Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Courtesy of BBC America

LGBT+

In 'Killing Eve,' A Nuanced Portrayal of Lesbian Obsession

I may be a bit biased, but the intensity of a shared romantic obsession between two women burns brighter than any other human connection—and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Last year, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Sapphic spy thriller Killing Eve stunned audiences and critics when it debuted. (It still has a 96 percent rating amongst critics on Rotten Tomatoes). The inaugural season tracked a blossoming fixation between a female assassin, Villanelle, and the MI6 agent assigned to her case, Eve—played by Sandra Oh. The climax of their mutual obsession transpired in the season finale when the couple is lying in bed, about to kiss for the first time—and Eve literally stabs Villanelle in the gut.

So far, I’ve screened the first two episodes of season two, which premiered this weekend, and it picks up right where we left off—or at least 30 seconds later. And while the first two episodes are fascinating and enthralling, they also stirred something visceral in me, something familiar, something insidious that made my stomach churn. In the first episode of Killing Eve season two, I saw myself in Eve and Villanelle’s relationship—not just in romantic obsession, but in the plight of toxic lesbianism.

I’ve dated monsters. I’ve gotten dumped and taken back and chased by someone who was mean to me, ultimately bad for me, tore me to shreds, and aggravated the real, positive relationships in my life—but holy shit, it was so exciting. I think we’ve all done this to an extent—desperately pursued someone who is capital “B” Bad, because Jesus Christ being with them feels like being on drugs—the highs and the lows. Sound familiar?

In season one of Killing Eve, Villanelle gives Eve every reason to despise her—she fucks up Eve’s career and marriage, she literally murders her coworker and best friend—and yet it only fuels Eve’s addiction. That’s how toxic lesbianism works: You find a woman who is alluring and enigmatic in the way that only women can be (men just aren’t that exciting, sorry), someone who gives you nothing, making each sliver of attention or affection feel like a bounty, a cute and thoughtful gift just for me—she murdered my best friend for me, to get my attention. In the first episode of Killing Eve season two, the obsession is unhinged. The tables have turned on Villanelle, once the aggressor and stalker. Now, Eve is dragging her through toxic lesbian hell.

As a lesbian with a proclivity toward romantic obsession and a penchant for mean girls, I’m inspired by Killing Eve.

“She did it to show me how much she cared about me,” Villanelle tells her hospital roommate, fondly fingering her stab wound like it’s a bouquet of flowers. When he tells her “that’s stupid,” she says, “No, it’s not. Sometimes when you love someone, you will do crazy things.” It’s true! In my darkest days, when I’ve fallen head over heels for a sadistic demoness who tortured me just for the thrill of it, and all my friends were telling me I was being dumb—because I was—I can remember uttering some iteration of this sentence. I’ve never been stabbed by a woman I loved—but emotionally, sure. Countless times. That’s the thing about being a toxic lesbian: We fucking live for it.

I look back on the most poisonous and exciting lesbian relationships in pop culture, like Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson’s late-aughts romp, and I admire their dedication to the craft. One day, we’d see a headline about Lindsay and Samantha brawling in an alleyway. The next, they’d find their way back to each other. Toxic lesbianism is defined by a willingness to keep coming back for more—and Eve and Villanelle just won’t fucking quit in season two. At one point, a second female assassin is introduced to Eve and MI6, which means she’d have to stop focusing on Villanelle and shift her attention to the new killer. Eve fights them on it, finagling a way to keep Villanelle—and her “investigation” of her—in play.

The new episodes of Killing Eve have forced me to examine my own proclivities toward romantic obsession. I’ve pondered my own relationships as compared to Eve and Villanelle’s, and the parallels are alarming. Toxic lesbianism is about power. It’s about having a hold over someone. Sharing something unique with a person that no one else does, and holding on to it with dear life. “I know her better than anyone,” Villanelle says of Eve. “Better than she knows herself.”

Toxic lesbianism is the best sex you’ve ever had, followed by the most malicious act of treason, followed by an insatiable need for more sexual attention. It’s dangerous, it’s exciting, a tenuous game of cat and mouse. It’s the opposite of commitment and safety. It’s a jambalaya of “I love you,” “You bitch,” and “Murder me.” In the new season, it’s visible in Eve and Villanelle’s eyes, that glint of ravenous desire, knowing this can only end badly but compulsively doing it anyway. 

In season two of Killing Eve, neither woman tries to hide her psychosexual fixation. As a lesbian with a proclivity toward romantic obsession and a penchant for mean girls, I’m inspired. Finally, representation for toxic queer women. Eve and Villanelle’s relationship is an example of what might happen if you let your obsession go untethered and unchecked. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but have never been brave enough to, because the deeper the obsession, the deeper the wound.

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