When I first started looking at the definition of a diagnosable “narcissist” vs. someone who is simply being a narcissist, I started thinking a lot about the amazing Killing Eve, created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and based on the “Villanelle” book series. If you haven’t seen it, you should put your phone down and go watch (it’s available on Hulu).
The show tells the story of Eve Polastri (played by Sandra Oh), a British spy, who is tasked with leading a secret mission to hunt down a prolific killer who has been taking out a series of very powerful people in some very unique ways.
The killer is Villanelle (played by Jodie Comer), who takes a liking to Eve Polastri early on and feels there is some kind of connection. As Eve becomes more entangled in the mystery, she comes to feel an inexplicable connection to Villanelle as well. The deeper she gets, the more the question becomes is Eve a psychopath like Villanelle?
The whole show is debating whether or not Eve is a psychopath, and those lines become blurred when you realize how much that diagnosis overlaps with other diagnoses. According to Brittannica.com, psychopaths are born while sociopaths are made. There is evidence to suggest that a psychopath’s brain is physically different, whereas that’s not the case for sociopaths. They both lack the ability to empathize, can mimic emotional responses, and lack empathy, but a sociopath have a moral conscious (even if it’s incredibly small/low-key). A narcissist also lacks empathy, but they don’t need to mimic emotional responses to fit in. Instead, they simply ignore the damage they do to others on the path to their goals.
For this breakdown, I wanted to look at Season 2, Episode 8 (the finale), “You’re Mine”. Season 2, creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge left. She stayed on as executive producer and tapping long-time friend Emerald Fennell (who wrote and directed the recently released Promising Young Woman and starred in seasons 3 and 4 of The Crown with Camilla Parker-Bowles). The different voice at the helm is definitely noticed, however it is also more fitting with the journey of the season, and really diving into the fine line between narcissists and psychopaths.
Protagonist: Eve Polastri
Want (for the episode): To safely get out of town
Need (for the episode): To find the line between narcissism and psychopath
Extra-Personal: The Twelve (represented by Raymond), British Intelligence (represented by Carolyn)
What you need to know for the episode: Villanelle is working with Eve and Carolyn to go undercover on a trip with the suspect, Aaron, and if she feels unsafe she is to use the word “gentleman”. Eve is running surveillance of Villanelle along with Hugo (who she just slept with as a way to let her hair down) and has been told by Carolyn that Villanelle is not to kill Aaron.
Set Up/Pre-Existing Life: Villanelle slips into Aaron’s private room and finds videos of him recording her when she’s alone and also murdering someone. Eve gets to work the morning after sleeping with Hugo and is dismissive of him.
Inciting Incident: Villanelle uses the safe word as Eve is watching. She jumps up to deal with it and hears gunshots in the hallway (just after Hugo left the room). She hides under the bed just as the gunman breaks through the door. He gets a call and leaves before he can find her.
Plot Push/First Act Decision: Eve finds Hugo bleeding out in the hall. Instead of stay with him (as he begs her), she goes down to the front desk to leave a note. An accomplice of the gunman comes in and asks her out, causing her to pocket the note before heading out, disguised as a maid.
Midpoint: Eve bursts in on Villanelle and Aaron, and Villanelle drops her cover. Aaron realizes Villanelle is an assassin and asks her to join him and he’ll give her whatever she wants. To prove herself to him, he tells her to kill Eve and let him watch. Villanelle slices Aaron’s neck in front of a mirror so Aaron can watch. Eve is in shock, so Villanelle takes control as they head out of the house.
Reversal: Eve and Villanelle make a plan. Villanelle will steal a car while Eve gets her things and they’ll meet at the hotel. When Eve gets to the hotel, everything is gone (including Hugo) and she panics that The Twelve came in and got everything. Carolyn arrives and reveals she cleaned up the mess and she’s (surprisingly) not upset that Villanelle killed Aaron. Eve realizes that Carolyn wanted it to happen and she’d been played. Carolyn can only help her if she gives up Villanelle. At the same time, Villanelle’s handler, Konstantin, hunts her down and tells her he can help her if she gives up Eve. Both women reject the offers of their handlers.
