Killing Eve truly understands how to write women


Killing Eve proves that you can write women as interesting, whole beings. You just have to hire women to work on them.

By now, most of us have seen the finale of Killing Eve. If you haven’t, you’d better turn back now, go watch the season 2 ending, and then reconvene.

For the rest of us, we’re mostly left gobsmacked. Love it or hate it, Killing Eve on BBC America is a perfect example of how much a female-led show benefits from women writers and showrunners. The show’s female leads, Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are killing it onscreen, but they have the help of a female-led writers room. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri – Killing Eve _ Season 2, Episode 7 – Photo Credit: Nick Briggs/BBCAmerica

The clever and quick-witted Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of Fleabag fame) was at the helm for the bulk of the series’ first season, and her keen eye for feminine behavior fueled the two leads, Eve and Villanelle’s sexy yet treacherous “courtship.” It was a lot of coy game playing between the two, and even when it turned scary — Villanelle’s gift of the razor-laden lipstick, for instance — it was still very tongue in cheek. It’s supremely cheeky to weaponize an instrument of beauty, and even sexier for the color of the instrument to match the resulting wound.

However, when Waller-Bridge left to work on the sophomore season of Fleabag, Emerald Fennell came on as primary showrunner and the mystery and intrigue between Eve and Villanelle ratcheted up in an insidious and adept manner. Bringing the two women together provided a canvas to demonstrate how women can inform female characters in ways men cannot.

Some critics have suggested removing the cat and mouse element of the women’s relationship took the wind out of the show’s sails, but I feel very, very differently. In fact, this made the show feel more inherently female. When you add in Eve’s superior in the MI6 organization, Carolyn, you have a complicated spectrum of female dynamics and motivation.

Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri, Jodie Comer as Villanelle. Killing Eve – Season 2, Episode 8. Photo Credit: Gareth Gatrell/BBCAmerica

The beauty and complexity of the relationships lie in the details and small moments among the women. Of course, Villanelle shooting Eve in a rejection-fueled sadness is no small moment, but it took two whole seasons for us to get there. From the moment the two shared a meal – the comforting Shepard’s Pie – it became clear that the series was implementing a system of signs that women could relate to.

Food becomes an incredibly important part of the female semiotics of the Killing Eve universe. The very first time we meet Villanelle, she is hunched over a bowl of ice cream, watching a young girl enjoy her own ice cream. Moved by a then-unknown motivation, Villanelle spoils the young girl’s experience with the treat, symbolic of her (now understood) pathology.

I don’t want to linger in stereotypes, but it’s no accident Waller-Bridge chose ice cream to inform this scene, as it’s become an archetypical reference to signal female comfort in times of grief or stress. It’s also no accident that later, in season 2, the writers chose the giant bowl of pasta, and Villanelle’s delight in it,  to work as an act of both seduction and menacing.

Jodie Comer as Villanelle. Killing Eve. Photo Credit: Gareth Gatrell/BBCAmerica

The show further uses fashion to employ subtext. In Villanelle’s case, it’s her preoccupation with expensive designer clothes, which she often uses as costume during her assassinations. The series has seen Villanelle dressed in the likes of Alexander McQueen and Helmut Lang, while Eve languishes in various shades of beige and taupe.

You have to applaud the show’s lack of judgment on these varying versions of femininity. Female characters are often written through the male gaze, which champions overt displays of sexuality and traditional standards of beauty. The gag about Eve being dressed as a maid is particularly nervy, and it is not lost on Villanelle in the season finale.

Upon their first meeting in season one, Eve is dressed in a beautiful cocktail dress, gifted to her by Villanelle. Juxtaposed against the violence of Villanelle almost drowning Eve, the scene illuminates, but doesn’t condemn,  the varying forms of femininity. Not to be obtuse, but these are subtleties writers outside the female experience could discern. The irony of being attacked by the very woman whose gift you are currently wearing, and are enjoying very much, is a very particular, and wholly female, assault.

Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens – Killing Eve -Season 2, Episode . Photo Credit: Parisa Taghizadeh/BBCAmerica

While I could go on and on about the dynamics between Eve and Villanelle, we can’t have a conversation about this series and the way it writes women without mentioning Carolyn.

As Eve’s mentor and boss, she is presented as perennially put together, much to Eve’s amazement. There is a throwaway scene about midway through season 1, in which Eve asks Carolyn how she always looks so good. Carolyn, responds in a way very familiar to the female audience. She doesn’t come back  with a “thank you” but with a self-effacing nod to her very expensive face cream. So smart, and so delightfully familiar!

Killing Eve proves that there is a space for female showrunners to tell the stories of women and their experiences without all the jiggle and T and A.

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