Killing Eve was interesting because it committed wholeheartedly to its different elements: a thriller that could be very funny, with a good measure of marriage and workplace drama, too. At its heart was a star-making turn of rare quality from Jodie Comer, who was a revelation as the beautiful assassin Oksana Astankova, known as Villanelle. She murdered her way around Europe in glamorous outfits, speaking in a range of accents, turning on a comma between childish and psychopathic.
As Eve Polastri, the MI6 agent assigned with tracking her down, Sandra Oh played it halfway between harassed wife and intuitive genius, with surprisingly credible results. The tango between the two women, laced with sexual tension, was supremely watchable, and Killing Eve, a BBC America production, was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Comer won the leading actress Bafta for her performance, Oh won a Golden Globe for hers. If the final couple of episodes got a bit silly, it was testament to the quality of the writing and acting that silliness even seemed like a legitimate accusation against a programme with such an absurd premise.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, currently unable to do wrong, adapted Killing Eve from Luke Jennings’s Codename Villanelle novellas. Presumably tied up in her other projects, such as rewriting the new James Bond script, here she hands over lead writing duties to Emerald Fennell. On the face of it, she is a surprising choice, a young adult horror writer and actor who was recently cast as Camilla Parker-Bowles in The Crown. For the most part the tone is consistent with the first series and the script nearly as tight, but there are moments where the jokes lack the subtlety – a glance here, a raised eyebrow there – that made the first series so fresh.
The new series has already aired in America, so cunning critics have been able to get their hands on the whole thing. It starts 30 seconds after the events of the previous series finale. Stabbed in the stomach, Villanelle must seek medical treatment without attracting the attentions of “The Twelve”, the mysterious international syndicate that employed her. She throws herself in front of a car, whose driver takes her to hospital, but she can’t stay long. As soon as she is able, she makes her way back to the UK, drawn back to Polastri, a flame haring towards a frazzled and exhausted moth.
Villanelle seemed invincible for long stretches of the first series. There was no peril she could not charm, flirt, bludgeon, joke or stab her way out of. But here she is weak and bleeding and needs things from men she would once have seized. Julian Barratt has a creepy part as Julian, an apparent Good Samaritan with a house full of dolls. A new handler appears, Raymond (Adrian Scarborough), who taunts Villanelle with the idea that Polastri and co are preoccupied by a new assassin, The Ghost, who shares Villanelle’s taste for a flamboyant off-bumping.
As the series develops, it’s clearer than ever that Eve and Villanelle are more similar than they are different. Villanelle’s new vulnerability invites us to question what it is exactly she wants from Polastri. First time around she was toying with a more worthy adversary, but why now? Polastri, by contrast, is frayed around the edges, a terrible wife to her husband Nico (Owen McDonnell) and an even worse intelligence agent to her boss Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw). The script is still tight and the jokes are still there, as are Villanelle’s accents, outfits and abrupt killings, but without the will-they/won’t-they energy of the initial plot, it is harder to care.
Waller-Bridge’s other BBC smash hit programme, Fleabag, was allowed the rarest of indulgences in modern television. It went out on a high after just two series in a world where golden geese are more often kept on life support indefinitely. Killing Eve will not be let off so briskly. A third series, written by Suzanne Heathcote, is already on the cards. Despite an excellent supporting cast, especially Shaw and The Bridge’s Kim Bodnia as Villanelle’s bearish former handler Konstantin, the programme would be nothing without its two leads. Inevitably, there is a cliffhanger ending. But how interesting can Killing Eve continue to be when we know that neither Eve, nor her would-be killer, will die?
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies