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Killing Eve (BBC America, 2018-present) tells the story of protagonist and chief crime investigator, Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), on the hunt for consummate assassin-for-hire, Villanelle (Jodi Comer). On one level, the television serial follows a formulaic pattern in the detection genre, in which the hero-protagonist spends her time hunting down the villainous antagonist. On another level, the narrative seemingly departs from the traditional formula in that, over the course of her pursuit, Eve develops a growing attraction for Villanelle, an attraction that is reciprocated. Although ostensibly on opposite sides of the law, Killing Eve’s distinct narrative signature depicts Eve’s increasing fascination for, even obsession with, her criminal counterpart.

Not only do the two characters become absorbed in a mutual attraction; the audience, too, feels fascination for the glamorously cruel Villanelle. Her meticulously staged kills, in which she takes great pleasure, for instance, insisting that victims look her in the eye as they die, are depicted in prolonged detail for viewers, emphasising rather than minimising the efficient brutality of her criminal acts. What, then, are we to make of Eve and Villanelle’s reciprocated attraction? By rights, Eve ought to feel repelled by and outraged at Villanelle, especially once the latter kills Eve’s former boss and close friend, Bill (David Haig) in Season One, Episode 3, raising the dramatic stakes and rendering Eve’s pursuit of Villanelle all the more ‘personal.’ Eve’s captivation with Villanelle transpires as simultaneously intriguing, perplexing, and disturbing. Why is our lead detective so drawn to her criminal opposite; is she, in turn, as deeply unbalanced a character as the villain she seeks?

Killing Eve can be considered one of several recent British/Irish TV serials, including Luther (BBC, 2010-2019) and The Fall (BBC 2013-2016), in which the lead detective becomes enamoured with a psychopathic yet charismatic killer.[1] In Luther, male police detective John Luther (Idris Elba) develops a deep connection with the compelling female multiple murderer, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). In The Fall, it is female detective, Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), who is mesmerised by disturbing male serial killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). While Killing Eve shares commonality with these other TV series in its central dynamic of attraction between detective and criminal, it remains distinct from them in that both lead investigator and chief criminal are women. I turn to the example of Killing Eve to explore the dynamic of attraction between detective and offender, specifically as it applies to two female characters, in order to discover what it reveals about the gendered status of the female detective.

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MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture

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D. Pribram is a Professor Emerita of Communications

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