I don’t know what was more shocking about the end of last season: that Eve and Villainelle almost hooked up, or that Eve stabbed Villainelle before the first kiss could land. The second season of the award-winning BBC America show picked up right where we left off: in the midst of the intense cat-and-mouse game between British intelligence officer Eve (Sandra Oh), and international assassin Villainelle (Jodie Comer). Just like in the last season, the chemistry between the two is just as thrilling to watch as the international mystery still unfolding. Even as Eve has Villainelle cornered in her London hotel, she hesitates. She lays her hands on the door that hides Villainelle with the intimate longing usually reserved for scenes of visiting a loved one in prison. Does she really want to catch Villainelle? Does she really want this intense obsession to be over?
I’m certainly not ready for it to end, and I’m not sure what will happen when it does. The finale airs on May 26 and a lot of fans are rooting for the unlikely pair to “end up together,” and I think they will—just maybe in a different sense.
Their highly charged chemistry has been read by fans and commentators as intimate, romantic, and queer AF. Many takes are celebratory — embracing the representation of complicated queer women. But a minority are voicing concern over the perpetuation of harmful queer tropes in media (ie. why do all the queer characters have to die? Why are queer characters still being portrayed as psychotic?), or accusing such plots of queer-baiting. But for me, the relationship between Villainelle and Eve is too complex to be considered either good or bad. While Villainelle is a queer character, and there is a queer eroticism to their dynamic (like when Villainelle insists on calling one of her lovers “Eve,” or admits, “I masturbate about you a lot”), their relationship also showcases other ways desire can operate between women. The second season of Killing Eve shows that women can desire each other in a number of ways—sexually, yes, but also emotionally and intellectually.
Watching Eve and Villainelle’s relationship evolve reminded me of another, admittedly more PG pairing: Rory Gilmore and Paris Gellar. The Gilmore Girls characters were Harvard-bound prep schoolers in constant competition for top of the class. Despite starting as enemies, they ended up life-long friends who challenged and frustrated each other, but also found each other supportive and endearing. A few years ago, writer Rebecca Charlotte made the case that Rory and Paris should have dated: they were each other’s intellectual equals and accepted each other for who they were (which can’t be said for the actual love interests on the show). Plus, there was that one surprise kiss on spring break.
I get that fans want their favs to be happy, but a romantic or sexual relationship doesn’t have to be the ultimate triumph. I think Rory and Paris did end up together in the sense that they stayed close friends forever. Not every great match is destined to end in romance, even when it’s intimate and intense, like Eve and Villainelle.
For Eve, Villainelle represented an opportunity to flex her detective smarts and dedicated (if somewhat creepy) knowledge of female killers. For Villainelle, Eve was someone who could match her pace, who could recognize (and weirdly appreciate) her guile and style. In each other they found someone they could show off to, someone who could push them, challenge them and even someone who would appreciate their oddly specific skillsets more than anyone else. Perhaps this desire matches or even outpaces sexual desire—to be seen and valued as more than a dependable minion or office drone. Just like Rory and Paris, they continue to challenge each other and make each other better at what they are passionate about (even if that happens to be murder). How often has Eve complained about The Ghost being dull, or bet that Villainelle is bored as a freelancer? Chasing each other is fun, thrilling, and competitive which… makes it kinda hot.
Would the absence of romance make their relationship an example of queer-baiting, or mark some other failure of representation? I don’t think so. Rather than seeing Eve’s eroticized fascination with Villainelle (telling her, “I think about your eyes, your mouth, and what you feel when you kill someone” or using sex with men to play out fantasies about her) as steamy girl-on-girl innuendo played for ratings, I see it as an example of the very real sexual attraction that can suddenly come up for a member of the same-sex, even when you’ve been previously straight-identified. Sexuality researcher Lisa Diamond calls this phenomenon sexual fluidity, and says it’s a defining feature of women’s sexual orientation. Diamond’s research into female sexuality is an antidote to dismissive terms for this particular kind of queerness, like “has-bian” or “LUG (lesbian until graduation).” Understanding fluidity as a normal part of most women’s sexual orientations, and seeing it play out on the small screen, can help to undo the stigma—stigma that is also faced by bi- and pansexuals.
Eve and Villainelle’s relationship is definitely queer and erotic (sorry, Rory and Paris—that kiss simply can’t compete!), but it is also more than that. It shows how intoxicating it can be to finally have an interesting and capable opponent, a worthy adversary—something they both had been lacking. And with these moves toward more nuanced female characters and the complex relationships between them, well, audiences are intoxicated, too.
DeWanda Wise Dishes on the Sex Scenes in She’s Gotta Have It Season 2
There Can Be No Happy Ending For Game of Thrones
Someone Great Makes All the Points About Representation That Gina Rodriguez Didn’t