How Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer anchor the endless chaos of ‘Killing Eve’

Sonia Rao

THE WASHINGTON POST – The second season of Killing Eve left the fate of its protagonists up in the air. After teaming up to take down a ruthless billionaire, restless MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and glamorous assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) discovered they were each betrayed by their respective employers and, after confronting one another about the nature of their relationship, wound up at odds as well. A scorned Villanelle shot Eve with the intent to kill and walked away from the scene.

Of course, the BBC America series had already been renewed for another season; as many assumed, Eve survived. But the circumstances in which we find her six months later are rather unexpected. The third season, which premiered Sunday, picks up with Eve living alone in a cramped London apartment and working in the kitchen of a Korean restaurant. She sculpts mandu, or Korean dumplings, and repeatedly refuses her boss’s offers to work at the front of the house.

“For me – and I think for a lot of people, particularly Asian people – making dumplings is a very, very grounding thing,” Oh said. “She’s in the back of the restaurant. She wants to be anonymous. She wants to be left alone. There was something in the symbol of making the mandu that I felt like was a hurrah for self-care. Because you see her also in the comfort of her mother language.”

Oh was the one to suggest the restaurant setting, one of many ways she has shaped Eve’s path. Originally helmed by creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Killing Eve has traded hands each season; Emerald Fennell took over as showrunner for the second season, and Suzanne Heathcote is in charge of the third. As such, Oh and Comer have become the preeminent experts on Eve’s and Villanelle’s evolving psyches.

“Phoebe really built the foundation,” Oh said from Los Angeles, “but the spine of the show is the cast, who has never changed.” Comer echoes the sentiment from her family home in Liverpool, adding that the consistency has given her a confidence she hasn’t always felt on other sets, “I have an ease in knowing I know her more than anyone else now,” she said of Villanelle.

Sandra Oh returns as Eve Polastri in the third season of ‘Killing Eve’. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Villanelle starts off in circumstances just as surprising, given her psychopathic tendencies – she’s getting married to a woman she met in Spain. When a handler from the assassins operation crashes the wedding, Villanelle lunges for her throat. She is unexpectedly thrust into her past during what Comer points to as a clear effort to gain control of her life and move on.

Comer acknowledges that Villanelle can still be “really outrageous and flamboyant” but notes that, with each season, the psychology behind her rash behaviour becomes more clear. What was once “bubbling under the surface” is increasingly externalised, Comer says. While digging around in her bedroom recently, the actress came upon a folder of notes from her initial conversations with Waller-Bridge and was pleased to see how much Villanelle has evolved since the first season.

“She doesn’t feel anything, she doesn’t cry – everyone has these preconceived notions of what she should or shouldn’t do,” Comer said. “I don’t want to fix her in a box. I think it’s important that she grows and changes. From playing a character who should feel little remorse and emotion to actually now be delving into a deeper side of her has definitely been challenging, but more fulfilling.”

Oh similarly feels that “when you process or grow or learn from things, you can’t go backwards.” She stresses how collaborative the process of crafting Eve has been, adding that she lets the writers know whenever she comes across something in a script that she feels she has already been explored.

For Eve, moving forward means leaving MI6 to work at the restaurant. (“I finally got some good Korean food,” Oh added.) A visit to her estranged husband, Niko (Owen McDonnell), and plans to meet up with her former co-worker Kenny (Sean Delaney) hint at Eve’s desire to maintain some stability in her life. Of course, that immediately falls apart once Kenny is found dead at the episode’s end.

Killing Eve thrives when it is most unpredictable. While Oh and Comer anchor the show, the former notes that having new writers on board has the benefit of putting “more dynamic in the work process”.

“Nothing is settled. When is it settled, anyway?” Oh said. “I’ve tried to embrace chaos. When you dance with chaos, when you are able to work with it, something new can happen. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned on the show. Honestly, that’s what Villanelle gives Eve, in some ways.”