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[This story contains spoilers for the April 14 episode of Killing Eve, “Nice and Neat.”]
Killing Eve is a show about women. The roster is filled with complex, interesting, flawed female characters, most prominently MI6 agent Eve (Sandra Oh), assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), Eve’s boss Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), who may or may not be working for the other side, and Elena (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Eve’s passionate, loyal assistant.
Season one established a world where the threat was always Villanelle, and though she may have been working for the mysterious 12, her killings were the core of the show’s conflict. Only two episodes into season two, however, new showrunner Emerald Fennell has turned the story on its head with the introduction of a chilling male presence and a new thematic thread that reminds viewers that in this world, men are always a threat.
After the season premiere, where a struggling Eve rejoins Carolyn at MI6 and Villanelle murders a child in a misguided maternal moment, “Nice and Neat” ups the stakes rapidly, throwing the already vulnerable Villanelle into the arms of an unexpectedly insidious new threat. Her obsession with Eve at a peak after their near fatal interaction in Paris, Villanelle arrives in London ready to find the woman who she’s now convinced “loves her.”
The realities of surviving without the support of the shadowy organization that she formerly worked for means that’s no easy task. After a rough night sleeping in a laundromat, Villanelle decides to try and prey on a seemingly harmless man in a supermarket. The illusion of safety is a key theme here, though, with Fennell playing on both the audience’s and Villanelle’s expectations of the “nice guy” that she comes across.
Fennell told The Hollywood Reporter that she wanted this season to act as a warning for women that “it just takes one nobody guy, a moment of vulnerability on your part, a slight misjudgment, and you’re in serious trouble.” That’s definitely the case for Villanelle as she enters the doll-filled home of the apparently harmless Julian (Julian Barratt), who has his own plans for the ailing young woman and her well-being.
In the offices of MI6, Eve is suffering from a very different type of male encroachment as she deals with being a part of a new team that includes Hugo (Edward Bluemel), a young, Eton-educated “dogsbody” whose ambition and lack of respect for Eve puts her at a disadvantage. It’s clear from the outset that Hugo is untrustworthy, often undermining the women around him and consistently trying to gain leverage over Eve.
In Julian’s small suburban house things are getting desperate for Villanelle. Her assumption that the weak and lonely man would be easy to control was drastically wrong, and in fact, he’s also a predator, but one driven by entirely different motivations. There’s something inherently off-balance about Barratt’s performance; he’s a man not driven by greed, per se, or revenge, so for Villanelle he’s a near unknown quantity. It only makes him even more dangerous. What Julian wants is something even stranger and more disturbing: He wants a living doll, someone to care for and dress up, to feed, primp and preen, and most important, never allow to leave.
Villanelle is used to violence, but this is an unprecedented attack on her while she’s at her most unguarded. There are some easy analogs to make here, the most obvious being about women in abusive relationships who are preyed on by men when they are in need of help. There’s something about Julian’s kindness that’s familiar, and scarily so. He’s the sweet neighbor, the kind of man who, when the news reports that there were bodies in his basement, people living nearby would say, “It’s hard to believe, he always seemed so nice.”
In one of the more telling moments of the series so far, when Villanelle realizes just how truly dire her situation is, the first person she attempts to call is Eve. Though she’s unsuccessful, the moment showcases just how deep her twisted feelings for Eve go and how in that split second she would rather be caught by a woman than imprisoned by an ever more dangerous man. But this is Villanelle, so despite her infected wound, growing fever and encroaching fear, she manages to escape, only to find that Julian’s misogynistic violence isn’t isolated to him.
The episode feels like a representation of the hole into which Villanelle is rapidly spiraling, and just as she’s stabbed Julian and freed herself, she finds herself at the mercy of her new handler. The spy organization that she was working for is less than happy with her, and the new man in her life is vicious and nothing like Konstantin, who was more of a reluctant father figure than a boss. Within seconds she’s being throttled against the grimy window of the car they sit in, and as she watches Eve and Carolyn appear at the site of her latest murder, Villanelle stares longingly out of the window, knowing that she’s no safer with this man than the last.
Killing Eve airs on AMC and BBC America at 8 p.m. Sundays.
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