“Killing Eve” is under a lot of pressure. It premiered last spring in one of those frequent basement floods of peak TV, seeming at first to be just one more psychological crime drama set in London when we’re already knee-deep in psychological crime dramas set in London. Cable viewers who hadn’t yet cut the cord (we still exist in great numbers, by the way) discovered it on BBC America and could feel for a brief moment as if we’d chanced upon a delicious secret — a high-adrenaline, sharply funny, pleasingly stylish, expertly written and beautifully acted drama, made by and starring women.
Fans of the show raved about it, which helped spread the momentum; the first season’s eight episodes became an instant treasure. People without cable freaked out a little, looking for a way to stream “Killing Eve” (eventual answer: Hulu). All told, it was fun to be reminded that there is still such a thing in television as a sleeper hit.
That nap was short as “Killing Eve” basked in unanimous praise and raked in some awards (including a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for its star, Sandra Oh), mainly on its merits as a fantastic show, but also because of its effortless leap over the usual hurdles of diversity, and so on and so forth.
But get to the real stuff, wordy critic! How is Season 2? Is it just as good?
Why, yes, it is.
“Killing Eve” returns for another eight-episode season Sunday night (on BBC America and also on its corporate parent, AMC, which could use a hit that doesn’t feature zombies or martial arts). And judging from the first two anxiety-fueled episodes made available to critics, this show is in no mood to stumble or become the victim of its own success — even after a friendly transfer of power from creator and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge to a new showrunner/head writer, Emerald Fennell (“Call the Midwife”).
Fennell and company deftly resume the action (initially based on Luke Jennings’s “Codename Villanelle” novellas), picking up 30 seconds after a shocking knife-to-the-gut scene that ended Season 1. Which reminds me — now’s as good a spot as any to ward off readers who still haven’t watched the first season. Go back and do it now.
Reviewing Season 2 is also difficult to do without spoiling anything, but let me try to tiptoe around some of it: Eve Polastri (Oh), an American whose job in British intelligence has brought her to the fringes of a secret international cabal, is still obsessed with Oksana Astankova, the elusive, “Nikita”-esque Russian assassin who goes by the name Villanelle (Jodie Comer).
After Eve and Villanelle pursued each other in a dynamic that is partly an extreme case of mutual girlcrush and partly an iteration of the ancient hunter/hunted story, Eve flees Villanelle’s Paris apartment, not knowing if her adversary is alive or dead.
You should already be fairly sure of the answer to that question. As Oh’s character races back to London in a perpetual freakout about what has transpired, she has also been plunged into a fog of deception, wondering if she can trust her boss at MI6, Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw).
The new episodes of “Killing Eve” make great use of Comer’s ability to play a remorseless yet newly desperate (and often malevolently clever) Villanelle, who must scrape her way back into the game, in a renewed pursuit of Eve. Though most of the accolades for “Killing Eve” were first directed Oh’s way, the show might truly belong to Comer, who, beneath Villanelle’s coldblooded psychopathic tendencies, transmits a slight yet necessary vulnerability. There’s a hint early on that whatever transpires between Eve and Villanelle may be disrupted by the presence of a third female assassin; we’ll have to wait and see.
As it stands, the women are two of the most intriguing TV characters in recent memory, taking us to a place that can feel altogether new — the way Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell did as married Soviet spies on FX’s “The Americans.” There’s a thesis or two (or 20) to be written about the mutual attraction between Eve and Villanelle and how it plays out, which is not about sex so much as an admiring envy. It can be fun to try to deconstruct it. It can be even more fun to just sit back and watch it.
Killing Eve (one hour) returns Sunday at 8 p.m. on BBC America and AMC (simulcast).