To the meeting, Villanelle has brought a baby whose mother and nanny she’s just executed with a tuning fork — because this is Killing Eve. Villanelle treats the baby as a cute accessory. But when the child won’t stop fussing, Dasha picks her up, walks across the square, plops her in a rubbish bin and, without a backward glance, returns to the table and resumes the conversation.
This woman has no patience for warm and fuzzy maternal feelings or regrets about motherless children. A one-time champion gymnast, she’s focused and tough and has reflexes quick enough to rival those of her protegee.
In a different sort of drama, Dasha’s baby disposal might appear awfully callous: amid the cartoonish violence of this darkly comic espionage thriller, it’s perfect (spoiler alert: the baby doesn’t die).
Dasha also makes an ideal opposite for the wonderfully cryptic MI6 veteran Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw), former boss of former agent Eve (Sandra Oh). Played with crisp relish by Shaw, Carolyn has a colourful past that emerges in morsels, casual references to former lovers and wild times in bars in the backstreets of Berlin.
In the third episode, best of the season so far, Carolyn is conducting a business meeting from her bath as her embarrassed assistant assiduously averts his eyes. Carolyn simply explains that she gets her best ideas there. Generally unflappable, she is untroubled by others’ reactions to her: Carolyn always seems to know more than anyone around her. And while Villanelle is widely celebrated as flamboyantly fashion-forward, Carolyn’s wardrobe is a model of minimalist chic.
Like Ozark’s drug cartel lawyer, Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer), Dasha and Carolyn are good at what they do: experienced, proficient, ruthless. And even though Ozark (Netflix) is ostensibly about money-launderer Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), the female characters in the brooding crime thriller have emerged as a powerful force.
In addition to Helen, there’s Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery), who’s been magnetic since her introduction in the first season, politely serving tea on the porch to a guest before stabbing him the neck with a deadly dose of heroin. She’s a proud hillbilly and drug trafficker with her own warped honour code. She’s also a recent widow with a young lover and besotted by the baby that she’s blackmailed the Byrdes to obtain.
To this wild bunch of women, you could also add Marty’s once-estranged and formerly unfaithful wife, Wendy (Laura Linney), mother of their teenagers, who’s become his partner in crime and developed ambitions that can exceed his. Wendy has demonstrated that she can be as calculating and conniving as her husband and, when necessary, as merciless.
Also notable in this group is Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), central character in The Good Wife spin-off, The Good Fight (Stan, Amazon Prime). Unable to proceed with her planned retirement in Italy, she’s has grown into an elegantly attired totem of female rage.
During the second season of the legal drama, Diane started and then stopped micro-dosing psilocybin mushrooms to ease her pain at living in Trump’s America. The third season sees her joining a women’s underground resistance movement, taking up axe-throwing and being cautioned by her aikido teacher that she’s too aggressive in class. All the while, she maintains her position as a partner at a Chicago law firm and relaxes with her gun-loving Republican husband and crystal tumblers of whiskey.
These full-blooded and flawed female characters offer meaty roles for a range of talented actresses. Even when they’re not the leads, they’re supporting characters that add nuance and vitality to a production: Dasha and Carolyn appreciably flesh out a series that pivots on the crazy dance between Villanelle and Eve.
Happily, it seems that actresses reaching middle age no longer need to retreat to their knitting, or content themselves with playing doting grandmas.