance. “She isolates herself because she’s so obsessed with Villanelle. Her personality starts to change because she foregoes a lot of her friendships to solve a new mystery and ultimately succeed in her job.”
Sandra admits it’s hard to describe the tone of the show. “It’s also hard to write, hard to perform and hard to nail down. We understand what a drama, thriller or comedy genre is, but Killing Eve is a real mash of all those three. The cast’s phenomenal because everyone is grounding their performance in their own truth. There are crazy, heightened moments of high theatrics, which are so over the top but completely grounded in truth. Then in the middle of all the hysteria is the ridiculousness. Even that is always situational and based in character. It’s never just jokes.”
In a very strange way, it’s Villanelle who creates the biggest laughs. She has a sense of humour that’s as bleak as the acts of violence she carries out.
“The most interesting part about coming back to play Villanelle is the exploration of her emotions and feelings, or lack of them,” says Jodie Comer who received a BAFTA TV award at this year’s ceremony. “A huge conflict arises in her head from how she thinks she feels about Eve and the other relationships in her life. I think that’s another reason why the audience took to her. There’s a flicker of humanity about her and just when we think we’ve found it; we lose it again. That’s probably really interesting for the audience to discover.”
When she first read the word ‘assassin’, Jodie recalls she “immediately thought of a sexy woman in a catsuit scaling walls in six-inch heels, but Villanelle felt more real than that. There’s something very earthy about Villanelle. She’s so much fun to play. She gets away with murder, quite literally, but I love her.”
Despite the macabre moments, there are hints of glamour in the show, the locations for one as the characters continue to race across European cities. There’s also Villanelle’s wardrobe. She isn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd and her outfits reflect that. Perhaps not so much in the first episode where, left with nothing following the stabbing, she spends most of the time wearing a boy’s comic strip pyjamas in hospital, but future episodes will see her returning to her fabulous self.
Look out for a Thierry Mugler jumpsuit and Christian Lacroix earrings and the incredible outfit she’s wearing when an unwitting Instagram influencer asks to take her photograph in Amsterdam. Villanelle’s disdainful response is just one of many beautifully pitched moments.
It’s no small feat to take over from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who’s busy lending her talents to the new Bond movie, but Emerald has succeeded in matching the show’s unique tone, while moving the storyline forward. The comedy’s there, there are moments of perfunctory violence, not least a heart-breaking moment in episode one, and you sense this is just the beginning for Eve and Villanelle’s ‘complicated’ relationship. A third series has already been confirmed, but first, we can all just wallow in the savage beauty of series two.
Series two of Killing Eve begins on BBC One on June 8
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