The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
By Sonya Feibert Kuhn
This spring, AMC Networks, the parent company of BBC America, announced that the upcoming fourth season of Killing Eve will be the series’ last.
I felt crushed at the news (even with some talk of spinoffs), much as I did watching the show’s two central characters, Eve and Villanelle, part ways on a bridge after a fraught goodbye in the Season 3 finale.
Killing Eve got me through the pandemic (alongside The Great British Baking Show). In the waning days of the Trump dictatorship, this dark comedy gave me hope.
I fell hard for Sanda Oh’s determined, darkly comic, smarter-than-the-boys depiction of Eve. I loved Jodie Comer’s Givenchy-clad, ruthless, unapologetic Villanelle. And Fiona Shaw’s deliciously dry, no-nonsense Carolyn makes me pine for more Shaw.
These characters are messy. They’re flawed. They don't care much about what other people think (sometimes to a disastrous degree).
And it’s oh, so, refreshing.
Shows that leave me feeling energized like this, like I had just the right amount of coffee, have a common denominator: the badass women who create and star in them.
Killing Eve is what you get when you give women the reins and let Phoebe Waller-Bridge have her way with a spy novel. Her script, based on the novellas by Luke Jennings, reimagined several of the main male characters as female. Eve, who is white in the novellas, was deemed the perfect role for Asian actor Sandra Oh in the television series.
Waller-Bridge has shared that during one meeting, someone protested the strong female presence in the show, suggesting that people would find it ‘unbelievable.’ The only thing unbelievable is that bumbling Frank would ever be Eve’s superior, or Paul Carolyn’s.
But there are still those whose limited imaginations can’t conceive of a world where women run the show.
In the U.S., where women make up 52% of the population, we’re represented on screen 38% of the time, according to a 2019 Nielsen study. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, 42% of streaming programs had clearly identifiable sole female protagonists, 27% of cable programs did, and 24% of broadcast programs featured prominent female protagonists. In the 2019-2020 season, women were in 31% of key-behind-the-scenes roles in television and they made up 36% of writers.
The numbers are more disparaging for women over 50, who make up 20% of the population, but only get 8% of the screen time. When we do see them, they’re usually relegated to motherly, matriarchal roles. Female Asian characters, too, only got 8% of the screen time in the 2019-2020 season.
In Killing Eve, you get not just one strong female character, but several, and female characters of color, including Sandra Oh as Eve and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Eve’s assistant, all in a show written and helmed by women, starting with Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the season one showrunner, and Emerald Fennell as the season two showrunner.
Female characters aren’t relegated to maternal, nurturing roles (Carolyn’s horrified reaction to her daughter’s attempt at a hug in Season 3’s “Beautiful Monster” episode is a hilarious tribute to this). They’re not defined by the men in their life, either. Gender stereotypes are flipped: the men are the ones who need saving. It’s women to the rescue (and often, a woman causing mayhem in the first place), and women who outmaneuver men. It’s women who men are terrified of. It’s two women who have a magnetic, obsessive attraction to one another, one that the writers don’t try too hard to label (thank goodness). The leads are as likely to kiss as they are to stab each other.
We see women in positions of power: Carolyn as the head of the Russia Desk at MI6, Eve as an MI5 desk-jockey-turned agent, Villanelle and Dasha as top assassins. Even the Twelve, the mysterious group behind a string of international killings, though largely made up of men, aren’t led by one.
I have to admit that when I started watching Killing Eve, I didn’t imagine I’d be rooting for Eve and Villanelle to run off into the sunset together, much less crying over them parting ways. I felt as conflicted as Eve does about the magnetic attraction these two women have for each other.
Is this because most of the shows I watch depict only white, heteronormative relationships? Probably. Is this because you rarely see two women in a destructive, fiery, passionate relationship? Almost definitely.
And now? Well, I’m as obsessed with the show as Eve and Villanelle are with each other.
If Waller-Bridge showed us anything with her debut show, Fleabag, it’s that we want more female characters we can relate to, characters who are imperfect and messy and screw up sometimes. Fleabag’s protagonist is often the architect of destruction in her own life, a theme Killing Eve continues. Characters make decisions that hurt others, and themselves. Call it masochistic, or call it being human.
“I think your monster encourages my monster,” Villanelle tells Eve in the last minutes of the Season 3 finale.
How many of us relate to being attracted to someone despite how terrible we know they are for us? Fire meets fire, and the flames threaten to engulf you both. But some part of you wants to see it through. Fire is mistaken for passion.
Much like she did for Fleabag, and as Emerald Fennell has done with Promising Young Woman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has created a show that gives us examples of women as more than just objects of attraction, more than ‘girl next door,’ more than “Hot Girl #2.” They’re messy. Sometimes they’re unlikeable. They take up space and exist apart from their male counterparts. They don’t feel the need to apologize for existing.
Killing Eve sends us the message that if strong, unapologetic, complex women can exist on screen, maybe they can exist off of it, too.
I think back to the scene in Season 1 where Eve tries on the dress Villanelle has sent her. It fits Eve perfectly. We see Eve admiring herself. It’s not just the dress: it’s Eve conceiving of a different reality for herself, one in which she exists as the most confident version of herself, in which she doesn’t have to make herself smaller to fit other people’s expectations. It’s the way Villanelle sees her.
It’s no surprise that when you have more women creators, you get more complex, dynamic female characters like the ones I’ve fallen for in Killing Eve.
According to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, on TV shows with at least one woman creator, women made up 65% of writers, versus just 19% on shows with no women. Of the top 500 films of 2019, movies with at least one female director employed greater percentages of women writers, editors, cinematographers, and composers than films with exclusively male directors, according to the Directors Guild of America
And across platforms, TV shows that have at least one woman creator on the team employ far more women in other key behind-the-scenes roles and feature more female characters in major and speaking roles, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
So yeah, let’s keep bringing on women, and particularly women of color, to write, direct, edit, and create television.
Because I need more shows like Killing Eve in my life.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.