Killing Eve season two review – riveting psychosexual thriller returns

The show finds Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer orbiting one another again, playing up the show’s penchant for dark comedy and blood-thirst

One way to avoid that ignominious Peak TV pitfall known as the sophomore slump is to open your show’s second season with the title card “30 Seconds Later”. This, rather deftly, is how the smash-hit psychosexual thriller Killing Eve introduces its new batch of episodes, picking up right after our titular MI6 officer, played with high-strung moxie by the great Sandra Oh, has stabbed Villanelle, the ruthless Russian assassin brought to life with radiant theatricality by Jodie Comer. The opening single-shot sequence is a killer, the camera following Eve down, and then up, and then back down the spiral staircase in Villanelle’s Paris apartment building as she flees the scene of the crime. In less than two minutes there’s subterfuge, streaks of blood, paranoia, and a phone that rings ominously, overlaid by a breathy, synth-driven soundtrack. In other words: welcome back, Killing Eve!

The show, which won Sandra Oh a much-deserved Golden Globe earlier this year, returns with a few modifications: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who adapted the series from Luke Jennings’ Villanelle novels and wrote four of the first season’s eight episodes, has taken a step back and brought on author-actor Emerald Fennell as head writer.

Thankfully, Killing Eve retains the snap-crackle-pop dialogue of season one, with women, adamant and scabrous, delivering the zingers, and men, generally horny, highfalutin and unknowing, withstanding them. More so than in season one, where Eve and Villanelle were often flanked by game but far-less-compelling supporting characters, the new episodes, two of which were made available for review, double down on what the show does best: cat-and-mouse style suspense, anchored by star-crossed main characters who feel for one another a fascinating mix of disgust, admiration, and sexual attraction.

It’s something of a relief, then, that after their bloody season one encounter Eve and Villanelle have been separated yet again, consigned to their tortured pattern of encirclement. Eve has been rehired by her boss Carolyn – played by the poised and withering Fiona Shaw (who has a brilliant line delivery involving “pig’s placenta”) – to investigate the mysterious death-by-pedicure of an international tech mogul. When she hears another lady serial killer might be on the loose, Eve’s eyes twinkle with excitement, and not because she’s fixing to crack open another case but because “Villanelle will be furious”. Eve’s also observably beset by PTSD from the stabbing incident, a state-of-mind Oh conjures in waves of mania and paralysis: in one scene, Eve sits motionless in the bathtub, staring at a ringing telephone; in another, she seems to fall into a kind of diabolical haze as she chops vegetables dangerously close to her fingers.

Villanelle, meanwhile, is still wreaking havoc, assuming and removing her various personas like a Matryoshka doll. Wounded but cunning as ever, she spends much of the first episode in a hospital gown, bantering with a young boy in the ward, to whom she refers to Eve as her “girlfriend”. Villanelle remains endearing and flirtatious, inveigling men with her charms, which Comer amplifies with a cheeky mock-sincerity that’s discernible to the audience if not to her slaughter-bench of victims.

Sandra Oh in Killing Eve.
Sandra Oh in Killing Eve. Photograph: Aimee Spinks/BBCAmerica

But these days there’s less ambiguity to the question of whether or not she’s constitutionally evil; her coup de grace at the end of the premiere episode, which further embraces suspense-genre tropes to great effect, is downright ghastly. And as much as we desperately want Eve and Villanelle to find each other once again, I imagine there would be little audience investment in the latter’s survival were it not for Comer’s exuberance.

This is Killing Eve’s double-edged knife: the series, with its electric performances and expertly wrought tension, has so throughly convinced us that there is nothing as remotely interesting in these women’s futures as one another (Eve’s husband, still the wettest of napkins, exists mainly to provide some obligatory semblance of domestic upset). Eve and Villanelle’s dynamic is charged, coquettish, criminal, like Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Sterling. But that hamstrings the show plot-wise, perpetuating a feedback loop wherein the two seem destined to find each other and then separate again, ad infinitum; the last time they reunited, someone got stabbed. Now we’re back at stage one, with expectations raised impossibly high for a redux. Sure, “circumstances have changed” – a line of dialogue that appears in each of the first two episodes, creating a parallel in both Eve and Villanelle’s professional lives – but the cat still chases the mouse, even as it’s not entirely clear who’s who.

Nevertheless, Killing Eve’s new season is compulsively watchable, the most defiantly rock‘n’roll of television’s crime procedurals. Like its assassin, the show is snarky and bombastic, always drawing blood with a smile. Like its hero, Eve, it’s purposeful and droll, consumed by paranoia and occasionally lacking focus. Sure, it’ll be hard for Killing Eve to top its first season, but harder, still, to resist watching it try.

  • Killing Eve returns to BBC America and AMC on 7 April with a UK date yet to be announced

Contributor

Jake Nevins

The GuardianTramp

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