Early in the first episode of Killing Eve’s second season, Eve (played by Sandra Oh), pallid and shaky after committing an unplanned act of violence, walks unthinkingly into a train station. She goes into a candy store, where she piles scoop after scoop of jelly beans and gumballs into a pink-and-white-striped paper bag. The saleswoman raises an eyebrow at Eve’s wanton gluttony—the bag is full and yet she keeps adding more, until a pale-blue marshmallow tumbles out and lands in front of a small boy. As he reaches out to take it, Eve pounces, slamming her hand down upon his as her face transforms, just for a second, into a snarl.
The moment evokes the first-ever scene in Killing Eve, when the feline, malevolent assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) tipped ice cream onto a little girl in a Vienna gelateria. The subtext is striking: The show is insinuating that Eve, whether she wants to or not, is getting closer to her antagonist, the woman whom she hunted for several episodes, the woman who stabbed her mentor to death—and the woman whom Eve in turn knifed in the stomach at the end of Season 1. Eve isn’t just pursuing Villanelle, the show suggests; she’s also absorbing her.
The secret of Killing Eve is that its macabre sense of humor and spy-story subversions are ornamental compared with the series’ grist: the strange, transformative pull the two main characters have on each other. Their unmistakably female dynamic vastly outbounds the “We’re not so different, you and I” synergy of other cat-and-mouse criminology dramas. Before Eve stabbed Villanelle, she first demolished the assassin’s Paris walk-up, smashing champagne bottles and ripping clothes into shreds. Then she confessed to Villanelle that she couldn’t stop thinking about her, and lay down next to her on Villanelle’s bed, as the air between them seemed to thicken. Finally, Eve stabbed Villanelle, an act of aggression that was loaded with sexual symbolism and tension. Their relationship, more uncanny than unconventional, is what made Killing Eve one of BBC America’s biggest hits.
The only problem with the show, which heads into Season 2 on Sunday night, is the paradox that Eve and Villanelle now present. Comer’s extravagant charisma as Villanelle, her unsettling charm, is balanced by Oh’s comic awkwardness and perma-panic as Eve. You cannot, at this point, imagine one without the other, and yet a television series can’t just repeat the cycle of its original season over and over. If Eve and Villanelle stalk each other in perpetuity, intermittently meeting to kiss or maim or both, Killing Eve will handcuff its own narrative potential. But to exile either character is equally unthinkable. So what now?