Review: In ‘Killing Eve,’ Female Spy Hunts Female Assassin


In “Killing Eve,” Sandra Oh plays an inexperienced foreign intelligence operative at MI6 who’s up against a seemingly unstoppable assassin.

Nick Briggs/BBC America

“Killing Eve” is a television show that gets your hopes up. It was created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose “Fleabag” was one of the sharpest comedies of recent years, and it stars Sandra Oh, who is consistently smart and funny in equal, abundant measure. And it’s in a genre, the spy thriller, that neither woman has been associated with. What would they cook up?

The result is entertaining, clever and darkly comic, anchored by Ms. Oh’s performance as an intelligence agent whose instincts and resolve have to make up for her inexperience and her tendency to scream like a terrified child in the face of danger. It’s in no way a disappointment, though it might not be as revolutionary or as subversive as its makers and its network would have you think.

(The network is pleased, in any case. BBC America, where the show begins its eight-episode first season on Sunday, has already committed to Season 2.)

Based on novellas by Luke Jennings, “Killing Eve” pits Ms. Oh’s Eve Polastri — a deskbound agent for Britain’s MI5 who suddenly finds herself upgraded to foreign intelligence operative at MI6 — against a seemingly unstoppable assassin code-named Villanelle (Jodie Comer). They’re both hard-working, ambitious, slightly obsessive women — one sequence shows them both lying awake in bed, ignoring the men next to them while they think about work. But Villanelle also happens to be an attention-seeking psychopath who likes to put on a show when she kills the latest mob boss or politician.

Trailer of “Killing Eve,” starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer Video by JoBlo TV Show Trailers

Their cat-and-cat game, which jumps among Eve’s London base and the various other European capitals where Villanelle operates, unspools with the fluidity, narrative finesse and sardonic, dirty humor Ms. Waller-Bridge displayed in “Fleabag.” Villanelle, who’s like an overgrown child — exuberant and sentimental but with no discernible conscience — looks at a photo of her next target and coos, “Aw, nice face.” She’s so open and unaffected about her intentions that several of the men she kills mutter “Sorry” when they try to escape.

Ms. Comer is good in the showier part of Villanelle, but it’s Ms. Oh who makes sure that the series is more than a cute gloss on the glamorous international caper. She gets across Eve’s vague but not terminal dissatisfaction with her job and marriage, her nerdiness (one boss calls her a “tiresome thinkbucket”), and her anger and fear when Villanelle makes their game lethally personal. And she never stops being funny, whether upbraiding her superiors, espousing conspiracy theories or being water-tortured.

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