The new season of Killing Eve (BBC One) opens 30 seconds after the end of season one, when Eve delivered her bloody Valentine to Villanelle. The latter is already out on the street, disinfecting her wound with vodka and feverishly recalculating her plans now that she is prey rather than predator. The former is paralysed with shock, but recovers just in time to hightail it out of Villanelle’s apartment and avoid the murderous cleaning crew that swarms up the stairs to shoot the neighbour and remove any sign that the owner ever existed.
We’re back, baby.
While Eve makes her way back to London (finding solace in a giant bag of pick’n’mix on the way and receiving cold calls from double-glazing salesmen once home – two of the many convincing yet bizarre touches in which Killing Eve specialises), Villanelle finds herself disavowed by her handlers. So, she grifts her way to hospital without a trace and enlists the help of a vulnerable young patient, Gabriel, to gather the things she will need to escape before her masters find her. Gabriel was severely injured in a car crash that orphaned him. This will turn out to be the least of his problems.
A literal twist in the tale later, Villanelle must scarper before she is anything like physically restored. She sets off for England, in pursuit of Eve (who stabbed her “to prove how much she cares about me”, she explains to a sceptical Gabriel), where her weakened state causes things to go awry.
A vulnerable Villanelle is an interesting proposition and a brave move by new showrunner and writer Emerald Fennell (Call the Midwife’s Patsy Mount), taking over from Phoebe Waller-Bridge. On the one hand, it sidesteps the inevitability of a Teflon protagonist eventually becoming boring, no matter how inventive her murdery ways are or how compelling the performance is. (Jodie Comer is once again magnificent in every way, from the fury and desperation she radiates, to the plethora of accents she deploys effortlessly, to the wolfish grin that splits that baby face when her plans come together and/or a blade slips home.)
On the other, it risks normalising a character whose attraction and definition lies in her monstrous difference from the herd. Hannibal Lecter was never as compelling after Thomas Harris gave him a backstory and a psychological profile. We will see whether the pros outweigh the cons overall, but the gamble seems to be paying off on the evidence of the first episode.
Fennell sets another hare running in the opener. When Eve returns to London (and is reinstated by Carolyn on the grounds that “circumstances change”) she is put on a new murder case – assumed to be by Villanelle, but most unlike her usual work in its lack of flamboyance. The victim is the man named in Nadia’s note, slipped out from under her cell door last season and addressed to Eve. Carolyn would like to know why.
When Eve (still struggling under the weight of her secret belief that she killed Villanelle) protests that she just needs to go home, Carolyn responds with her patented mix of baffled detachment. “Is that really what you want? I mean – what do people actually do at home?”
Possibly the greatest thing about Killing Eve is its acceptance that we all have a sliver of sociopath in the heart. It offers us a glorious assassin to worship – the title sequence could easily have her rising from the sea, arms outstretched, in a shimmering pink clam shell littered with the broken bodies of her victims and encrusted with glinting shards of the broken psyches of her lovers – and her joyfully brutal antics to revel in. But it gives us visions more immediately reflective of ourselves, too: Carolyn’s ability to strip life of pointless social niceties; Eve’s preference for tracking assassins than connecting with her husband. These provide a smaller, darker thrill of possibility, in between Villanelle’s outré extremes.
If the script is a tiny bit less nuanced and the whole not quite as light on its feet as the first season was, it hardly matters. The core of its success – the relationship between Villanelle and Eve – remains intact and further torqued by events. It is still stylish, sexy and gorgeous. Watching it feels like lying on a blood-soaked chaise longue and eating cherry liqueurs by the handful.
It is educational, too. Now we know, for example, that the smell of formaldehyde makes you crave meat. You live and learn, eh? Although not, of course, if you get in Villanelle’s way.
Season two of Killing Eve is available in full on BBC iPlayer