Killing Eve is the spy thriller I never knew I always wanted.
The whole spy thing is usually overly masculine, and any female characters generally aren’t as complex as I’d like. But Killing Eve? It’s made me a believer. Obsessed, even (yeah, I’ve marathoned the first season twice and I’m about to go in for round three).
It’s based on Codename: Villanelle, a collection of novellas by Luke Jennings. Instead of overly sexist masculine ideals, Killing Eve turns every trope on its head… then adds a cheeky twist. The Killing Eve cast takes a witty and thrilling story and expertly brings it to life. I can’t wait for Killing Eve season 2. April 7th can’t come fast enough!
Eve and Villanelle are two of the most exciting female characters I’ve seen in a long time.
I’m not going to lie—when I learned that the author of Killing Eve’s source material was a man, I was surprised. I didn’t expect a man to be able to write such complex female characters. But damn, Luke Jennings did a great job crafting these women. Eve Polastri and the assassin Villanelle are two of the most exciting female characters I’ve seen in a long time. I need to know everything. This series has risen to the top of my TBR. So far there are two books in the series: Codename: Villanelle and Killing Eve: No Tomorrow. If this is the future of spy stories, sign me the hell up.
What’s so great about Killing Eve, you ask? Okay, let me tell you.
MI5 agent Eve Polastri (played by Sandra Oh) has been working behind a desk as a security agent. She’s very bored with her job and finds her life becoming mundane. She’s incredibly intelligent and longs for a job in the field. With a twinkle in her eye and dreams of becoming a spy, she’s been doing her own research into a possible assassin at work across Europe. She’s convinced that this assassin is female. And a higher-up in MI6 hears her and agrees. Soon enough, that assassin, a fierce young woman named Villanelle, hears someone is looking for her… and she starts looking right back. This thrilling, engrossing, and subversive spy thriller takes familiar tropes and turns them on their head.
The Unapologetically Dogged Female Agent
Every spy thriller needs its secret agent, and in Killing Eve it’s the intelligent Eve Polastri. If this were a James Bond type of story, Eve would have a perfect shot, impeccable luck, zingy one-liners, no fear, and would practically be a gymnast. Instead, Eve is a real person. She’s incredibly intelligent, but until this point, she’s been riding the desk. She doesn’t have a lot of experience in the field. But she does have a lot of experience with Villanelle. Eve’s the only one who could see the clues pointing towards her.
When her skills are required by MI6 and she gets the chance to be a spy, Eve is all in. Not only is this her dream, but the more Eve learns about Villanelle, the more obsessed with her she becomes. While trying to catch her and stop her from killing more people, Eve is also impressed. The ways Villanelle kills are inventive and intelligent. She manages to get in and get out with no one the wiser.
Finding Villanelle consumes Eve’s thoughts. She works tirelessly all day (and sometimes night) and jets off on trips to places Villanelle has been. This leaves Eve’s husband Nico worried and upset. It’s not the wife at home telling the husband that he works too much, but the other way around. While Nico is a very supportive partner, he is also very worried. Eve listens, but she is not going to apologize for getting her dream job and doing everything she can to succeed. And damn, it’s refreshing.
The Unforgiving Femme Fatale
The femme fatale of this story is, of course, the legendary Villanelle (played by Jodie Cormer). But, like Eve, she doesn’t quite fit her mold either. While femme fatales generally rely heavily on their looks to get the job done, Villanelle rarely uses her sex appeal. When she does, it’s only as necessary. You can find her enchanting her male neighbor as it suits her, or at ease in a Russian prison uniform. She’s not what you expect—she’s better.
Villanelle knows her strengths. She knows she’s smart and incredibly good at her job. Yes, she’s a bit of a controlling, egotistical psychopath…but she’s still a human woman. A type that we don’t get to see a lot. Sure, she’s the bad guy so to speak. But she’s interesting. She’s human. She’s not perfect, but she’s still amazing at her job. She’s not just one thing.
It’s A Little Steamy
If you ask me, it’s impossible to watch this show and not see at least a little sexual chemistry between Eve and Villanelle. Their interest in each other doesn’t just border on obsession, it is an obsession. They both want to know everything about each other, and they like what they learn. They admire each other, sure. But I think it’s a little more than that. They are adversaries worthy of one another. And it’s pretty hot. And not in any male-gaze sort of way.
Not only is there chemistry between the two main characters, Villanelle is definitely not straight in her day-to-day life. You’ll see her handler come over while she’s tangled in bed with both men and women. Villanelle has past love interests mentioned as well that are women. So, not only is this show filled with complex female stars, it queers it up in a subtle but truly excellent way.
The Best Thing Crime TV Has Seen in Years (Maybe Ever, If You Ask Me)
Killing Eve shows us that women can play roles traditionally saved for men, and do it well. They can be fully realized, well rounded, complex, and interesting characters. And, at the same time, be fully human. The show allows them to do what they are good at while not being perfect at the same time. For female characters, this is rare—they tend to have to be one of the other. The way Killing Eve executes the traditional role reversals is beautifully done. Just like with the queer undertones, it’s not a gimmick; it’s not the focus. It just feels like the natural order of things. And I fucking love it.
If you haven’t checked out the first season of Killing Eve yet, there’s no time like the present to start! Season two comes out on April 7th. While I’m biding my time between episodes, I just might have to pick up Luke Jennings’ books Codename: Villanelle and Killing Eve: No Tomorrow. The book is always better than the adaptation, right?
About the Killing Eve Books by Luke Jennings
Villanelle (a codename, of course) is one of the world's most skilled assassins. A catlike psychopath whose love for the creature comforts of her luxurious lifestyle is second only to her love of the game, she specializes in murdering the world's richest and most powerful. But when she murders an influential Russian politician, she draws a relentless foe to her tail.
Eve Polastri (not a codename) is a former MI6 operative hired by the national security services for a singular task: to find and capture or kill the assassin responsible, and those who have aided her. Eve, whose quiet and otherwise unextraordinary life belies her quick wit and keen intellect, accepts the mission.
The ensuing chase will lead them on a trail around the world, intersecting with corrupt governments and powerful criminal organizations, all leading towards a final confrontation from which neither will emerge unscathed. Codename Villanelle is a sleek, fast-paced international thriller from an exciting new voice in fiction.
“If you want us to remain silent—if you want to retain your freedom, your job, and your reputation — you need to tell us everything, and I mean everything. . .”
We last saw Eve and Villanelle in a spy vs. spy race around the world, crossing powerful criminal organizations and dangerous governments, each trying to come out on top. But they aren’t finished yet.
In this sequel to Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle, former M16 operative Eve reveals a new side to her strengths, while coming ever closer to a confrontation with Villanelle, the evasive and skilled assassin.
What to Read & Watch Next
Beth O’Brien is a library assistant and book blogger. Born and raised in Atlantic Canada, she lives in picturesque Nova Scotia with her cat Edith. You can often find her rocking double denim with her nose in a book and a craft beer in her hand. Follow her on Twitter @fuelldbyfiction.