Is the will-they-or-won't-take dance between Eve and Villanelle only an exercise in queerbaiting?

Some say YEA:

Killing Eve has been accused of queerbaiting by viewers after Sandra Oh dismissed the chance of an on-screen romance.

Ahead of the show’s second season debut in the UK, it releases on Saturday 8 June, fans of the BBC spy thriller have speculated as to whether the dysfunctional dynamic between MI5 security officer Eve Polastri and deadly assassin Villanelle will finally culminate into a romantic relationship.

The finale of season one ended with Eve telling the assassin she thinks about her all of the time, to which Villanelle replied, “I mean, I masturbate about you a lot.”

The “will they, won’t they” relationship teases continued when the show dropped its first season two trailer on Valentine’s Day.

The clip, which featured an eerie rendition of “Addicted to Love”, hinted at a potential romance between the two characters with Villanelle saying ominously in a voice-over: “Sometimes, when you love someone, you do crazy things.”

Despite the insinuations, Oh recently dismissed the idea of a relationship between the two leading ladies in an interview with the Gay Times, saying: “You guys are tricky because you want to make it into something… but it just isn’t.

“That’s also why I think sexuality and discovery of the wider reaches of sexuality is the theme of the show – why it’s interesting to people. It’s not one thing or another.”

Following the comments, fans of Killing Eve have accused the show of queerbaiting – a term used to describe purposely teasing the possibility of a character being queer in an effort to appeal to LGBT+ audiences without properly exploring it on-screen.

“You don’t get to play up the relationship in marketing and then imply the fans are delusional for shipping it,” one person wrote on Twitter.

“And to think before this week I defended them against accusations of queerbaiting.”

Another added: “Sigh. I need to stop putting any trust in shows to show me representation of queer couples outside of side characters. #KillingEve is one of the most disgusting examples of queerbaiting to date.”

A third person agreed, writing: “I'm not mad that they're apparently never going to have a sexual/romantic relationship. I am, however, rather annoyed that they clearly led us on and used us.
Some say NAY:
Anyone with a heart couldn’t fail to be moved by Villanelle’s agony at having to slide her feet into a pair of Crocs in the first episode of season two’s Killing Eve, which hit BBC One screens last night.

Murder, deceit, cruelty, a dagger to the gut – nothing comes close to the pain this fashionista with a firearm appeared to feel upon realising that her sartorial choices were to suffer if she wanted to survive. Such are the compromises this irrepressible assassin may have to learn to endure.

The return to our screens of the charismatic Killing Eve character who gives zero f*cks is long overdue. Here is a woman who meets the beauty standard, but whose lack of interest in male sexual attention in a society where women’s acceptability is so often invested in their ability to conform to sexual and gender norms, is wholly refreshing. Rarely has a female character been less in need of “saving” than she. In almost every sense, Villanelle is deviant and I’m an absolute sucker for the underdog.

While the award-winning show has been critiqued for being yet another example of how queer women are portrayed as mad, bad and dangerous, I consider Villanelle to be an indisputable delight. Is she a psychopath? Undoubtedly.

Granted – Villanelle is probably not someone you want in your life, but her charm, comic timing and panache leave me, like so many others, utterly seduced. I’m no more excited by violence than the average person, but representations of women with power (even when this is abused) are so rare, that when we’re presented with one – particularly one as compelling as Villanelle – it makes Eve’s obsession with her completely understandable – and she’s not even queer.

Or is she?

In a recent interview with Gay Times, Sandra Oh’s response to the suggestion of romance between MI5 agent Eve Polastri and Villanelle led to accusations of queerbaiting: a term used to describe when a show leads an audience to believe that a character is queer to titillate and attract new viewers without ever developing this beyond hints.

“You guys are tricky because you want to make it into something … but it just isn’t,” said Oh.

To dismiss the palpable sexual tension between these two characters is naïve, and for Oh to categorically deny the possibility of any romance between the pair struck me as bizarre – but I don’t necessarily believe the show is guilty of queerbaiting.

Villanelle is played as an openly queer woman; her ex-partner even makes an appearance in season one. Eve – whose sexuality has never been clarified thus far – is clearly infatuated by Villanelle and I suspect Eve’s feelings for the assassin are as muddied and complicated as the viewers.

When Eve comes clean with Villanelle about her fixation at the end of season one, words effusively falling from her lips, Villanelle’s response clears up any ambiguity about her feelings towards Eve: “I think about you all the time. I think about what you’re wearing, and what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with. I think about the friends you have, I think about what you eat before you go to work, and what shampoo you have, and what happened in your family. I think about your eyes and your mouth, and what you feel when you kill someone, I think about what you have for breakfast. I just want to know everything,” bleats Eve.

“I think about you, too. I mean, I masturbate about you a lot,” deadpans Villanelle.

Rather than queerbaiting, Killing Eve is simply continuing to keep its audience on its toes by building tension between its two protagonists, who happen to be women. It’s impossible to say if equivalent friction between straight male and female actors would be as effective, but I’m more than content to watch it play out. A lack of rounded and realistic representations of queer women on our screens means that when they do appear, it’s easy to critique them for their failure to reach the impossible standard of being all things to all people.

A romance between Villanelle and Eve would be undoubtedly thrilling, but I won’t be holding my breath. Life’s grey areas are often the most fascinating and this queer woman, for one, can’t wait to watch how Eve and Villanelle’s intriguing relationship continues to develop.

From a het male perspective, I'm the worst person in the world to make a call whether or not Killing Eve is engaged in queerbaiting. So I won't.

What I can say is in the Eve/Villanelle fanfic, there is no ambiguity. Far from it. Ah, you writers...