Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in Killing Eve

Killing Eve season 3: Villanelle isn’t the show’s only psychopath, says clinical psychologist

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Killing Eve fans, seems Sandra Oh’s Eve is every bit as psychopathic as Jodie Comer’s Villanelle – and this exposes an uncomfortable truth for all of us. 

We’ve been patiently counting down the days to new Killing Eve episodes, ever since that dramatic season two finale. And now, at long last, the season three premiere is almost upon us.

For those who can’t remember: season two ended on the mother of all cliffhangers, with Villanelle (Jodie Comer) leaving Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) for dead. Since then, the TV show has won countless awards, attracted critical acclaim around the world and been commissioned for two more seasons (details on Killing Eve season four are here). So something tells us that the dramatic final scene wasn’t the last we’re going to see of Eve.

While critics have been divided over the upcoming episodes, which premiere in the UK at 6am on Monday 13 April, we’re genuinely excited to see how Eve will pay Villanelle back for her treachery. Especially now we know that Oh’s character has, according to experts, bonafide psychopathic tendencies… just like her archnemesis.

Is Killing Eve’s Eve a psychopath, too?

Absolutely. As clinical psychologist Naomi Murphy, who works within the dangerous and severe personality disorder service at HMP Whitemoor, explains to Stylist: “Many may not realise it, but Eve displays many of the same attributes as Villanelle. She is narcissistic enough to believe that she alone can catch Comer’s character. She’s pretty ruthless and callous in the way she treats her partner. She lies. She bends rules out of a sense of superiority and being above the law…

“Essentially, Eve underlines an uncomfortable truth: we all have some degree of psychopathy, albeit Eve more so than the average person.” 

Fiona Shaw and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve
Fiona Shaw and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve.

Murphy adds: “Eve convinces herself that her own anti-social behaviour is justified because it’s all for a good cause. Villanelle, however, is more honest with herself – she is motivated presumably by money and the ‘sport’, but is aware of this and also knows that others would view her behaviour negatively.

“Eve, though, seems inclined to think that anyone would do what she is doing. So I guess the main difference between the two is that Villanelle prides herself on her sneakiness and the cunning.

“However, they both share pride as a motive for their more psychopathic behaviour – Villanelle is thoroughly hacked off when she misses out on work because the job has been assigned to someone else, and its pride in being good at her job that enables Eve to justify going to extremes.”

Is Killing Eve’s Villanelle an accurate portrayal of a psychopath?

It’s easy to assume that Killing Eve, as a dark comedy, has taken liberties with facts. That its portrayal of psychopathy would be riddled with misconceptions. That it would exaggerate certain qualities, for the sake of a few laughs.

Murphy, though, says this take on the show couldn’t be further from the truth.

“One of the reasons I like Killing Eve so much is that, despite Villanelle being a caricature, she is so much more well-rounded than ‘psychopathic’ characters are usually depicted,” says Murphy.

“No-one is all good or all bad, we are all a blend of attributes, and this show manages to make you like her and root for her, despite the fact Comer’s character is also capable of atrocious actions.

“I actually think it’s the most accurate depiction of psychopathy that I’ve seen on screen, and it’s because of the blend of attributes – usually attempts to portray psychopathy are lazy attempts at othering or displaying people who are monstrous and only monstrous.”

What can we learn from Killing Eve’s portrayal of psychopathy?

“Psychopathy doesn’t always have to be about posing a risk of violence,” notes Murphy, nodding to Oh’s Eve as evidence of this. “Many would argue that there are successful politicians and CEOs who thrive because of their psychopathic tendencies – driven to be at the top and capable of doing anything to stay there even if it means exploiting the vulnerability of others to get there and stay there.

“They use glib superficial charm to make false promises they have no intention of keeping, demonstrate little shame when caught out lying blatantly, show little compassion for others and are ultimately governed by a belief in the ‘survival of the fittest’.”

Going on to outline the most distinctive (and common) psychopathic traits, Murphy explains that there are three key attributes we should watch out for:

A barely-concealed fear of being hurt

Psychopaths tend to believe that others are looking to hurt them, so they feel a need to maintain an upper-hand and not reveal vulnerability, Otherwise, they fear they’ll be taken advantage of.

A lack of empathy

They also have the capacity to switch themselves off to the humanity in another when it appears functional for them. For example, they felt someone else displayed power over them and they need to get back to a position of having the upper hand.

A temper which blows cold rather than hot

“A psychopath’s anger is often a cold, calculated anger not always a hot, enraged anger,” says Murphy. “This can cause others to think their use of violence is instrumental, but often there is a perceived slight that precedes their use of violence.”

Murphy adds that Villanelle displays a series of more extreme psychopathic traits – including a glib, superficial charm, high self-regard, a superficial response to emotional situations, a lack of remorse or guilt – as well as being a pathological liar.

“I think her narcissism also means that she enjoys Eve’s obsession with her, as it feeds her sense of importance,” she adds, noting that Villanelle won’t be able to give up on her foe so easily, despite having left her for dead in season two.

We guess we will have to wait for the season three premiere of Killing Eve to find out for sure.

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The third season of Killing Eve will drop at 6am on Monday 13 April.

Images: BBC Three

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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