|First appearance||"Nice Face" (April 8, 2018)|
|Created by||Luke Jennings (Codename Villanelle novel); |
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Killing Eve television series)
|Portrayed by||Jodie Comer|
|Full name||Birth names:|
Oxana Vorontsova (in Codename Villanelle)
Oksana Astankova (in Killing Eve)
British author Luke Jennings originally created Villanelle's character in an e-book novella series whose segments were published from 2014 through 2016, the series being compiled into the 2018 novel Codename Villanelle. In the novel's BBC America television series adaptation Killing Eve that premiered on April 8, 2018, the character is portrayed by British actor Jodie Comer.
Villanelle is the title character in Luke Jennings' four-segment novella series (2014–2016), whose compilation forms his 2018 novel Codename Villanelle. The 2018 television series Killing Eve, created by British writer-actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is based on Jennings' novellas.
Some commentators conjecture the name Villanelle was derived from the word villainess. Another commentator likened the entire Killing Eve series to the villanelle poetic form, writing that the show is about the "iteration of a recognizable pattern, its pleasures emerging in the internal twists".
In the novel, assassin Oxana Vorontsova chose her cover name as Villanelle, after a favorite perfume of the Comtesse du Barry who was guillotined in 1793 ("I shall have to be careful, then," said Oxana). In the television series, British intelligence agent Eve Polastri is taunted by the assassin sending her a bottle of perfume named La Villanelle.
Separately, a perfume named Villanelle had been produced in Belgium in the month preceding Killing Eve's television debut, the perfume's maker saying the name was inspired by Keith Douglas' 1940 poem “Villanelle of Spring Bells”. The perfume maker noted an influx of orders from the U.S. after the show's American debut.
In Killing Eve
Villanelle is a brutal hired assassin who soon becomes involved in a cat-and-mouse game with MI5 intelligence operative Eve Polastri (portrayed by Sandra Oh), the two women becoming mutually obsessed and sharing what has been called a "crackling chemistry... between bitter enemies and would-be lovers". Agent Polastri tracks the "utterly unforgivable" assassin Villanelle across Europe, not as hero and villain but as "two broken women whose flaws bind them together in a twisted pas de deux." As the series progresses, Villanelle's backstory is revealed: she is an orphan with a violent reputation who once developed an obsession for an older, nurturing, female French instructor — and who castrated the instructor's husband because of her jealous infatuation with the instructor.
Villanelle has been described as "a manic pixie dream assassin who's as charming as she is psychopathic", a "chillingly relatable monster" who takes "fulsome pleasure in a murder well performed". Not simply a hired assassin, Villanelle was described as "taking joy in the pain of others" and having "no moral fetters holding her back", having been "raised to kill without guilt or concern, ... love or loyalty". An innocent exterior hides a cold brutality, and Villanelle—a "living, breathing, shopping psychopath"—"kills with flair". She is "exceptionally gifted, completely soulless, and odd-duck hilarious ... rude, funny, awful, naughty. She's twisted and conscienceless, but she is also irrepressible. She's a proper psychopath."
Playing cat-and-mouse games on an intellectual and psychological level, Villanelle is "hyperaware of ... the narrative" surrounding her but then defies it, first leading interactions to make them appear predictable but then upending them. Despite having deep psychological damage from her past, the "playful" Villanelle not only has a "wicked sense of humor" but, being "just plain bored", craves stimulation and challenge, causing her to take risks while expressing her playfulness in "creative and showy murder". Though Villanelle’s competence is "frightening" and "exaggerated", Jia Tolentino wrote in The New Yorker that she is "essentially a child, petulant and silly and rude", but whose "theatrical instincts flare back to life" in a deadly situation. Tolentino also inferred that Villanelle may be "unravelling" or replaying childhood events: demanding her handler admit he loves her more than his daughter; having lost her mother early and now looking for an older woman for mutual care and devotion; seeking praise for her brilliant performance.
Villanelle has also been described as cocky, playful, ostentatious and possessing a beauty constituting a "rather literally weaponized femininity" that is alluring both to Eve and to audiences. Cold, calculating and callous, she "attracts sympathy and then immediately deploys it against whomever she faces." Villanelle is a "complexly written, deeply frustrating character", and "nearly impossible to not root for" despite lacking the likability that conventionally is the goal for female characters. She shows moments of questioning but never surrenders to regret. Lacking moral impetus or guiding principle for her killing decisions and motivated by bloodlust, greed and spite, "Villanelle’s dysfunction is her own".
Actor Jodie Comer described her character as a free spirit, not self-conscious at all, likening Villanelle during her acts of murder to a cat playing with a mouse before going in for the kill. Comer said that Villanelle "definitely prefers women" and, more broadly, "doesn't have any limitations at all" though deep-down craving a normal life like Eve's.
