The most terrifying moment in episode one of Sandra Oh‘s excellent new series Killing Eve doesn’t involve bloods, guts, or murder. Trust me, there’s plenty of that—the show centers on an officer, Eve (Oh), who’s tasked with hunting down a deadly assassin—but the scariest scene is much more subdued.
It happens about midway through the first episode. Eve’s looking at snaps of the assassin’s handiwork when she randomly asks her husband, who’s sitting next to her, how he’d kill her—hypothetically, of course. He doesn’t have an answer, but Eve knows exactly how she’d kill him. “I’d paralyze you with saxitoxin and suffocate you in your sleep, chop you into the smallest bits I could manage, boil you down, put you in a blender, then take you to work in a flask and flush you down a restaurant toilet,” she says smoothly, quickly, and without emotion, like she’s rattling off a grocery list or something. It’s the first indication there may be more to Eve, the whip-smart agent who’s supposed to be catching the killers, than we think.
That’s not to say the show’s going to do a 180 and turn Eve into some type of mad serial killer. Honestly, the tangled web the first episode weaves makes it difficult to determine what’s going to happen at all—which is why this show is so good. None of these characters are black and white. For example, the assassin Eve’s hunting down, Villanelle (Jodie Comer), kills misogynists who’ve committed heinous crimes—meaning you’re not exactly rooting against her. You’re not rooting against any of these characters, for that matter. Not even Eve after she makes that beyond eerie comment to her husband. These characters exist in that messy, raw middle ground; they’re good and bad and smart and scared all at once. In spy films and TV shows, that type of nuance is typically reserved for male characters; it’s exhilarating to see both Eve and Villanelle receive it here.
Frankly, it’s just refreshing to see a female-driven spy epic, full stop. That genre has historically included women’s stories, but there’s always been something cutesy or watered-down about them. The women in Charlie’s Angels are kickass, sure, but they have to answer to some anonymous guy’s vocal chords. Charlize Theron is superb in Atomic Blonde, but something about the way that film is packaged feels very, “Look at this Lady Spy!” Female secret agent movies are typically either funny (Miss Congeniality), screwball (The Spy Who Dumped Me), or heavily dependent on sexuality (Red Sparrow); there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, especially if the female characters in question have agency. However, it is somewhat frustrating that women-focused spy epics aren’t allotted the same amount of grit and intensity as male ones.
Killing Eve, though, has grit in spades. It’s violent and disheveled—sometimes uncomfortably so. Yes, there is a sexual component to it. The first episode, interestingly, teases a spark between Villanelle and Eve. (Stay tuned on that one.) However, any titillation in Killing Eve takes a backseat to no-holds-barred intensity: the type of ferocity you’d see in a James Bond film. Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill might be the only female peer Villanelle and Eve have in that respect.
It’s shows like this that will push pop culture in the direction it needs to go. Nothing about Killing Eve feels like it was packaged by a group of men deciding what they “think” a female spy show would look like. The credit for that goes completely to the series creator, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (whose Amazon show Fleabag is an absolute must-watch). Waller-Bridge’s eye is balanced and honest; she never belittles the female characters or objectifies them. Killing Eve doesn’t present idealized versions of female spies and assassins. What we see actually feels like how women would respond in these graphic, singular circumstances. There’s nothing polished or censored about it. That’s refreshing—and should serve as framework for the female spy shows and movies to come.
Killing Eve, simply put, illustrates why it’s important to have women at the helm of female-driven stories. The result, more often than not, is incredibly authentic—and, in Killing Eve‘s case, incredibly bloody.
The show airs Sundays at 8 P.M. ET on BBC America.