Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw walked so Killing Eve’s Villanelle could run. Sure, Bradshaw can be considered a predecessor to many of TV’s antiheroines — from Girls’ Hannah Horvath to Fleabag’s titular character — but stylistically, it’s Villanelle who is the heir to the Manolo Blahnik-designed throne. Villanelle doesn’t often wear heels, a fact I appreciate after sitting through one too many distractingly unrealistic action movies in which a woman runs up a flight of stairs and kicks the bad guy’s ass in five-inch stilettos. But she does have Bradshaw’s uncanny and somewhat maddening knack for pulling literally anything off. See: clown costume (Season 3), sexy pig stripper costume (Season 2), young boy’s pajamas (Season 2 for the win again!). Oh, and then there’s the pink tulle Molly Goddard dress from Season 1, aka the best tutu moment in TV history since Carrie’s in Season 6 of SATC.
Watching Season 3 of Killing Eve, which premiered April 12, I couldn’t help but wonder, Is Villanelle — the chicest killer-for-hire ever to grace our screens — the borderline absurdist response to the careerist, fashion-obsessed SATC protagonist?
The self-centered, egomaniacal impulses that made Carrie a successful writer — have you ever thought about the fact that she throws pretty much everyone she knows under the bus in her column for the sake of a good story? — are the same that make Villanelle a successful assassin, who literally throws people under the bus. This carefree attitude extends into their shared ability to make any random thing they throw on look good, as well as their refusal to make their style be just one thing. This season, even when she’s off the clock and thus out of her hilarious disguises, Villanelle continues to be a style chameleon, easily trading a floor-length floral gown from The Vampire’s Wife for a slouchy suit and brogues for that epic bus fight with Eve. Though Carrie lacked Villanelle’s flair for playing with gender expectations through her clothes, she, too, was known, especially in earlier seasons, for unceremoniously switching from a simple ribbed tank to a fresh-off-the-runway designer dress in a manner that felt revolutionary at the time.
It’s fun to get dressed when you don’t care what anyone thinks — even more so when you have the money to do that — something that Villanelle excels at. Paired with her willingness to do whatever it takes to get ahead, it makes for great television, because (psychopathic tendencies aside) don’t we all wish we could be just a little more like that?
The envy-inducing SATC ethos of working a glamorous job, sleeping with whomever you want, and dropping insane sums of money on shoes has been bastardized within an inch of its life, like a game of telephone gone wrong as microgeneration after microgeneration of ambitious young women gain access to the HBO classic. But for most of them, especially now that the economy is reeling and there’s a growing awareness of the evils of capitalism, that’s changing. Which brings us to 2020 — when, disillusioned with the state of the world, we look to a beautiful, stylish, charming assassin.
It says something about the times we’re living in that while Carrie made her Manolo money through taxable means, Villanelle is an outlaw. Though we’ll never understand how a single weekly column, no matter how popular, paid all of Bradshaw’s bills, that was part of the fantasy. These days, said fantasy is too fantastical to entertain, even on television. We all know freelance writers can’t afford solo apartments on the Upper East Side and closets overflowing with designer goods. Assassins, on the other hand? Well, that seems like a profession that could totally land you Villanelle’s series of gorgeous, vaguely historic bachelorette pads and a wardrobe that reads like a who’s who of up-and-coming designers. The fantasy of Villanelle’s lifestyle is at once more over-the-top and more financially realistic.
That’s why it’s more fun to watch, and that’s why Villanelle — a character very far removed from our reality — is ultimately a more harmless character than Carrie, even as we watch her bludgeon to death all who attempt to get in her way.
Before Killing Eve graced our screens, one might not have guessed that what a generation of women who almost floated away for good on the Champagne promises of SATC needed most was another blonde, tutu-wearing anti-heroine who cares more about clothes than people. Now that we have Villanelle, I can’t imagine it any other way.