Killing Eve is The Perfect Show For the Cultural Moment
TV is finally starting to tell stories about angry women. Killing Eve is an example of this kind of storytelling at its best & most timely.
Female outrage is everywhere, and we don’t care to hide it anymore. Women are proudly proclaiming ourselves witches and casting spells to take out Donald Trump. We’re making donations en masse to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name, just to piss him off. In a time when women’s rights are constantly under threat, there are only a few responses that make sense. Outright anger, gallows humor, and a refusal to put up with bullshit are predominant among them. How else do you explain the year we’ve had?
When it comes to television, this ethos translates into more women showrunners and directors than ever before, more inclusive casts, and stories that actually prioritize women’s experiences, instead of relegating us to love interests or limiting us to a pornified version of our actual lives, full of sexposition, the male gaze, and drinking wine in the bathtub.
For once, angry women are in fashion, and television is no exception. On shows like Jessica Jones and the short-lived Sweet/Vicious and Good Girls Revolt, we got to see women take on perpetrators of sexual violence, head on. The women characters on You’re The Worst, Good Behavior, and UnReal make decisions that are terrible and selfish, but that would be completely unremarkable if made by a man. Killing Eve builds on that momentum, with a trio of women who are angry, unlikeable and ambitious. But, above all, they’re hyper-competent and completely unapologetic.
Killing Eve‘s co-protagonist assassin Villanelle plays into a certain ironic, misandrist delight. Her first kill that we see is a sex trafficker. The second, a married man, assumes she’s a sex worker and puts his hands on her. She castrates men on more than one occasion. Her initial choice not to kill the girlfriend of a target reads as some sort of feminism or solidarity, though we soon see that Villanelle is no feminist vigilante, no mascot for a cause. But she continues to mock the feminine fragility that others project onto her—whether it be her handler Konstantine, the therapist Konstantin forces her to see, or complete strangers in the course of her kills. When she and her neighbor Sebastien have sex, the roles are entirely reversed: he wants her to slow down, but the encounter is over for her as soon as she’s satisfied.
There’s an overall sense of women’s tacit approval of violence toward men, exemplified by the woman who—in the second episode—looks out the window of the city bus and, upon seeing a man covered in blood and begging for help in the window of a nearby office building, simply calls her mother to see if she needs anything from the shop. Even Eve, at first, feels like Villanelle deserves to not be caught, given her sheer skill in the face of law enforcement that continually overlooks her, due to a mixture of incompetence, misogyny and (we eventually learn), treason.
Villanelle is completely aware of her beauty, contrary to what’s largely asked of women: put in scads of effort to look young, thing and gorgeous, and then put in scads more to make it all look effortless. While she would turn up her nose at the notion of a movement, she’s the kind of woman who would probably say “thanks” when a man compliments her, and then laugh in his face when he got all huffy at her for having the nerve not to simply demure. Meanwhile, Eve is clearly a utilitarian dresser, wearing her sporty rain coat over the cocktail dress she buys for a work dinner. Still, she compliments Villanelle’s style—under showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Eve is allowed to both not invest time in her appearance and appreciate the way great clothes can make a person look and feel. Neither woman’s style is seen as “correct.”
The show is also a testament to what can happen in a women-centric workplace that doesn’t ask the typical BS of women. Aside from a very intentional moment in the second episode with Bill, Eve’s longtime work husband and former supervisor, Eve and the women on her team don’t have to tiptoe around the egos of men. When Bill has trouble acclimating to the new power dynamic, Eve confronts him head on. She calls him out on his BS, and he owns up to it. The conversation pivots to a productive one about being as rigorous as possible in their work. During their time working together, we see Bill’s loyalty to Eve, a willingness to take direction from her, and continued mentoring, though from a position of deference.
Carolyn’s complete disinterest in small talk or standing on circumstance is fantastic. Carolyn is matter-of-fact and dry in a way that women are so rarely allowed to be. She embodies what so many ambitious women wish they could do: dispense with the niceties and get on with their damn job already. Carolyn would see no need for the “emotional labor” chrome extension, which adds exclamation points to emails. But she also understands the need to play the game, as she does with her Russian counterparts in Episode 6. Carolyn is not a woman who would spend her time making other women feel bad for saying “like,” “um,” “just,” or “sorry” if that’s what it takes to get ahead in this world.
It’s impossible to have a discussion about women’s professional lives these days without touching on imposter syndrome, and Killing Eve is no different. When Carolyn’s recruiting her, Eve immediately asks, “aren’t there more qualified people?” Oddly enough, Sandra Oh had a similar moment when given the show’s script, although hers was more subtle. The idea of being up for the lead was so unimaginable to her that Oh searched for the quirky best friend role. Killing Eve doesn’t just recognize that imposter syndrome exists, it rightly locates the blame with people like Eve’s awful boss, a man who we eventually learn is so bad at his job that he is a traitor, actively working against his country’s interests.
Killing Eve feels like a distillation of our current sociopolitical moment as well as the natural next step for pop culture. It checks so many boxes: it’s darkly funny, is escapist yet still thoughtful, boasts much better representation than so much else in the industry, and prioritizes women’s stories told by and for women. Television is not only art that reflects who we are, it’s also an escape. There is so much to escape from right now, in a moment when all we want to do is take down the bad men, burn the system to the ground, and revel in female friendship. Killing Eve couldn’t possibly have come at a better time.