Since its series premiere last year, BBC America’s Killing Eve has become everyone’s latest obsession. Adapted from Codename Villanelle, Luke Jennings’ novella series, Fleabag star and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge brought the series to life with her dry sense of humor and crude wit. The series follows Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), an MI5 intelligence officer, and Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a psychopathic Russian assassin, who become obsessed with each other. Killing Eve‘s focus on women, sexuality and the rare depiction of a female psychopath make for an intriguing watch as we see a story unfold on-screen that is like no other. These strong and fascinating characters driving its narrative are what make the series so special. When we first meet Villanelle, we’re captivated by her psychotic tendencies and join in on Eve’s obsession with her and psychopaths in general.
However, the nature of Eve and Villanelle’s relationship recently caused some controversy when Oh told Gay Times that a romance between them is not a “focus or message” for the series: “You guys are tricky because you want to make it into something… but it just isn’t.” Despite this, Oh acknowledged that the sexuality of the characters is something members of the LGBT community can relate to: “The fluidity, even in the questioning that I know Eve really really carries, is what I think people can truly relate to. We are not saying one thing or another because people are not one thing or another.” While it’s hard to determine exactly what Oh meant here, it still seems that many people may be misinterpreting her comments and the way that Eve and Villanelle’s relationship has been built.
There’s no denying that Eve and Villanelle’s attraction to each other exists. It’s presented so intensely on-screen that it’s electrifying when they’re in close proximity to each other. Their obsession with each other is a huge part of the series — a driving force that is magnetic to watch and very seldom seen between two women. In an interview with NY Times, Waller-Bridge (season one’s showrunner and writer) essentially confirmed this when she said: “I love the idea that these two women don’t even have to see each other to feel each other’s presence. They give each other life in a way that’s more complex than a romantic relationship. It’s sexual, it’s intellectual, it’s inspirational.” Waller-Bridge went on to say that she loved experimenting with how women can impact each other through simple things that are so powerful, such as Villanelle sending Eve clothes: “She doesn’t send her a finger. She sends her a dress that fits her better than anything has ever fit her, and suits her better than anything has ever suited her.” This is part of what makes Killing Eve so fascinating — Villanelle isn’t like other killers. She’s a psychopathic woman who is sexually attracted to Eve, so we get to see her mess with Eve in ways that align with this. Eve wears the clothes and perfume she receives which is an example of how they continue to feel each other’s presence.
At the end of season one, Eve tells Villanelle “I think about you all the time. I think about what you’re wearing, and what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with. I think about the friends you have. I think about what you eat before you go to work, and what shampoo you have, and what happened in your family. I think about your eyes and your mouth, and what you feel when you kill someone. I think about what you have for breakfast. I just want to know anything.” In response, Villanelle even tells Eve “I think about you, too. I mean I masturbate about you a lot.” You can’t really get any clearer than that.
Villanelle thrives on knowing that Eve is after her and she craves the kind of life that Eve has – stability in marriage and a job. Comer told NY Times that “Human behavior captivates [Villanelle], and she wants to be part of it, but she’s such a complicated person that it can’t happen.” This and the depiction of her relationship with Eve has everything to do with the fact that Villanelle is a psychopath. To create an authentic representation of a psychopath, psychiatrist Dr. Mark Freestone joined Waller-Bridge in fleshing out Villanelle and exploring her obsession with Eve. We’re able to root for Villanelle despite her cold and murderous traits as her one-liners, impeccable sense of style and openness with Eve keep us drawn to her. Freestone further explained to Radio Times that Villanelle is so charming partly because she’s “not in the business of killing good people – they tend to be bad people or good people who inadvertently head into the crosshairs.” She’s also likable due to Freestone’s ability to balance her psychopathic characteristics with behavior and desires that are fundamentally human.
Freestone also believes that love is an emotion that Villanelle is not entirely capable of feeling, thus discrediting the idea of a lesbian love affair. He said “A psychopath is ‘what can I take from you?’. In Villanelle’s case, it’s a little unclear what she desires. Is it mothering, or another kind of intimacy?” This means that Villanelle can certainly show a desire for Eve, but we can’t possibly know at this time what the driving force behind her behavior is — apart from the ego boost she gets from knowing Eve is infatuated her. Freestone states “there is an obsession, but what is this obsession over? This question is left open. But it will never end well. No psychopath forms a healthy obsession.”
Their relationship appears to be built around both thrill and fear. They really do give each other a strong burst of what it feels like to be truly alive — kind of like when you fall in love with someone for the first time and you merge with them. At the start of season one, Eve is a bored civil servant, but as the series progresses, she and Villanelle start to get inside each other’s heads. Eve begins to take on some of Villanelle’s traits and we see more lies and manipulation on Eve’s part, which is something she recognizes within herself. She is ultimately mirroring some of Villanelle’s behavior as a result of keeping her obsession a secret and figuring out what it all means. Villanelle even tricks Eve into killing someone, just for the thrill of it. This begs the question: is the title of the series a reference to how Villanelle will literally kill Eve, or is it a reference to how she’s helping kill Eve’s innocence?
Eve stabs Villanelle at the end of season one and Villanelle shoots Eve at the end of season two – it’s come full circle. This highlights Villanelle’s psychopathic characteristics, but we don’t fully understand why she did it. Is she getting her own back or trying to regain control in their never-ending game of cat and mouse? Many people (myself included) wanted to see a heated kiss in these final moments because of the sexual tension that has constantly been building, but the series reminded us very harshly that Villanelle is an unpredictable psychopath who isn’t capable of love.
Regardless of their actual intentions, Eve and Villanelle are both strongly driven by their desire to know each other entirely. It’s clear in their interactions that they have a strong reaction to each other, even when they’re apart. They are seeing how far they can push each other and if it will eventually result in their destruction. Killing Eve producer Sally Woodward Gentle told Deadline: “I’m a firm believer that you don’t hold stuff back for future seasons, you throw it all in and make it as a good as you can and then make it up again.” This may serve as an explanation to why both seasons have maintained their thrilling tension and have ended with such a bang (literally). Going forward, it’ll only keep on building up to a bigger and bigger explosion until Eve and Villanelle eventually destroy each other.
It would, however, be a huge disservice to completely throw away the powerful portrayal of sexuality between these two women. We can only hope that the series continues to explore the sexual tension igniting their relationship and allow it to grow naturally alongside the narrative. Eve and Villanelle’s relationship is undeniably complex, but Oh and Freestone were hopefully not dismissing everything entirely and were instead preparing us for the fact that this isn’t a typical relationship. Regardless of their desires and what becomes of their obsession, we can at least establish from Oh that Eve has been questioning her sexuality and we can see that Villanelle is likely bisexual — as a psychopath, she slips very easily into certain things, and fluid sexuality is one of them. The series isn’t queerbaiting, Killing Eve just isn’t a traditional love story: it’s a tale of lust, murder, and espionage and it can only end in tragedy. And hopefully one kiss. (Please.)