The rise of the Strong Female Character has been a complex one. In an attempt to create some kind of parity between the sexes in television and film, many female characters took the trauma inflicted on them by the (largely male) writers and turned it into some sort of warped superpower. They aren’t “soft” like other women; they are Gone Girl‘s Cool Girl made flesh. They’ll shoot and spit and swear just like the menfolk, and while there are certainly women like this out there, the idea that this was the only acceptable form of strength is, quite frankly, a huge bummer.
Because what we really want was complex. What we want is well-written, complicated characters who have understandable drives and desires that feel and behave like real, messy women. While there is definitely room for a few gun-toting badasses in the mix, the idea that the only desirable characteristics for women onscreen are “physically strong” and “infinitely capable” is just another box to constrain the feminine image into a more digestible form. The unruly, multi-faceted woman is still finding her place in the television landscape, which makes it even more of a treat when she gets her time in the sun.
Enter Killing Eve. The twisty caper took everyone by surprise with its first season, focusing on a stylish and sociopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and the dogged analyst Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) who finds herself a little too invested in her pursuit. Anyone who watched Oh’s turn on Grey’s Anatomy (spare me the cries of “that show is still on?!” in the comments, please) knows that she plays complicated, brilliant women extraordinarily well, but her turn opposite the equally sensational Comer is nothing short of breathtaking. As they circle each other before the intimate face off at Villanelle’s Parisian apartment, the tension between the two is almost unbearable, vacillating between professional and sexual with each new barb.
But what makes them so extraordinary is that they are both written in ways that showcase their destructive natures as well as their strengths. While Eve is excellent at her job, this is not the tightly wound career woman that we’ve been trained to expect. She doesn’t just want to catch Villanelle before she kills again, she wants to understand why she kills. Does she have a traumatic history? Is she a sociopath? Or has she just found something that she is exceptionally good at that people will pay a high price for? As she starts to peel back the layers of the killer, Eve knows that she should feel repelled, but is instead almost pulled into her thrall. She doesn’t necessarily admire Villanelle’s drive, but she doesn’t not admire her.