Inside the 'Killing Eve' Showrunner Change and What to Expect in Season 2

Emerald Fennell and Sally Woodward Gentle — who take over the BBC America critical darling from creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge — talk with The Hollywood Reporter about the shifting power dynamics and vulnerability of the critical darling's second season.
Aimee Spinks/BBCAmerica

BBC America's breakout spy-thriller Killing Eve is a drama about women on the brink, and that won't change when the critical darling returns for its second season April 7 with new showrunners Emerald Fennell and Sally Woodward Gentle taking over for in-demand creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The series, which centers on Eve Polastri's (Emmy winner Sandra Oh) MI6 pencil pusher with a hidden penchant for female serial killers and her ever-growing obsession with Jodie Comer's elegant, eccentric and deadly assassin Villanelle — became a breakout in season one when, in a rare move, its ratings actually grew every week throughout its eight-episode run. Critics and awards groups heaped praise on the series, which became an unexpected and engaging thriller centered around women, strength and sacrifice and gripped audiences with its unexpected brutality and humor.

With creator Waller-Bridge taking a backseat in season two as she readies HBO's newly ordered comedy series Run as well as preps the sophomore run of her cult Amazon comedy FleabagKilling Eve is staring down the barrel of a second run without the woman who crafted the award-winning debut. Instead, season one exec producer Sally Woodward Gentle will take on greater responsibility and serve as showrunner alongside franchise newcomer/actress-author Emerald Fennell (Call the Midwife). The duo plan to disrupt the status quo established by Waller-Bridge while still conforming to the "exceptional" set of rules that the latter used to build the world of the award-winning series.

Both showrunners tell The Hollywood Reporter that shifting balances of power will be a large part of what drives the second season. Season two will pick up directly after the final moments of the freshman run finale. "It's such a gift, that ending, as both of them are in such crisis," Woodward Gentle says. Adds Fennell: "Villanelle has escaped a Russian prison, she's a machine. But she realizes for the first time that she's mortal. And Eve realizes for the first time that she can look someone in the eye and stab them, so that's an extraordinary position to come from."

The direction of season two was influenced by the shocking finale, which drove Fennell to explore the catastrophic impact Eve and Villanelle have on each other. "We can't cheat and skip forward and make everyone sexy and great again. If you get stabbed, even if you're Villanelle, you need to find a way out. I want to know how you clean your knickers, and the ins and outs of being a very vulnerable woman, and a woman who up until now has never let anything stand in her way."

Killing Eve's first run was focused on women, both dangerous and benign, and the subverted expectations of just what that danger can look like. The follow-up season will turn that on its head by introducing brutally violent men who shake the foundations of Villanelle and the control she holds over the world in which she resides. There's a reality in that narrative for Fennell, who sees the story as a reminder to the audience and herself that "it just takes one nobody guy, a moment of vulnerability on your part, a slight misjudgment, and you're in serious trouble."

Fennell's 2015 novel Monsters — about two young children investigating a series of grim murders — shared a similar eye-catching bleakness and humor with Killing Eve and was one of the reasons why she got the call to serve as showrunner during production on season one. By the time the series had become a hit, the team already "had the hard conversations" about the direction of the next season. "We'd already contracted her, she was trapped," Woodward Gentle recalls with a laugh.

Fennell noted that the impact of these experiences is key to where viewers find Villanelle in the early part of season two as she tries to find safety in an unknown place while she searches for the woman who tried to kill her. "Suddenly we go from seeing the iconic heroine to the woman. What that does to both her and the audience seemed like the most fascinating thing to explore."

Waller-Bridge may be less involved but she left behind a strict set of rules that continue to shape the world of Killing Eve, including one golden rule that strikes to the heart of the sophomore season's examination of shifting power dynamics: no matter what danger she comes up against, Villanelle "never ever uses her beauty." 

Without Waller-Bridge at the helm, the next chapter of Killing Eve was always going to be a challenging journey, but it's one that Fennell and Woodward Gentle dove into head-on. "If season one was about finding something, learning how to be exceptional and falling in love, then [season] two is about the limits of that, and the limits of being a woman in an extraordinary position."

Killing Eve season two premieres on AMC and BBC America on April 7. Bookmark THR.com/KillingEve for full coverage.