Sunday, June 23, 2024

Eve and Villanelle Carried Season 2 of Killing Eve, and That’s Okay

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I was surprised, after catching up to the halfway point of the second season of Killing Eve, to read the mixed opinions about it. To be fair, I understand. Eve’s team is far less compelling than her team in the first season. The overarching events lack the same spark and intrigue. You don’t lose a creative mind as brilliant as Phoebe Waller-Bridges without losing something from your show. I get it.

Reading opinions about how far some think it fell, though…I just can’t agree. Killing Eve, at its core, is a story of two women drawn to each other and the destructive effect their connection has on their lives. This is the Eve and Villanelle show, and I found them to be as strong as ever in season 2. Yeah, maybe everything around them didn’t live up to the same quality as in season 1. That’s perfectly fine.

I think, if we’re honest, even season 1 relied heavily on the Eve/Villanelle dynamic to carry it. Carolyn is certainly intriguing, and Konstantin as well, and the relationships each had with their charge (Eve and Villanelle, respectively) lent a lot to the quality of the show. Still, it was all about Eve and Villanelle. The chase and their ever-evolving dynamic was by far the most interesting part of the story. Nothing about Carolyn or Konstantin or The Twelve was anything particularly new or special. They were flat out generic and uninformed.

And that was okay, too, because the show did not focus on them. Generic elements are fine so long as they serve the actual spark of the show. In this case, Eve and Villanelle.

I found these two and their obsession with each other to be just as strong as the first season, if not stronger. The progression of their dynamic following the stabbing that ended season 1 made perfect sense to me every step of the way.

Eve, in particular, became a much more interesting character to me in season 2 as she stepped further into Villanelle’s world and embraced the repressed aspects of her personality. That’s not to say she was uninteresting in season 1; seeing this repressed woman gradually twist out of normalcy was fascinating television. Season 2 took her the right amount of steps out of this comfort zone and into the twisted world she showed such interest in.

Perhaps I just have affection for this kind of loss of inhibition in a character, but seeing Eve wallow further and further in the muck of the assassin world made her so much more compelling. There’s no denying that Eve Polastri restrains and suppresses herself to fit the life she has built. Her obsession with Villanelle and assassins comes from a need to let loose in a way she cannot anywhere else. She finds an outlet to realize her full confidence and potential.

She is smart, and sexy, and capable, and she can make a difference in the world unimaginable before the Villanelle case came along. Villanelle unleashes her true potential.

Of course, this balances against the harm done to Eve’s life and the unsavory aspects of her personality unleashed alongside her confidence and capableness. Season 2 very much corrupts Eve. It’s not just Villanelle, either, but Carolyn and the lifestyle she gradually seduces Eve into. Where season 1 feels like more of an uncoordinated (or is it?) yet shared effort to twist Eve, season 2 feels more like a tug of war. Villanelle and Carolyn each want to indoctrinate Eve and we see the progression of their efforts.

The final scenes are certainly up to interpretation as to whom, if either, won. The journey there was fantastic and I can’t wait to see where it goes now.

There’s certainly the argument of whether we still like watching Eve as she becomes a worse person for Villanelle’s influence. Season 2 certainly pushes her morality to the brink, and in some cases over it. She blows up her marriage, blows up friendships, and gives in to impulses more often. I enjoyed this downward spiral. It’s the natural progression of her character considering she, you know, STABBED Villanelle in the season 1 finale. Again, I find her to be more interesting for it.

I’m sympathetic to the idea that she’s less interesting, though, even if I don’t agree.

On the other side of things, I also found Villanelle to be a more interesting character in the second season compared to the first. This may come down purely to subjective opinion. I can see why perhaps Villanelle’s more aimless hired killing would frustrate an audience. Maybe making her so much more relatable overshadows the murderous, mentally-ill side of her that we do not want Eve giving in to. You have to be careful with who you humanize, after all.

