Warning: This post contains some spoilers.
If you haven’t seen Killing Eve, chances are you’ve heard about it—the show about Eve, a buttoned-up British intelligence agent, and Villanelle, the charming sociopath assassin she’s after. Much has been written about the show’s excellent acting and writing, strong female characters, and the sexual orientations of Eve and Villanelle. But something that has been curiously and consistently overlooked is that this show is kinky as fuck. In fact, when viewed through a BDSM lens, the LGBT themes in the show quickly take a backseat to a pervasive switchy voyeurism/exhibitionism dynamic that’s fueled by danger.
The kinky cat-and-mouse game between Eve (Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (Jodie Comer) starts in the pilot when Villanelle shows up at the hospital where Eve is visiting the only living witness to Villanelle’s murder of a politician. They meet in the bathroom as Eve stands in front of a mirror putting her wild, curly hair in a ponytail. Villanelle, unknown to Eve at that point, emerges from a stall dressed as a nurse and stares at Eve for a little too long, finally instructing her to “leave it down.” Eve hesitates but ultimately follows this strange woman’s directive as Villanelle exits the bathroom and murders the witness and security guards, leaving a bloodbath in her wake.
The fact that this first meeting happens in front of a mirror is no accident and sets the stage for the switchy, narcissistic voyeurism/exhibitionaism dynamic that permeates the rest of the series. Throughout, Eve and Villanelle take turns getting off—literally and figuratively—to watching or being watched by the other and, at times, mirroring each other’s behavior.
One could argue that Eve begins the dynamic by virtue of being a spy. It’s her job, after all, to study Villanelle and ultimately catch her, and we learn early on that she is especially fascinated by female assassins. However, it’s Villanelle who initially makes the dynamic more personal, first in the bathroom encounter and later in episode 3 when she uses Eve’s name as her alias while pretending to be a nurse at a German fetish clinic where she kills a client. This is when Eve learns that Villanelle knows who she is. As Eve and her team arrive in Berlin to investigate the scene of the crime, Villanelle watches from a cafe across the street, delighted that Eve is looking for her. When the opportunity arises, she swipes Eve’s suitcase and takes it back to her hotel, selecting one scarf to keep for herself. She gives the rest of the contents to a tourist she hooked up with earlier and called Eve during sexual role-play. Later in the episode, Villanelle continues her voyeuristic spying as she watches Eve shop for a new dress and surreptitiously leaves a belt outside her dressing room for her to use an accessory, which Eve does.
This secret display of dominance becomes overt in the next episode when Eve’s stolen suitcase shows up at her home in London. She opens it expecting to find her belongings but instead discovers that they’ve all been replaced with beautiful, expensive designer clothes along with a bottle of Villanelle’s namesake perfume and a note from the killer herself. After a harrowing stand-off in episode 5 between the two women, in which Villanelle has the opportunity to shoot Eve but doesn’t, the kinky fun continues. Eve, even more intrigued by Villanelle now that she was spared, returns to the suitcase and decides to indulge. She puts on some of the perfume as well as a slinky black dress that fits her perfectly. She admires herself in a full-length mirror, leaving her hair down just as Villanelle instructed her when they first met. It seems as if she’s simultaneously performing for Villanelle and seeing herself through Villanelle’s eyes while momentarily stepping into the decadent life of the woman she’s becoming obsessed with. Does she want to be with Villanelle or just be her? The line is often intentionally blurry.
Eve’s reverie is interrupted by Villanelle herself, who has broken into Eve’s home—not to kill her but to have dinner with her. It’s the first of several such interludes in the series during which they take an unspoken time-out from their respective roles of assassin and spy. The lovefest doesn’t last long, though. Eve tries to attack Villanelle, but Villanelle quickly overpowers her and pins Eve against the fridge with a knife to her neck. The encounter is tense and intimate and again establishes Villanelle’s dominance.
Eve turns the tables in a dramatic fashion in the season finale three episodes later, however. She breaks into Villanelle’s apartment in Paris and, overcome with a reckless, envious rage, ransacks the place, strewing designer clothes everywhere and smashing champagne bottles on the floor after chugging the contents. When Villanelle comes home, Eve, still furious, points one of Villanelle’s own guns at her but quickly loses her resolve. Instead, she confesses that she thinks about Villanelle all the time, including “what you feel like when you kill someone.” Villanelle says she does, too, adding “I masturbate about you a lot.” Eve responds by dropping the gun and flopping back on Villanelle’s bed. Villanelle crawls onto the bed next to her and they face each other on their sides. During this time-out, it seems as if the two women will finally stop dancing around their attraction to each other. Eve says, “I’ve never done anything like this before,” to which Villanelle replies, “I know what I’m doing.” And just as they move to embrace, Eve stabs Villanelle in the stomach with a knife, shocking both of them. But, Eve doesn’t have what it takes to be like Villanelle. She immediately regrets what she’s done and frantically runs to the kitchen to call for help. When she turns around, Villanelle is gone.