Sunday, April 8, 2018

REVIEW: 'Killing Eve' - Villanelle's Latest Murders Have a Personal Impact on Eve in 'Nice Face'

BBC America's Killing Eve - Episode 1.01 "Nice Face"

MI5 security officer Eve Polastri is bored in her job and yearns for a more exciting life. When a Russian politician is murdered, Eve is tasked with protecting the only witness and soon finds herself on a collision course with violent and extraordinary assassin, Villanelle.

Amazon's Fleabag was one of my favorite shows of 2016. And so, I was very excited to see what Phoebe Waller-Bridge would come up with next. Yes, that show will be returning for a second season eventually. But it's also fascinating to see Waller-Bridge stretch her talents solely as a writer. Killing Eve is a strong and intriguing take on the spy thriller. At times, "Nice Face" can be a conventional premiere in that it has to set up the skills of its two protagonists and how they become aware of each other. It has to establish a collision course between them that has a fair amount of urgency to it. But it's also just so fun while being a very progressive take on a formulaic genre. It's significant that both the assassin and the investigator are women. The show features such nuanced and complex performances from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. This is a phenomenal showcase for both of them. Plus, it's clear that the story wishes to play around with tone as well. There are moments where it is a straight up thriller with all the intensity that that entails. There are other moments where the humor shines through the scenes in order to make it clear that these characters still live in a realistic world where these are their respective jobs that they enjoy but are annoyed by as well. It's a strong take on the subject matter that still allows for a couple of surprises. Sure, it's convenient that Eve's hunches happen to coincide with her access to people who speak Polish. But it's also just a random detail that proves she has the right instincts to make it as a spy as the world is hunting down this lethal and very skilled assassin.

Eve isn't even the highest ranked officer in her department. She still has to answer to several men in positions of authority. One is actually a friend. Frank is willing to indulge in her sneaking suspicions related to this case. She still feels uncomfortable about telling him all the illegal things she has done in order to support her claim that the killer they are looking for is a woman. But he still has her back once everything eventually catches up to her. Meanwhile, her official boss, Bill, is very by the book and aloof. He's not the one making bets with his employees or attending social gatherings. In fact, he's annoyed that many of his best officers come into the office on a Saturday morning hungover from the previous night's activities. He treats this job very seriously because they are investigating murders and charged with keeping witnesses safe until they can be interviewed. He doesn't appreciate Eve just eating her breakfast while being informed about this latest case. He's willing to fire both Eve and Frank for their insubordination. They didn't follow his orders of keeping this witness safe. Of course, Eve did everything according to procedure. They just happen to be dealing with a very trained operative who doesn't care that this witness is in the hospital with two armed guards protecting her. She sees that more as a challenge than a reason to avoid eliminating her target.

It's also unclear whether Eve is actually happy in her marriage. That's another big theme of this premiere. A lot of time is spent with her home life. Eve is introduced screaming in her bed. It's ultimately just a twisted joke of getting her husband, Niko, to turn her over because she fell asleep on her arms and lost sensation. But Eve has more of a spark with her job and her co-workers than she does with her husband. Of course, they still have their own charming little dynamic. They are constantly teasing each other about flirting with other people. Niko wonders if he should be jealous about Eve needing to talk with his young nephew, Dom. But it's about work. They help her translate what her witness is saying about the murder. She was the only person who saw the crime be committed. Her Russian politician boyfriend was killed by a single prick to the leg. He bled out in a minute. It happened in a surveillance blindspot too. It was a well staged crime. Eve is so desperate to be proven right about the killer being a woman that she even takes Dom to the hospital to translate as she interrogates the witness before her official interview with the police. That's a choice that's almost a very costly mistake. She goes to the bathroom as the nurse prepares the witness for visitors. It's during that time that Villanelle shows up and kills the witness in addition to the two guards and the nurse. There's the fear that she has killed Dom too. That would weigh heavily on Eve's conscience. She doesn't want to be responsible for his death. Instead, he was at the vending machine going snacks and missed it entirely. He'll still be scarred by what he witnessed in the aftermath. Eve loses her job because of endangering his life. And yet, it's because she pushes so hard that she impresses the spy sent to keep tabs on this investigation, Carolyn. She's the one who can make all of Eve's dreams come true about having even more responsibility in her job. She just has to be much more clandestine about it.