I loved every choice season 2 made with Villanelle. After all, could this show have possibly sustained Villanelle’s intrigue without a greater attempt to humanize her? I appreciated the greater insight into how and why Villanelle became the woman she is. It’s not simply enough for Eve to be interested and seduced by the excitement Villanelle introduces into her life. The audience must also find a reason to want more of Villanelle, to want to know more.

I walked away from season 2 with the better understanding that I craved.

Season 2 also took the necessary step of giving more motivation to Villanelle and showing more of her in the outside world, rather than just having her as this agent of sheer chaos warping the world around her. Say what you want about Aaron Peel, but he caught Villanelle off-guard just as much as much as Eve does. Having her freelance made her consider why exactly she she’s a killer-for-hire. The group therapy scene introduces Villanelle to truths she tries not to admit to herself about her life, even if she rejects them along the way.

In general, season 2 shows us a more vulnerable version of this character, even as her influence creates a less vulnerable, more confident Eve. Together these two women absolutely dominated Killing Eve this season, even more so than the first season. And frankly, I do not see the problem.

Like Eve and her decreasing morality, there is an argument to keeping Villanelle as the more mysterious, insanely capable figure she was in season 1, more antagonist than season 2’s shift to protagonist. I don’t think that’s sustainable. At some point, to keep her interesting, you have to try and humanize her more. The only way to avoid this is by ending the show in the first or second season. I’d rather have more seasons and a protagonist Villanelle.

Would it have been good for Killing Eve to have more information on The Twelve and a better supporting arc around Eve and Villanelle? Of course. The thing is, they are not the point of the show. Whatever is going on with The Twelve, with Carolyn’s likely connections and Konstantin’s maneuvering, it’s not why we watch. The show is called Killing Eve. Eve Polastri should take precedence over everything. So long as she and Villanelle have compelling character arcs within a season, I find it hard to be too critical.

Season 2 delivered in that regard. Both women took logical, interesting steps further down the paths begun in the first season. Watching Eve handle a new case with potentially an even more dangerous female assassin, only to regret the lack of flair compared to Villanelle, engaged me. Watching Villanelle commit cheap freelance murders against easy targets and mourn Eve’s “lack of interest” also engaged me, though I know for a fact that simply watching Jodie Comer talk for 15 minutes entertains me. Killing Eve belonged to them, as it did in the first season.

Really think back on the first season. What exactly made it special? It was Eve Polastri, and Villanelle, and the way it portrayed a familiar cat-chasing-mouse game but with two women and a queer focus. Add in a heavy dose of great acting from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, along with effortless charisma between them, and they really make Killing Eve stand out.

Did it perhaps go too far in romanticizing the chase and dynamic in season 2? It’s the last argument I can think of to criticize them. There’s no question that Eve’s downfall and Villanelle’s newfound sympathy made for a more exaggerated, romantic few of things compared to the brutal truths of season 1. However, this was very much the point. As Eve’s show, we view things from her perspective. From her perspective, she did fall further into a more romanticized view of Villanelle and her work.

It’s not until she kills for the first time that the cold truth slaps both her and the audience in the face. Now, if season 3 continues this overly-sympathetic view of things, I may feel different.

There’s a reason every scene was dominated by one or both of these women and we saw so little of everyone else in comparison. The creators want it that way. They built the entire show around these two characters. Everything happens from their perspective. We know what they know. We experience what they experience.

Season 2 very much continued this trend. It would be one thing if they spun their wheels and didn’t move forward at all. That sin certainly lays at Killing Eve’s door regarding the larger plot of The Twelve. Eve and Villanelle, however, moved forward so considerably that by the end we saw the fracturing of the relationship. Ending on Villanelle responding to rejection by shooting Eve in the back was a perfect ending point mirroring the end of the first season. It thrust the two characters forward into entirely new circumstances for the third season.

I eagerly await said third season. If Eve and Villanelle  carry it as they have the first two, I’m sure I’ll walk away happy.

Images Courtesy of BBC America

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