The quirky BBC drama fills a need for bisexual characters on TV, while still remaining coy on the subject.
In Season One of Killing Eve, Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) makes an unauthorized visit to the home of Villanelle (Jodie Comer), the serial murderess she’s been investigating. Eve pops a bottle of champagne and proceeds to trash Villanelle’s grungy but luxurious apartment, flinging elegant clothes on the floor to a punk rock soundtrack. This is an act of revenge. Villanelle has disrupted all aspects of Eve’s life, both personal and professional, and Eve is angry about it.
A few minutes later, after Villanelle returns home, Eve collapses on Villanelle’s bed and says she’s tired. Villanelle lies next to Eve, and Eve pulls out a knife and stabs her. This, oddly enough, is not an act of revenge. It’s something much more complicated, more intimate.
Since its debut, Killing Eve has been a delightfully offbeat suspense powerhouse. Eve and Villanelle have an intense and pleasingly weird chemistry no matter how you slice it. Their unconventional and ever-evolving mutual obsession is the hook of the show, the main attraction that strings audiences along.
However, many queer people also feel strung along by the question of whether Eve and Villanelle’s relationship will resolve in a way that acknowledges its sexual and romantic framing. Recently, some were angered when Sandra Oh appeared to deny the possibility of a romance between the two leads in an interview with Gay Times. It’s honestly a bit difficult to extract a clear meaning from her statements, which do raise plenty of queer erasure red flags, but were also printed without the context of the questions she was answering.
Regardless of what Oh intended to say, there’s a big difference between not explicitly identifying queer romance, and rejecting a reading of it altogether. Creators’ intentions aside, it’s absolutely legitimate to read Killing Eve as a strong example of unique, creative queer representation.
Specifically, Killing Eve stands as a strong example of bisexual representation. Not the type of representation where someone actually comes out and says they’re bi, because that hasn’t happened at any point in the show. But it’s already reasonable to read both Eve and Villanelle as bisexual, certainly much more so than straight or gay (when I use “bisexual” or “bi,” I mean to include any additional non-monosexual identities that may also apply, including pan, fluid, etc.).
Creators’ intentions aside, it’s absolutely legitimate to read Killing Eve as a strong example of unique, creative queer representation.
In the scene where Eve stabs Villanelle, the two are shown side by side on Villanelle’s bed, framed in a symmetrical, slowly nearing shot that feels intimate but fraught with danger. Each woman has admitted to constantly thinking about the other. Villanelle has told Eve, “I masturbate about you a lot.” As they lie there, Villanelle reaches out and strokes Eve’s hair. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” Eve says. A moment later, when she pulls a knife on Villanelle, we realize this line was bait.
It might seem like this is reason enough to call queerbaiting on the whole series. It’s easy to see Eve’s action as a metaphorical rejection of queerness. But this doesn’t entirely make sense. To be clear, I’m not dismissing actual concerns about queerbaiting, which are legitimate, and have to do with deceitful marketing to queer audiences rather than my own desire to claim or interpret the story. But Eve’s betrayal of Villanelle in this moment seems too emotional to be a conscious and cynical trap. It even seems possible that Eve is trying to provoke Villanelle, to see if she can incite the same vulnerability in her object of obsession that she herself feels.
In Killing Eve, I see a larger-than-life, humorous reflection of my own experiences as a bi person. Like Villanelle, bi people are often seen as a threat, even by those who like us. Like Eve, we may find ourselves in dangerous situations when we try to explore feelings that don’t have an approved outlet. Like both women, we go undercover. We adapt. We follow different sets of rules to blend in and survive. This sounds tragic in theory, but in Killing Eve, it’s tragicomic. It’s over the top. It feels painfully real and safe at the same time. It feels romantic.
Much of the discussion about whether Killing Eve is “good” queer representation has clustered around the question of whether Eve and Villanelle will ultimately become a couple. But I’m not sure if this is the right question, not if bisexuality is part of this discussion. Bisexual people face different realities than gay men and lesbians. Reports suggest that a majority of us aren’t out. A large number of us who are in relationships are in heterosexual relationships. In other words, we often aren’t visible, even if we have queer stuff going on in our heads and our lives.
If Eve is bisexual, she fits the profile just fine already. She’s married to a man. This is part of her public life. But we see how her expression changes when she’s thinking about Villanelle. Eve never indicates that she doesn’t want to be with Villanelle because of her gender. Her rejection is more specific to Villanelle herself, and comes alongside a crucial truth: Villanelle may be queer, but she’s also young, white, and psychopathic. This gives her a significant advantage over Eve when it comes to moving freely through the world, sexually and otherwise.
We know that Eve is conscious of this distinction. She has a knack for IDing criminals through demographic information and using the way others see her, a woman of Asian descent significantly older than Villanelle, to her advantage. Her race and age may not directly prevent her from getting close to Villanelle, but they undoubtedly inform her previous experiences and how much she’s willing to risk for momentary happiness.
It may be valuable to ask ourselves, if we really do want to see the two leads as a couple, what that would look like. It may also be valuable to ask if Eve and Villanelle’s relationship, as is, is really so worthless for queer representation.
At one point in the second season, Villanelle, having consented to wear a mic for a joint mission in Rome with Eve, speaks to Eve seductively through her earpiece. Eve is so turned on by this that she immediately initiates sex with her male coworker, Hugo, who has accompanied her on the mission. The next morning, we see a satisfied smile spread over Eve’s face when Villanelle asks if she slept well. In the background, Hugo pops up over Eve’s shoulder, happily oblivious to her primary source of pleasure.
Eve may be comfortable with her attraction to Villanelle, but less comfortable being physically close to her, if only for reasons of safety. That doesn’t invalidate the attraction itself, or the effect it has on her. Similarly, I don’t have any desire to live the events of Killing Eve myself. But my reading of both Eve and Villanelle as bisexual doesn’t make me feel bad about being bi. It actually makes me feel pretty good.
Eve and Villanelle stand as two poles of bi existence: Eve is the more realistic, worried bi, Villanelle a hilarious cartoon rendering of a bi stereotype. Villanelle is promiscuous, theatrical, impulsive. She lives in a fantasy world of loud hedonism, of extravagant clothes and crimes and sex with multiple strangers of different genders. She lives in the place where, according to the popular imagination, bi people exist by default.
Planted in separate fictional universes, Eve and Villanelle could both read as tragic queers. But together, their chemistry changes them both. Through their mutual interest, they validate each other and become something more than the sum of their tragic parts. They may be held in place by a heteronormative world, but the very fact that they continue to find each other suggests hope.
Of course, when we talk about representation, we’re often talking about representing ourselves to others. I understand many bi people fear reinforcing perceptions that we’re prone by default to dishonesty, promiscuity, impulsivity, and other traits that many humans display regardless of sexual orientation.
Still, Killing Eve helps me sense a freedom beyond those perceptions. It makes me feel like maybe bi people can all take back a small part of the pleasure-seeking pastel wonderland Villanelle inhabits, and own the awkward, everyday realities Eve experiences, too. Maybe we can stop worrying about whether people see us as messy or indecisive or out of line, and just be whatever we actually are.
If nothing else, the show creates a world where unapologetic bisexuality is possible, where queerness can exist without permission. So if bi people want to claim that world, maybe we shouldn’t ask for permission, either.