Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN -

DE­VEL­OPED BY Phoebe Waller-bridge CAST San­dra Oh, Jodie Comer, Fiona Shaw, Dar­ren Boyd, Sean De­laney, David Haig, Kim Bod­nia

PLOT Vil­lanelle (Comer) is com­mit­ting mur­ders across Europe for an or­gan­i­sa­tion she knows lit­tle about. Eve (Oh) is an MI5 agent on her trail. The pur­suit evolves into a strange mu­tual ob­ses­sion, which can only end badly for at least one of them. FOL­LOW­ING UP FLEABAG, the ec­stat­i­cally re­ceived 2016 BBC show, is a bru­tal gig. Its writer, Phoebe Waller­bridge, takes the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion and flings it off, blow­ing rasp­ber­ries at any­one who thought she might not be able to do it again. She has, in fact, done it again.

Killing Eve is about two very dif­fer­ent and sim­i­lar women. Eve (Oh) is a Bri­tish­born, Amer­i­can-raised MI5 agent. Her job is about 95 per cent more bor­ing than you’d imag­ine and her home life is ab­so­lutely okay. In­side Eve, though, there is a lit­tle shoot of weird­ness and dan­ger that is just wait­ing for some light to shine on it. We see it im­me­di­ately in episode one when she un­think­ingly greets the news of a bloody as­sas­si­na­tion with a hap­pily sighed, “Cool.”

Vil­lanelle’s (Comer) weird­ness is in full bloom. It is wildly over­grown. She is a pro­fes­sional killer who loves her work. She ap­pears com­pletely in­sane but psy­chol­o­gists can’t cat­e­gorise her as any­thing in their books. In­side Vil­lanelle there is a con­fused de­sire for close­ness. Maybe not a need for love, but a want, at least, for some­thing to fo­cus on.

When Eve sus­pects Vil­lanelle of be­ing the piece that con­nects a num­ber of un­ex­plained killings, and Vil­lanelle learns that Eve is onto her, the two be­come ob­sessed with the idea of each other. Vil­lanelle’s killings be­come a bizarre form of flir­ta­tion. It’s not a cat-and-mouse chase but cat-and-cat. They’re pur­su­ing each other, en­joy­ing not just the psy­cho-sex­ual game, but tooth and claw show when ei­ther gets too close.

Though not her orig­i­nal idea — the show is, broadly, based on Luke Jen­nings’ novel­las — the premise is the per­fect fit for Waller-bridge. Like Fleabag, this has char­ac­ters who are both bru­tally hon­est and self-de­cep­tive, but it’s her tone that el­e­vates it. She wrote only half the eight episodes, but they all have her voice. She’s very, very darkly funny, but there’s also a level of minute de­tail to her char­ac­ters that gives them flesh and depth with just a few lines. She gives homely fam­ily men ex­per­i­men­tal sex­ual pasts, or ap­par­ently hu­mour­less peo­ple silly lit­tle dogs. She spots the tiny mo­ments of odd­ness that open up new doors in peo­ple and she’s fas­ci­nated, never judg­men­tal, when peer­ing in.

There are not many parts writ­ten like Eve or Vil­lanelle and nei­ther ac­tress came to squan­der it. Oh makes a tricky role look easy. Eve is men­tally bril­liant

but emo­tion­ally fool­ish, not sure what she wants but run­ning af­ter it. Oh nails her mix of com­edy and sadness and in­trigue at dis­cov­er­ing parts of her­self she can’t ex­plain. Jodie Comer is some­thing else al­to­gether. Oc­ca­sion­ally there are parts that seem not writ­ten for an ac­tor but re­leased from them. Vil­lanelle is a Guess Who? board of dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters all crammed into one mad per­son and Comer keeps them all in a messy kind of con­trol. It’s the sort of per­for­mance on which fan ob­ses­sions are built.

Killing Eve doesn’t fit into any cat­e­gory. It’s the per­fect ex­am­ple of the bril­liant place TV is in now, where in­sane ideas can, if made by good peo­ple, be con­fi­dent of find­ing an au­di­ence. This show would be unimag­in­able ten years ago. Where it’s go­ing is any­body’s guess, but we’d fol­low it any­where. OLLY RICHARDS

VERDICT What­ever the next few months hold, this is one of 2018’s best shows. Try to de­fine it and you’ll drive your­self in­sane. Sub­mit to its in­san­ity and you’re in for a TV ex­pe­ri­ence like no other.

Jodie Comer’s Vil­lanelle mid one of her more con­ven­tional kills.

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