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Killing Eve season 2 hits the reset button just a little too hard

In season 2, Killing Eve is still smart and still sharp, but a little less scary.

Sandra Oh as Eve on Killing Eve.
Sandra Oh in Killing Eve.
Aimee Spinks/BBC
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

The first season of Killing Eve, BBC America’s fierce and funny spy-vs.-spy show, was one of the most thrilling shows on television in 2018. With a set of razor-sharp scripts from showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge and unimpeachable lead performances from Jodie Comer, as the flamboyant killer-for-hire as Villanelle, and Sandra Oh as Eve, the sneakily brilliant agent hunting her down, Killing Eve was smart and sexy and utterly unpredictable.

Season two of Killing Eve, which premieres on BBC America this Sunday, April 7, is not quite at that level yet. But in its first two episodes (all that was made available to critics), it makes strides toward getting back to the high-water mark in quality that season one set.

Waller-Bridge has left the show, but under new showrunner Emerald Fennell, the scripts are just as sparklingly quippy and the direction just as stylish as it used to be. Oh and Comer, of course, remain uniformly terrific, Oh letting Eve unravel like a spool of thread under the mounting tension and Comer turning Villanelle’s knife-blade grin ever sharper.

What’s holding the show back in this new season is a certain amount of labored resetting. Much of the carefully built chaos that erupted at the end of season one is abruptly cleared away in this new season, as everything regresses back into simpler circumstances.

Characters who were fired quickly regain their jobs. Relationships that seemed on the verge of cataclysmic breakdowns pull themselves back into status quo. Almost nothing from season one that seemed as though it might carry consequences does in season two, and that means that the stakes of the show feel lower now than they did before. If no old threats are paying off, why should we care about new ones?

The big exception to this new reset is the fraught connection between Eve and Villanelle, and the corner it turned in the last seconds of the season finale, when Eve stabbed Villanelle. Everything that happens between these two still holds weight — and on this show, as long as the relationship between Eve and Villanelle is still working, nothing else matters too much.

In season two, Eve starts hunting down a new assassin

Jodie Comer as Villanelle on Killing Eve
Jodie Comer in Killing Eve.
Aimee Spinks/BBC

The show’s second season picks up exactly 30 seconds after the first season ended, in Villanelle’s “chic as shit” Paris flat (Eve’s descriptor), Eve shaking in horror after she stabbed Villanelle. Both women rapidly flee the scene: Eve back to England to try to return to her regular life without letting anyone know that she might be a killer; Villanelle to scam her way into some medical treatment without incriminating Eve.

Villanelle herself seems to harbor no ill will over the stabbing. “She did it to show me how much she cares about me,” she breathes. She understands that on the kind of show she’s on, a murder is a valentine, and a stab wound a kiss.

Accordingly, she grifts her way after Eve to England in a pair of stolen superhero pajamas, charming medication for her still-oozing wound out of the pervy middle-aged men who are her favorite targets. As always, watching Villanelle work a mark is one of the purest pleasures this show offers — her eyes go impossibly round, and her voice oozes with delighted smarm — but in this case, when the mark turns on Villanelle, it’s a reversal of power that doesn’t quite land. It feels like simple bad luck on Villanelle’s part rather than an error of judgment, which means that it’s a plot twist rooted in circumstance rather than in character. As a storytelling choice, it’s just a little bit clumsy.

Eve’s storyline, meanwhile, is moving more slowly than Villanelle’s: There are fewer murders, and more conversations with telemarketers (sounds dull, isn’t). But it carries enormous dramatic potential, because Eve is committing spy-vs-spy adultery. She’s begun to investigate a new female assassin.

Eve has dubbed this new killer “the Ghost,” and she describes her as Villanelle’s opposite. Rather than making flashy, flamboyant kills, the Ghost slips unobtrusively into her targets’ lives. She wouldn’t murder someone by gleefully stabbing them on a crowded Berlin nightclub floor, like Villanelle; she kills by slipping a needle under her target’s toenail.

“This is going to drive Villanelle crazy,” Eve smirks.

Undoubtedly, it will. Villanelle’s the jealous type, after all. And if Eve and Villanelle’s relationship continues to be the only part of this show where consequences matter, then the consequences will be blood-soaked and exciting.

I can’t wait for this new version of Killing Eve to get strong enough to get there.

Killing Eve airs Sunday nights at 8 on BBC America.

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