Tuesday 18 September 2018

Killing Eve

Kill About Eve

Killing Eve
Series One
BBC3 - Eight Episodes

Regular readers might remember that there aren’t that many TV programmes that I actually bother to watch... they hog too much time and shorten my productivity on the blog. I’m a little more of a film person, I would have to say. However, when I saw the printed 'bus sides' campaign for Killing Eve, I immediately googled it to find out if this was an upcoming film. Nope, it was apparently a TV show and it would be ‘broadcast’ on an internet channel (one which is at least free if you’ve payed your TV licence) and that, furthermore, shortly after that first episode had aired, you could watch the whole first series of eight episodes on the iPlayer.

As it happens, this is what I did with my Sunday following the first broadcast because, well... Sandra Oh was in it. Now, I don’t actually know much of Sandra Oh’s work at all but I’d remembered she’d made an impression on me with her role as a stripper in the excellent movie Dancing At The Blue Iguana 18 years ago. So I really wanted to see her again and, since the bus ad made it look like she was one of the main leads, I decided to check it out.

Killing Eve is based on four short (very short, by the looks of it) internet novellas by Luke Jennings which were later collected into one printed volume. The story tells of a psychotic assassin codenamed Villanelle and the woman who is tracking her down for Her Majesty’s Government, Eve Polastri. Now I’ve not actually read these short works but I would imagine, since the show comprises eight times 45 minute episodes (approximately), that the TV show must stray from and maybe expand the printed source material quite a bit. For instance, I know Villanelle’s actual surname has been changed from the original and I’ve no idea why this kind of detail would have been seen as something to tinker around with.

The show starts off strongly with an opening in a cafe, depicting Villanelle trying to catch the eye and attention of a little girl eating cake at a table opposite her. The cabinet behind Villanelle (played here by Jodie Comer) perfectly reflects the little girl to the right of the screen as Comer sits left of shot so we can see both of them in frame at one particular moment in the sequence and it’s little flourishes like this by various directors over the eight episodes, that really keeps things interesting as the story goes on. That and the absolutely brilliant script (story wise less so but the dialogue is absolutely beautiful) and, of course, the absolutely brilliant performances of Comer as Villanelle, Eve (the title character is played by the aforementioned Sandra Oh, who absolutely steals all the scenes she’s in) and a whole host of good actors and actresses who have somehow come together to be in one of the more interesting television highlights of recent years. At the end of this opening sequence Villanelle, who has been trying to maintain her presence in the eyes of the child, does something to finish the scene which completely shows, albeit in a mild form, her psychotic nature to the audience.

We then cut to Eve in bed with her husband and, abruptly following on from a remark that at least it’s Saturday so she can stay in bed, there’s an aggressive flash cut which takes us to the next scene where, indeed, she turns up at the office as she has had to go in on a Saturday morning due to an emergency. Now this is kind of interesting and it’s quite powerful in the way it sets up what is, after all, an old comical script cliché in a manner which isn’t all that comical and which doesn’t lose sight of the gravitas of the situation. Even though the tone of the entire series has huge doses of humour cutting through it in about as effective way as you could imagine... it all somehow seems to work.

Strangely enough, this doesn’t seem to be a directorial instruction (different director on that episode) but more of a production decision (or maybe they just liked it the first time it worked) because there is a similar flash cut at a more serious juncture during episode six which does exactly the same thing... eschewing the rest of a conversation showing you the state of one of the character’s marriage mid word to just show you Eve landing in another country. So a kind of ‘read between the lines’ attitude to the audience and I think this works rather well the two times they do it.

This aggressive kind of editing works really well for the series as a whole, which is full of impromptu mid-scene montage effects which just delete unnecessary footage to focus on getting to the next important beats of a scene. For instance, again in the first episode, there is a scene where Villanelle gets back to her apartment and she puts on the stereo to one of... and I’m sorry but I always get these confused... either the Gymnopédies or the Gnoissiennes by Eric Satie. A sequence of events is then montaged together as Villanelle takes a bath but the music stays constantly playing in the background... so it switches from a diegetic music track to a non-diegetic track because, after all, the piece of music is only a few minutes long. So that’s an interesting technique right there already but then, when Villanelle is disturbed by her boss, the music carries back on as a diegetic source cue again. Amazing... so unless we are supposed to infer that Villanelle just keeps getting out of the bath to play the same track over and over again... then something really interesting just happened to the way the music is used here and I think that kind of abstract jump is fine, actually, since it works fairly well... although, to be fair, it did pop me out of the scene while I was watching so I could analyse just what was going on with it.

There’s also something nice but unusual going on with the typography of the show. On the actual words KILLING EVE, where the top join of where the diagonals meet on the K, N and V, depending on which episode you are watching... a drop of blood will start to flow down from one of those joins. Also, the text is all in UPPER CASE apart from the ‘g’ which is a quite old fashioned form of lower case. Now, I’ve probably missed a visual pun here but I couldn’t work out a) why this was done and b) why they’ve done it for every ‘g’ in the opening and closing credits. It works but I couldn’t figure out the functionality of that aesthetic choice so if anyone knows why it’s there like that, please let me know.

The music is okay but a lot of the time there are songs on the soundtrack. I know one person in my family complained about the domination of the visual image by the music track here which, personally, I really don’t mind. I’m more annoyed that they went for songs rather than original score in a lot of places but... it still worked fine without it, for the majority of the running time.

Another thing I could see about this which annoyed me was during the episode where a man is murdered in a BDSM clinic. After various officials have been looking over the dead body and we pan down to the guy’s toes, one of them gives a very faint wiggle. Not good and I couldn’t work out why the editor didn’t catch this one, especially since it’s right in the foreground of the shot. Unless it was left there deliberately to imply something but... I don’t think it was.

Anyway, not really a deal breaker of a toe wiggle there and I’d have to say that Killing Eve is one of the best pieces of television I’ve seen in a long time (although, as I explained earlier, I’ve not seen as much modern TV as most folk, I suspect). That being said, I have to say the lack of nudity in sequences which kind of demanded it did seem rather strained and I find that kind of attitude on behalf of the makers of these things kinda offensive when they abandon common sense for lack of nakedity. Despite that, though, it's definitely a hard recommend from me here and, while the plot and big reveals are very clichéd in terms of where the story is going (alas, almost every plot twist is very much telegraphed well before its time), the acting and extraordinary dialogue on this one really comes through here. Alas, in the last five minutes of the final episode, the writers seem more interested in setting up a second series rather than trying to resolve certain issues but, even this ending which is still quite a statement, is done in a very comic manner and totally relies on the timing of both Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer to make it work. And they really knock it out the park, for sure. Killing Eve can be streamed, for just under a year from when this review goes up, from the iPlayer and a US Blu Ray disc is getting released soon. I hope the BBC makes a Blu Ray available for purchase in the UK at some point soon too because... streaming. Meh.

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