THE SERIES “Killing Eve”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Sunday on BBC America
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) is an MI5 agent, who mostly rides her desk at London headquarters and is nearly bleary-eyed from her routine. Fortunately — or not — she has an obsession: She suspects a female assassin is at work in Europe, dispatching targets one after the other. She’s the only agent with this theory, however, until she manages to intrigue one of her superiors at MI5, played by veteran actress Fiona Shaw. This killer happens to be real, however. Her name is Villanelle (Jodie Comer), and soon enough, Villanelle will have reason to be intrigued by Eve, too. This eight-parter — already renewed for a second season — is based on Luke Jennings’ novel “Codename Villanelle.”
MY SAY The actual series aside — a good one, by the way — “Killing Eve” arrives with what might be called some special added bonuses. Foremost, there’s Shaw, whose desolate MI5 chief Carolyn Martens appears to know the meaning of everything — life, death, the squalid truth about humanity — but holds her secrets well. One of the greats, Shaw doesn’t do much TV, and “Eve” offers a glimpse of what we’ve been missing. Oh hasn’t done much TV either since leaving “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2014. If that’s a case of waiting for the right role, then the wait is obviously over: She’s just about perfect as the brainy rogue agent who fumbles her way along in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
That leaves Comer as the “Who knew?” revelation. Fans of Starz’s “The White Princess” (she played Elizabeth of York) and the recent Michael Palin miniseries “Remember Me” certainly knew, but she’s otherwise almost unknown to American viewers. That should end with “Killing Eve.” As a full-blown psychopath, her Villanelle is especially lethal when bored, and she happens to have an unusually low threshold for boredom. Mere seconds after killing someone, the light of joy goes out of her eyes, and an existential pall settles over her. “Now what, or who?” those inviting hazel eyes seem to say. Viewers never have to wait long for an answer.
Comer’s Villanelle gets the best lines, best scenes and even the best locales (Vienna, Paris and Tuscany in the pilot alone.) She’s a monster who knows her way around Europe and around her own head too. Like Eve — the good yin to her evil yang — Villanelle has facets. She’s smart, creative, intuitive and witty. She’s not one for small talk either. “Are you always like this?” she reproaches a particularly chatty bad guy, just before ending the conversation in the most efficient way she knows how.
“Killing Eve” was written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also wrote and starred in the breakout Amazon comedy-tragedy “Fleabag,” about a London woman (Fleabag) navigating sex and grief. There’s an easy temptation to see a little bit of Fleabag in Villanelle — minus, naturally, the homicidal penchant. But that’s too easy: There’s a little bit of Fleabag in Eve, too. What is obvious is that Waller-Bridge had more fun writing for Villanelle than anyone else in this series.
“Killing Eve” can be violent and bloody, sometimes too violent and bloody, but get past that and an intriguing new antihero awaits.
BOTTOM LINE This seductive thriller with a murderous heart has a great cast and brutal antihero. What’s not to like?