False Climax/Low Point: When Eve takes too long, Villanelle heads into the hotel (with a gun in her back pocket) and runs into her former handler, Raymond (who still works for The Twelve and hates her). He has an axe and he’s ready for a fight. He knows Eve is in one of the rooms and threatens to kill her so Villanelle fights him. Eve comes out to find Raymond choking the life out of Villanelle. At Villanelle’s urging, Eve slams the axe into Raymond’s back. It releases Villanelle but it doesn’t kill him. Villanelle keeps pressuring Eve until she hits Raymond again, killing Raymond and thrilling Villanelle.
Plot Push/Third Act Decision: Villanelle and Eve leave together but Eve is dealing with PTSD so Villanelle takes the lead. She guides them away from other henchmen and into a secret underground pathways. They seem lost but Eve sees light and finds a boarded up way out. She channels her rage to rip apart the exit. Outside, Villanelle is planning their future and dreaming of how she’ll take care of Eve as they run away together. She’s so proud of Eve killing Raymond. And then Eve sees Villanelle has a gun and could’ve killed Raymond herself all along.
Climax: Eve accuses Villanelle of manipulating her so they can be together and Eve doesn’t want to run away with Villanelle. Villanelle screams “You’re mine!”, but Eve rejects her again. Villanelle shoots Eve and appears to leave her for dead.
The climax of this episode wasn’t just the resolution to Eve’s “need” for this episode, but really the whole season. The end of season one, Eve thinks she killed Villanelle but she’s not sure and quickly realizes she was wrong. That realization meant she wasn’t a psychopath/murderer and that she could make up for her transgression. Then season two spends the whole season exploring these two battling ends of the moral compass (or lack their of).
The tricky thing about having shows that center on someone with a diagnosable issue (like Villanelle) is that the show is going to want to turn it into a creative arc. I feel like I’ve said on this blog before that you “can’t arc crazy” and I stand by that. Audiences love crazy characters, but they’re often side characters so there’s no need for them to change over the course of the film or show. Look at shows like UnReal and Mr. Robot. Both are excellent shows that were well-received (and I personally really enjoyed them both). If you look at the reviews though, you’ll notice they start to slip the more the medical issues of the protagonists (played by Shiri Appleby and Rami Malek, respectively) are delved into, the more the reviews start to throw hits. These shows aren’t necessarily written by psychologists and they’re often not written by people who know how to diagnose the issue.
Lost was a cultural phenomenon that premiered without a plan for the end and when they had to solve all the mysteries, people were disappointed. I actually enjoyed the series fin ale, but I wasn’t a diehard fan of the show throughout. UnReal and Mr. Robot, even though we’re talking about character, hit a similar snag. And they felt they had to diagnose their protagonists when they could have just left it ambiguous. Fans might feel jipped by Lost, but if you were diagnosed with the same issues as the protagonists in UnReal or Mr. Robot, you might actually feel insulted.
Instead of trying to diagnose anyone (as far as I can tell, because I still have four episodes left) in Killing Eve, the show focuses instead on Eve and the question of whether she’s simply lacking empathy or if she is a killer. This episode sets the record straight. We see that she’s willing to give up Hugo after using him for her own enjoyment the night before, which means she’s definitely a narcissist, but when forced to choose with Villanelle she chooses to walk away. This shows how far Eve will go. It’s interesting and nuanced, and takes the “serial killer on TV” genre to a whole new level.
I loved looking at “narcissists” in a way. Blogging is weird, because you’re basically talking “at” people, but I’m so fascinated by delving into screenwriting more deeply and discussing it with other people. If you have any thoughts on narcissism vs. selfishness vs. a full blown killer, I would LOVE to hear it. So please leave in the comments below!
Next week, I’ll tell you guys the next month-long topic and I am insanely excited for it! Until then…