Killing Eve has always been about how far two women will go to get each other’s attention – a cat and mouse pursuit with no possibility of a happy ending however much the show likes to dangle it in front of us.
The second series, which premieres all its episodes on iPlayer this Saturday, has recently been accused of queerbaiting for heavily insinuating through the show’s advertising, and throughout two seasons, that Eve and Villanelle will become romantically tied without, as yet, providing any follow-through, while also denying that such a thing is even a possibility.
But however much we, and Villanelle, may wish that the contentious duo will be able to ride off into the sunset, there is a Bonnie and Clyde inevitability to their relationship – a symbiotic intimacy from which both women derive power and permission to behave outside the boundaries of acceptability while riding towards an undefined destination.
It is rare to have a woman character who exhibits immoral or amoral behaviour without falling into the trap of certain feminine tropes. It’s even rarer to see women do it together. Of course, morally questionable women exist, but the femme fatale is so often an internally misogynistic, lone figure. Women who aren’t angels, or react angelically to their circumstances, should be allowed to exist without being turned into perpetrators of patriarchy.
Thelma and Louise is still the greatest cultural touchstone for women behaving lawlessly together, with motives other than just simply being plain evil. Their crimes can be seen as understandable reactions to the events that befall them on a road trip that transports them outside normal guidelines for everyday lives. With sufficient reasoning behind their actions, Thelma and Louise still have to drive off a cliff together in the end.
In season two of Killing Eve, Eve and Villanelle are getting closer to that cliff’s edge. What started out as a dual clearly delineated by law and outlaw – Eve’s MI6 Agent to Villanelle’s assassin – is beginning to blur into a grey area that both women inhabit together. What developed as a mutual obsession starts to morph into a strange working partnership. As they begin to work together rather than against each other, they are given the opportunity to develop a subversive kind of supportive friendship – and one which still, sometimes, hints at more than friendship.
While Eve starts season one with some sense of her own, personal ethics, her time spent with Villanelle in season two is a catalyst for increasingly dubious behaviour. It is clear that her sympathies lie predominately with Villanelle as, by episode 8, she leaves a wounded, possibly dying, MI6 colleague to seek out Villanelle and be sure of her safety. Would the old Eve have done this?
Probably not. But it is hard to know for sure what motivates Eve toward a new capacity for coldheartedness and violence, apart from the Villanelle’s ability to see Eve differently than anyone has before. (One possible exception is another morally problematic woman, Eve’s MI6 boss Carolyn, who has never underestimated her). In effect, Villanelle gives Eve the endorsement she needs to step outside the arbitrary rules she had been living by. In the finale of season two, Villanelle is visibly cheering Eve as she commits a new type of violence, the consequences of which she will not be able to reverse.
Villanelle herself has always turned softer for Eve – but she is still a sociopathic serial killer with the type of boundaries that would be unrecognisable to most everyday people. Her love for Eve means that she will sacrifice any person, at any level of power, even if it puts her in constant danger. For Villanelle, performing violent acts for each other, and even to each other, is the fuel for their relationship, a sign of affection. In the end, this might be too much even for the newly unshackled Eve. Whatever destination they eventually arrive at, they will get there fundamentally affected by their bond.
The borders of morality are similarly blurred beyond all recognition in Netflix’s Dead To Me, as another duo subverts traditional notions of female intimacy. Jen and Judy’s friendship forms rapidly in the wake of the death of Jen’s husband – even as Judy continually lies to Jen about the circumstances of her life, and most critically, the fact that it is she who is responsible for the hit and run that killed Jen’s husband.
But car accidents are so often a lesson in culpability, and the show only reveals the truth about Judy after we learn to appreciate her as the only person who is willing to support Jen in whatever form is appropriate for her. This means a shared joint on the beach, not shitty reheatable lasagnas from faux-concerned neighbours. Judy’s guilt is complicated not only by her unwavering support of Jen as she tries to cosmically balance the books, but by her unpleasant ex-boyfriend Steve. The run part of the hit and run is arguably just as much his responsibility as Judy’s.
Jen’s story also begins with the assumption of innocence and slowly unravels into a more complicated portrayal of guilt and grief. Multiple obstacles are thrown in to confuse the grieving widow narrative, the most significant being her anger issues. While it is easy to assume that her anger is a result of her husband’s violent death, and her discovery of his long-term affair, it is also the reason her real estate business partner professionally breaks up with her – proof that her rage did not only manifest in the wake of her husband’s death but, in fact, predates it. Her anger is reframed as a dangerous character trait that has serious ramifications.
Judy eventually tells Jen the truth in order to alleviate not only her guilt but Jen’s too. Their lives have intertwined to the extent that, once they distance themselves from each other, they become shells of themselves. The last episode of the season ends with another death which has the potential not only to karmically even the score between them, but also allow their connection to rekindle.
Both Judy and Jen have done morally reprehensible things, have character flaws that are not just quirky, and exist in a similar grey area to the one Eve inhabits with Villanelle. This is a place that women are not usually allowed to occupy. But Killing Eve and Dead To Me not only explore morally ambiguous women: they allow them to enjoy intimacy with other women. Their eventual destination may not be a happy one, but at least they’ve made friends along the way.
Naomi Morris is a poet and writer from Birmingham. Her poetry pamphlet Earth Sign is published by Partus Press and Sine Wave Peak. You can follow her @naomichomsky on Instagram or @ncmmorris on Twitter.