When Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag arrived in 2016, it was the kind of miraculous star birth British viewers ought to celebrate like a World Cup run or a hot summer. An earlier sitcom, Crashing (Channel 4), had its moments, but Fleabag was the first full expression of her talent. The sitcom’s premise – young Londoners without enough money or love – was unremarkable, but Waller-Bridge’s writing and performance evaded all cliche. It was very sad but it was also very, very funny.
The question was what would follow. For a while, it looked as if her stock was rising so fast that she might be too busy to do more Fleabag. Her feminist droid, L3-37, was easily the best thing about Solo, the latest film in the Star Wars franchise. A second series, however, including Sherlock star Andrew Scott, has now been confirmed.
Before that, we have Killing Eve, which Waller-Bridge wrote – adapting the story from a series of novellas by Luke Jennings – but doesn’t star in. It was produced by BBC America and aired there earlier this year, where reviews were, if anything, even more adoring than for Fleabag. All eight episodes are now available on BBC Three, and it will take a strong will not to gobble them all in a sitting.
Superficially, it is a spy thriller, about an intelligence agent chasing down a beautiful, psychopath assassin – but it is also a comedy, a workplace drama and an action film. It’s clear from the outset that, as with Fleabag, Killing Eve’s triumph is to give full throat to each of its many voices. The peril of mixing genre and tone is that they end up weakening each other, just as caviar and Nutella are fine on a pancake, individually. Killing Eve subverts our expectations without compromise. At the end of the first episode, a tender moment in a toilet is followed by a brutal mass murder. The big surprise is that it doesn’t seem surprising.
The direction is taut, necessarily given the action sequences. There is also a fine supporting cast, especially Fiona Shaw’s deadpan Carolyn Martens, the head of the MI6 Russia section. It’s the chemistry between the two compelling leads, however, that gives Killing Eve its particular fizz. Even as they are cast as cat and mouse, the two women are fascinated by each other, respectful of the other’s skills but determined to win.
Jodie Comer plays the murderous Villanelle as a kind of cross between Lara Croft and Scarlett Johansson’s man-eating alien in Under the Skin. Sandra Oh, best known as Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy, brings just the right amount of harassed brilliance to Eve Polastri, an MI5 desk officer whose hunch about the case is ignored by lazy male bosses.
There are other explicitly feminist moments, but the script is sure-footed enough to joke about them, too, as when Villanelle admonishes a man for touching her without permission before plunging a hairpin into his skull.
Waller-Bridge can’t take all the credit. But the energy, wit and confidence are unmistakably hers. Killing Eve; killing it.
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