For a show about bisexual woman with an increasingly powerful obsession for each other, Killing Eve does an excellent job of avoiding the common pitfalls of representing relationships between two women.
Killing Eve’s ratings are soaring, proving that BBC America was right in renewing it for a second season before the first season is even done airing. But that’s not the only revolutionary thing the show is doing: when it comes to storytelling, it’s managed to portray sensual allure without once reducing itself to objectifying its characters.
The show follows Eve Polastri’s search of serial assassin Villanelle through various countries in Europe, and is packed with thrills, action and laughter — as well as a powerful, growing connection between the two women, which, while still more sensual than sexual, continues to hint at something more.
The show already stands out for its unique take on a classic cat-and-mouse chase, where both leads are female and unapologetic about their ambition, flaws and feelings, but even more impressive is how it manages to depict Villanelle and Eve’s obsession for each other without once sexually objectifying them.
Mild spoilers for Killing Eve below.
It’s not about showing skin
Both Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer look stunning in Killing Eve, even without taking into consideration the great costumes they’ve been given and the glorious backdrops they display their talent against. If this were any other show, we would inevitably have been given some long pan-ups, multiple shower scenes, and many excuses to see the characters — especially Villanelle — naked. Shows dealing with such intense themes almost always use their rating as an excuse to offer fans glimpses of their actresses’ nude bodies — and end up reducing excellent female characters to objects just through cinematography.
But Killing Eve doesn’t do this. Because the sensuality of Eve and Villanelle’s relationship, and the allure of the show as a whole, doesn’t rest on the bodies of its actors, no matter how beautiful they are. And even when it does, it’s the ruthlessness and strength of those bodies — Villanelle’s unstoppable trudge across a field, Eve’s determined speeding towards a threat — that is the most fascinating to watch.
The characters represent something to each other
Instead of relying on easy, suggestive material to illustrate the strange love-hate relationship that’s budding between the Eve and Villanelle, Killing Eve relies on more subtle eroticism: most notably, in Villanelle’s fascination for Eve’s hair, and the intimate act of gifting her clothes — and Eve’s enjoyment of wearing those clothes and seeing how her body looks in them.
And yet it’s still deeper than that. Because Eve is primarily drawn to Villanelle not by her beauty, or by the criminal pursuit of her, but by her cleverness and skill, long before she even has to pay attention due to circumstances. From the very beginning, Villanelle represents the decadence and unapologetic cunning that Eve longs to be able to demonstrate in her own life, a taste of the dark freedom that some part of her wants to experience.
For Villanelle, on the other hand, Eve represents the chase she’s wanted to be a part of her entire life. As the show progresses, we’ll get to see more of what made her who she is, and what exactly makes her want Eve so much, but even now it’s clear that Eve fascinates her in a way no other detective would have been able to. She adores the attention, and adores spying on Eve even more.
All of these feelings intertwined with the actual plot of the show, make the relationship between Eve and Villanelle so much more than just physical — which serves to intensify the potential of where all of this could go.
It’s not for the pleasure of the viewer
It’s a far cry from the female interactions we’re used to seeing on screen, especially as they veer towards the romantic. While sex between women is so often framed for the male gaze, Killing Eve makes a point of never showing the women fully undressed, prioritizing the psychology of it over the physicality. It doesn’t make it for anyone’s gaze. Seeing sex on screen between the characters is rare, but when it does happen, the camera lingers on faces more than anything else, making it more about what the moment means to the characters than about making the scene titillating to the viewer.
And while Villanelle’s very brand seems to be one of seduction, the way she executes her seduction is never degrading — it doesn’t even tend to involve the removal of any clothes.
We’re only halfway through the first season of Killing Eve, but if the show keeps up this skillful handling of one of the most notoriously problematic aspects of female characterization and queer relationships, it’ll only serve to further prove that it should be counted among the best shows out there.
Killing Eve airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. on BBC America.