This article contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of Killing Eve.
The eponymous blood-spatter expert of Showtime’s Dexter refers to himself as a “very neat monster” in the show’s pilot. A serial killer who exclusively targeted the guilty, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) lured viewers into his web through a grotesque but well-reasoned veneer of moral relativism. Barry’s titular character (Bill Hader), a hitman who suddenly finds himself drawn to acting, is a hapless schmuck. His attempts to break away from organized crime are thwarted not by shadowy mob figures, but by Barry’s difficulty overcoming his own selfish motivations. Dexter charmed because he was a meticulous sociopath, dedicated to his craft. Barry is just your average guy trying to making it in Hollywood, bumbling along in love and life while occasionally killing some people. They straddle opposite poles of masculine performance: Dexter, the mad scientist; Barry, the relatable dreamer.
Killing Eve’s Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is a different kind of assassin altogether. After she kills, she luxuriates in her Paris flat, collecting ornate trophies from her kills and draping herself in the finest fabrics. She is cocky, playful, and ostentatious. She stabs one elder statesman through the eye with her hairpin; she triggers a fatal asthma attack in one “breathy” female target using poisoned perfume. Villanelle’s beauty—her rather literally weaponized femininity—disarms her victims and anyone attempting to stand in her way. Through its first season, the BBC America drama’s greatest success has been in how alluring it makes its villain: to both Eve (Sandra Oh), the British agent hellbent on tracking her down, and audiences. Villanelle is a complexly written, deeply frustrating character—traits most often associated with charismatic male antiheroes. She doesn’t meet the entertainment industry’s perpetually moving goalpost of female characterization, likability, yet she is nearly impossible to not root for.