If there’s a single moment in the season premiere that distills Killing Eve’s duplicitous brilliance, it’s the startling, strangely tender murder of a young French boy. Having survived the car crash that killed his parents, the heavily bandaged, sweet-tempered Gabriel (Pierre Atri) finds himself in a hospital ward with our childlike assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer, as perfectly petulant as ever), and the two soon develop a transfixing rapport. He questions her explanation of the wound in her midsection, received at Eve’s (Sandra Oh) hands in the Season One finale: “Women don’t stab.” She offers her unvarnished opinion on his missing eye and cut-up face: “You look like a pizza.” When he expresses his fear that he’ll be ostracized for his injuries, she reassures him that “Normal is boring,” and when he voices his wish that he’d died in the accident, she decides to grant it: With one hand she holds his shoulder, a comforting gesture, and with the other she snaps his neck.
It’s this tonal whiplash that came to define Killing Eve’s superb debut season, and if I harbored any doubts that the series could thrive without creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge minding the store, Villanelle and Gabriel’s all-too-brief friendship swiftly dispelled them: Reproducing this particular blend of the absurd and the brutal is no mean feat. That means dressing Comer in BAM! BLAM! pajamas, or spending a moment on her near-retch at a nurse’s nasty Crocs; it also means Gabriel’s sudden death, Villanelle’s own exhausted crash to the floor, and the episode’s darkest insight. “You can see scary people a mile away,” she says, packing to “visit” her “girlfriend” in London. “It’s the good people you have to worry about.” After all, underlying the series’ endless string of not-normal, not-boring occurrences is the spy drama’s usual sense of moral confusion, further muddled by the fact that Villanelle is a psychopath. Is Gabriel’s death a mercy killing? The elimination of a loose end? Both? And if the surprise of it generates a frisson of pleasure in me, the viewer, am I implicated in the answer?
Luckily, these aren’t questions Killing Eve is much interested in mulling, at least not in the navel-gazing way of many “prestige” dramas: In fact, the season premiere’s main weakness is its foray into Eve’s moral confusion, as becoming an assailant (if not quite an assassin) sends the former pencil pusher into a tailspin. It’s “realistic,” I suppose, that she should be shaken by her run-in with Villanelle, but the crying-in-a-cold-bath / dead-eyed stare / maniacal laughter notes that Oh’s forced to hit are as familiar as Villanelle throwing herself onto the hood of a cab to get a ride to the hospital is novel. Killing Eve excels when it approaches its subject matter from oblique angles, and Eve’s fretful return to London is no different. Holding her husband (Owen McDonnell)—a character so forgettable I just realized I don’t know his name—at arm’s length after a traumatic experience? Zzzzzzzzzz. Feigning tummy trouble (“I had a bad oyster”) to elude Eurostar security and fielding a call from a telemarketer as a useful distraction “Tell me about your windows, Armando”)? That’s the twisted thriller I signed up for!
It’s after she reconnects with Carolyn (the inimitable Fiona Shaw) that Eve’s half of the equation begins to regain momentum, dispelling (for now) the other major doubt I harbored during the hiatus. After defying or playing with the conventions of the cat-and-mouse game at every turn, I confess I was disappointed, in the Season One finale, to see Killing Eve follow the most common route for such stories, which is extending the cat-and-mouse game indefinitely. And while I remain skeptical that the series can operate within this framework for long, the season premiere is full of assurances that the scenarios in which our co-leads find themselves in the meantime are sure to be really fucking fun. Eating burgers at an exhumation, delivering misdiagnoses to dying men’s wives, discussing “chic as shit” apartments and cruising in the park (“bonus points for Daddy”): When you love something, you won’t just do crazy things, you’ll put up with them, too. And I still love Killing Eve. Normal is boring.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.