Meanwhile, Villanelle is such a fascinating character upfront. So much of that performance is what is left unsaid. She is introduced killing this Russian politician. It's up to the audience to infer that she is the one responsible for his death. It's easy to do so because we are seeing her kill yet again. She is just moving on to the next job. She doesn't seem to have any emotions. It's clear that she is trying to mock the facial expressions and experiences of the people in her immediate environment. In the beginning, she is just trying to get a child in an ice cream parlor to laugh. But that scene ends with her spilling the child's ice cream over. That proves upfront that she is not a compassionate person. She is just pretending to have these feelings and emotions. Instead, she only really comes alive when killing someone. As such, it's important for the audience to see her in action. It's important to get a sense of just how good she is at avoiding detection. When Eve attempts to look up any known female assassins, her search for Villanelle comes up empty. She's still just a ghost. She wouldn't be able to recognize her even if she was standing right in front of her. Villanelle doesn't mind attention though. Of course, she also enjoys pointing out to men when they are abusive towards woman. She complains to her latest mark that he shouldn't touch a woman's body without her permission. That's another aspect of this show that is really progressive. Villanelle succeeds because she is able to fool her targets into thinking she isn't a threat. In this instance, the man just thinks she is a gift to him for his anniversary. Instead, she was sent there to kill him by an anonymous group of people. It's just a job to her. She is much more interested in the throw on the bed instead of his life and the impact his death will have on the family celebrating at the house right now.

"Nice Face" does a solid job of introducing both Eve and Villanelle. They are the two co-leads of the series that will eventually be hunting each other. Of course, their introductions largely occur separate from one another. Eve knows that she is tracking a female assassin. But she doesn't yet have confirmation of her identity. Meanwhile, Villanelle has no clue who Eve is or the potential risk she poses to her life. And yet, the show also has to provide one moment in the premiere where the two of them bump into each other. It's necessary to show just how intense that connection can be. It's enough to tease the audience that this is a show worth investing in because the tension and chemistry flies off the screen when the two of them are in that bathroom together. Eve just goes in to prepare herself for this interview that could change her career. Meanwhile, Villanelle gets distracted by the beautiful woman in there trying to make a seemingly agonizing decision about how to wear her hair. It's such an innocuous moment. They have no clue who the other is. Villanelle is helpful to Eve in that moment. She has a calm and collected head right before she goes to murder four people. Eve doesn't even suspect that anything is wrong. She takes a call while on the toilet. She doesn't even see the horror that lies in Villanelle's wake until she walks out into the hallway. It's such a devastating reveal. It would be smart of Eve to immediately view the nurse she saw in the bathroom as a suspect because she is no where to be seen in the aftermath of this crime. But it's also perfectly understandable that she could just be working in some other corner of the hospital at that point and didn't witness anything. Of course, Eve will probably want confirmation in either case. She won't get it though because Villanelle is already back in her home in Paris.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Nice Face" was written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and directed by Harry Bradbeer.
  • Sandra Oh was always the best performer during her ten seasons on ABC's Grey's Anatomy. That show misses her energy but has found a new groove as well. It's wonderful to see her get another wonderfully complex role on television. She is used quite well in this opening hour. Meanwhile, I've never seen Jodie Comer onscreen before. But now, I'm completely enamored and want to see more of her work.
  • Villanelle was told by her handler, Konstantin, to make the witness' death look like a suicide. He told her all the things she did right and the one major thing she did wrong. She understands that it's an extremely sensitive matter. And yet, she still feels emboldened to kill four people because it's the easiest way to do it. She is confident because she hasn't even come close to being caught.
  • When Carolyn approaches Eve about working for her as they hunt this female assassin, she does so under the guise of simply going to the store to get milk. It's a cover story for Eve to give her husband when she returns home. It also leads to a conversation about Niko thinking that Eve has become a spy long before accusing her of having an affair. And yet, that also may be counterproductive to Eve's work as a new spy.
  • With Eve being recruited to this new investigation, how will the show keep the other characters from her current office around? She needs assistance from Elena and Frank on multiple occasions. They are her friends whom she can count on. Meanwhile, Bill is still the man in charge of the office who will still probably be kept in the loop as things become more complicated.
  • In the past week, BBC America announced that Killing Eve will return for a second season. Right off the bat, I have to wonder just how that will work creatively. This appears to be a very deadly show where there is bound to be some significant resolution to this conflict between Eve and Villanelle. And yet, this is already a world I want to spend a lot of time in. So, I appreciate the renewal news upfront.