Series creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge explained how her crafting of Villanelle's character resulted from continually asking, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Waller-Bridge endorsed that "Villanelle does have fun, choosing to only do things that might bring her joy"—from selecting haute couture to contriving murder techniques—a fearlessness that is a perfect counterpoint to the self-consciousness and guilt that cripples Eve.
Social, thematic and creative context
Observing that both Villanelle and Eve's worlds "betrayed and deceived them at every turn", Melanie McFarland in Salon delved into the women's complex relationship and wrote that their story "explores the kind of trickiness involved in navigating the world as a woman"; despite the growing connection, Villanelle knows how she can lure others and the "sisterhood" is "devoid of guarantees".
McFarland noted Villanelle's killing patterns and called the show "perfect for the #MeToo era," writing that it "slakes one's desire to see piggish misogynists get what's coming to them". However, writing in The Atlantic, Hannah Giorgis asserted that a feminist, political focus overlooks important thematic and aesthetic components: Villanelle subverts feminine stereotypes so as to "carve a jagged space into the serial-killer canon". Giorgis wrote that Villanelle violates "gendered expectations of violent behavior" of which women are supposedly incapable unless driven to it by trauma, and the character lacks the likability usually sought by the entertainment industry for female characters. Similarly, author Rachel Monroe wrote that "when a woman commits a crime, she’s not only transgressing laws, she’s transgressing gender roles".
Series creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge remarked that men in the show underestimate Villanelle, as men in the real world do not immediately assess the possible threat of women they meet in the same way that women do immediately calculate the possible threat of men they meet—an asymmetry that Waller-Bridge describes as "catnip for Villanelle". In accord, Willa Paskin wrote in Slate that "the disfigured, beating heart of Killing Eve is the way that Villanelle’s gender and manner, her very femininity, keep our acculturated brains from being appropriately terrified of her."
Hannah Giorgis wrote in The Atlantic that the "greatest success" of Killing Eve is how alluring it makes Villanelle — both to an intelligence agent dedicated to tracking her down and to the audience. More specifically, Jia Tolentino wrote in The New Yorker that Villanelle’s character works because of Comer’s "mercurial, unassailable charisma", and Willa Paskin wrote in Slate that Comer's Villanelle (twisted and conscienceless but also irrepressible) is "flat-out incredible".
In December 2018, The New York Times included Oh's and Comer's performances in its "Best Performances of 2018", noting "these two women are inventive about how to be funny in a thriller" and "make run-of-the mill embarrassment seem more lethal than any bullet". TV Guide named Oh's and Comer's performances as the #2 Best TV Performances of 2018.
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- Jennings, Rebecca (May 24, 2018). "People Are Buying This Perfume Because They Think It's From 'Killing Eve' It's actually a natural fragrance from Belgium!". Racked (Vox Media). Archived from the original on June 19, 2018.
- Tolentino, Jia (May 27, 2018). "The Pleasurable Patterns of the Killing Eve Season Finale". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on May 29, 2018.
- Jennings, Luke (April 3, 2018). "Chapter 1". Codename Villanelle (iBook ed.). Mulholland Books. ISBN 978-0-316-51252-7.
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- McFarland, Melanie (May 26, 2018). "Feminist thriller Killing Eve has proven a perfect show for the #MeToo era". Salon. Archived from the original on May 26, 2018.
- Berman, Judy (May 25, 2018). "Killing Eve: The Showrunner and Stars on the Love Story Behind the Sleeper Hit". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 25, 2018. Print edition title: "Two Broken Women, Bound by Their Flaws".
- Kang, Inkoo (May 20, 2018). "Killing Eve Recap: The Girl Who Became Villanelle". Vulture (New York magazine). Archived from the original on May 21, 2018.
- "Villanelle (character profile)". BBC America. 2018. Archived from the original on May 29, 2018.
- Paskin, Willa (April 10, 2018). "Killing Eve Makes Murder Dangerously Fun". Slate. Archived from the original on May 30, 2018.
- Nguyen, Hanh (May 6, 2018). "Killing Eve: TV's Newest Assassin Subverts Storytelling Cliches, Which Makes Her Scary as Hell". IndieWire. Archived from the original on May 7, 2018.
- Giorgis, Hannah (May 28, 2018). "Killing Eve and the Riddle of Why Women Kill". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on May 28, 2018.
- McHenry, Jackson (May 24, 2018). "Killing Eve's Jodie Comer Knows Villanelle Is Scariest When She Seems Totally Normal". Vulture (New York magazine). Archived from the original on May 27, 2018.
- Boucher, Ashley (May 30, 2018). "Killing Eve Showrunner on Why She Gender-Swapped So Many of the Book's Male Characters". TheWrap. Archived from the original on May 30, 2018.
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- Morris, Wesley (December 7, 2018). "The Best Performances of 2018". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 7, 2018.
- TV Guide Editors (December 3, 2018). "These Are the 25 Best Performances on TV in 2018". TV Guide. Archived from the original on December 4, 2018.