The philosophy of… Fleabag and Killing Eve

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s presentation of feminism is sensational, both Fleabag and Killing Eve are sophisticated works of art. They’re funny, emotional and moving. But they also dissolve stigma around sexual liberation. The presentation of female sexuality and agency in both Killing Eve and Fleabag is a welcome breath of fresh air. Debunking myths surrounding sexuality and sex through television makes it accessible, and it’s much needed.  The sexual liberation that both Villanelle and Eve have in Killing Eve is exciting to witness; the love-hate relationship was presented well on screen.

Waller Bridge’s portrayal as the eponymous protagonist in Fleabag is thrilling. We love to hate her, but we love to love her too. She’s a dysfunctional chaotic mess – and she’s on screen again with a second series. Although the majority of the Fleabag’s life is laid out for the audience to see, especially with her breaking the fourth wall in most scenes, we never find out her name. Does she have one? Or is she simply known as ‘Fleabag’? It’s a frustrating element to the show, she’s only ever referred to as ‘you’, ‘her’ or ‘she’. This decision was a purposeful one in Waller-Bridge’s creation. Her nickname emphasises her characteristics – her sarcastic humour, her regularly inappropriate behaviour, her strong sexuality – and acts as a negative judgement about her behaviour. When looking at the show through a feminist lens, the lack of a real name could portray that women in society are often given a lack of identity. That women who are expressive of their sexuality are often labelled with names such as ‘whore’ or ‘slut’, but in this series case, she is deemed a ‘fleabag’.

The identity that both Fleabag and Villanelle are presented with initially is chipped away at throughout their respective shows. Like Fleabag, Villanelle is given a name. The character of Eve Polastri, an MI5 officer gives the assassin her name after she receives some perfume from her. We find out later that Villanelle’s real name is Oksana. And with this, we gain a new sense of vulnerability about the character. We learn about her past, what turned her into the skilled killer that she is now. The obsession that Villanelle develops over Eve is no surprise; assassins must track and become fixated with their assignments, however the obsession develops into an infatuation. What is surprising is that the obsession is reciprocated by Eve. In the last episode of the series, Eve is clearly emotional when entering Villanelle’s apartment. This could be because this is the truest and most vulnerable representation of Villanelle that she gains.

Killing Eve is a very erotic show. The assassin is sociopathic, sexual, and (for the most part) cold-hearted. The show is aesthetically flawless. Exotic locations, designer clothes and fabulous perfume. It’s easy to become absorbed into the fictional world created by Waller-Bridge. Villanelle oozes femininity and sexuality. But this is also combined with aggression and strength, creating an image of a women rebelling against patriarchal oppression.

It is refreshing to watch a series with this representation of women and sexuality. Not everyone sticks to the binaries that society places upon us. Although the show could be accused of queerbaiting, Eve’s sexual identity has never been explicit, and she has not engaged in a physical relationship with Villanelle – perhaps she never will. However, it is clear that their relationship is full of lust. The second series will hopefully build on their relationship and explore it further, I’m sure in surprising and perhaps revolutionary ways.

Both Fleabag and Killing Eve are shows that are unlike anything you may have ever seen before. Hopefully both of their second series will further debunk the restrictions that patriarchal society has placed upon television and the representation of queer and female sexuality. We should all be very excited for what is to come.

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Jess Barrett

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January 2022
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