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How Killing Eve Represents Queerness

Killing Eve Is an Engrossing Portrayal of Queerness, and That's Exactly What TV Needs

KILLING EVE, from left: Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer, 'Smell Ya Later', (Season 2, ep. 205, aired May 5, 2019). photo: Robert Viglasky / BBCAmerica / Courtesy Everett Collection

There are many reasons to love Killing Eve: heart-pounding action, razor-sharp writing, jaw-dropping fashion, the peerless treasure that is Sandra Oh. Personally, I watch Killing Eve for its nuanced and engrossing investigation into queerness.

The series revolves around the rise of a highly-skilled — and highly unstable — assassin who goes by the name Villanelle and the MI6 agent, Eve Polastri, who is on a mission to track her down. As the show progresses, the relationship between Villanelle and Eve transforms from one of pursuer and pursued into a much more interesting, obsessive relationship.

At first, I was concerned that the hints of queerness I saw in season one were simply another form of queerbaiting. For those who don't know, queerbaiting is when television shows or movies or books hint that characters are gay in order to keep LGBTQ+ fans hooked, but never fully take a stand or do the actual work of representation.

But the longer I watched Killing Eve (and then re-watched and re-watched it), the more I became convinced that the queerness I saw in the show went beyond the chilling relationship between Eve and Villanelle and formed a foundational part of the show itself.

"The story of the seemingly straight woman who falls for a queer woman is as old as time, and to see it represented on television is refreshing."

Throughout the series, the show raises questions — and occasionally poses answers — to some very real queer concerns. How, for example, does one present oneself in the world in a way that is both authentic and safe? Sometimes going against the grain as far as dress or presentation can be dangerous, or at the very least exhausting.

This idea of masking or passing is best represented by Villanelle, who goes from unseen to attention-grabbing at a moment's notice. This is especially apparent when it comes to her shocking, head-turning, eyebrow-raising >wardrobe. Her clothing style jumps from the hyper-masculine to the hyper-feminine to the undefinable, and the same can be said of her gender presentation. Although Villanelle uses she/her pronouns throughout the show, she represents in some ways the epitome of non-binary . . . minus all the killing and psychopathy.

KILLING EVE, Jodie Comer, (Season 3, premiered Apr. 12, 2020). photo: Des Willie / BBC-America / Courtesy Everett Collection

But Killing Eve doesn't stop with one form of representation: it investigates many types of queerness. There's Villanelle's over-the-top, breath-taking display, but there is also Eve Polastri's repressed, buttoned-up (literally) more relatable version.

Throughout the first two seasons, we come to know and love Eve for her wit, her humanity, and her humour. And during this time, Eve is married to a man. However, as these seasons progress, we discover that Eve is more than simply obsessed with Villanelle and is struggling to come to terms with this attraction. As early as the third episode of season one, we witness Eve starting to question her sexuality. Coming out can take years sometimes a whole lifetime, and watching a character starting to understand her attraction to someone she previously never considered resonates with me to the core.

The themes of queerness and questioning are baldly stated by the character Bill. "I just fall in love with whoever I fall in love with," Bill says before turning the question to Eve. "You ever been interested in women?"

The story of the seemingly straight woman who falls for a queer woman is as old as time, and to see it represented on television is refreshing. The truth is that sexuality is variable and can change throughout a person's life.

As season two progresses, Killing Eve continues to raise what I consider to be very queer questions including the question "What is sex?" In season two, episode seven, Eve and Villanelle share an intense scene. Eve has sex with her coworker while listening to Villanelle masturbate. Upon watching this scene, viewers may be left asking themselves: Whoa. Did they just have sex?

KILLING EVE, Sandra Oh, 'Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey', (Season 3, ep. 301, aired Apr. 12, 2020). photo: Laura Radford / BBC-America / Courtesy Everett CollectionKILLING EVE, Sandra Oh, 'Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey', (Season 3, ep. 301, aired Apr. 12, 2020). photo: Laura Radford / BBC-America / Courtesy Everett Collection

In queer relationships the question "What is sex?" is not always a straightforward one. It relies on communication and mutual meaning creation more than almost anything else. The same is true for Eve and Villanelle in their complicated and distinctly queer relationship.

"There is often a misconception that queer relationships act as a sort of utopia, that since both (all) partners are not straight, therefore the relationship is entirely equal."

Finally — yes, I promise I'm coming to some sort of conclusion — I count Killing Eve as actual representation because it dives into the murkier side of queer relationships: the presence of power dynamics and the potential for abuse. There is often a misconception that queer relationships act as a sort of utopia, that since both (all) partners are not straight, therefore the relationship is entirely equal. This is, of course, not true. All sorts of factors can create imbalance in power within a relationship: ability, internalized homophobia, fatphobia, age, height and weight, race, socioeconomic status, cis-ness, and much much more. Queer relationships are sadly not immune to patterns of abuse, gaslighting, and harassment.

The relationship between Eve and Villanelle shows this all too clearly: Whether in Eve's violent stabbing of Villanelle at the end of season one or Villanelle's MANY acts of harassment, culminating with her manipulation and attempt at murder at the end of season two.

But this is exactly why I love to watch Killing Eve: it represents not an ideal queer relationship, but an exaggerated version of a real relationship filled with all the questions, confusion, betrayal, and instability that so many of us struggle with in our day to day lives. It provides a high-drama stage on which I can watch my own questions and fears played out. If that isn't the point of fiction, I don't know what is.

With the explosive premiere of season three (that included a gay wedding and Jodie Comer rocking an amazing suit), I for one can't wait to see what new and exciting questions will be raised in the future.

Image Source: Everett Collection
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