Killing Eve is a thrilling version of Carmen Sandiego for adults

Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Acquired via AMC Networks Press Center site.
Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Acquired via AMC Networks Press Center site. /

Did you love Carmen Sandiego as a kid? Does globetrotting mystery intrigue you? Then Killing Eve is your next TV obsession. Note: This article is spoiler-free.

The bare bones plot of BBC America’s hit series Killing Eve can be boiled down into one simple sentence: Where in the world is Villanelle?

If that tagline sounds familiar to you, it’s quite probable that you’re a child of the 80’s or 90’s. Released in1985, the original version of computer game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? hit shelves and ignited a worldwide phenomenon. Adults and kids of all ages scrambled to find the titular villain – a brilliant mastermind thief – as she absconded with her treasure all over the globe. Along the way, players were prompted to apprehend other criminals within Carmen’s ring of merry bandits, but the ultimate goal was to nab the ringleader by her stylish red collar and bring her to justice. Over the years, the game spawned sequels, board games, and even a game show with a rockin’ theme song.

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As a young girl working her way through the game, Carmen Sandiego always intrigued me. In the early 90’s, us ladies had few villainous counterparts in the pop-culture zeitgeist. Mostly they popped up in Disney movies, in magical situations that had little to no basis in the real world. Carmen was the first female baddie that translated to the life I knew. And I wondered things about her. How did she become a thief? Where did she live for real? Why was her matching coat and hat combo so effortlessly stylish?

Much like Carmen Sandiego, Killing Eve tracks the hunt for a ruthless female mastermind. Only instead of a skilled thief, the search focuses on a female assassin named Villanelle. Played with cheeky aplomb by Jodie Comer, Villanelle is a highly dangerous murder machine with a vivacious and darkly comedic personality. Her calculated and attention-seeking behaviors quickly capture the eye of a sharp MI5 detective named Eve Polastri (Golden Globe winner Sandra Oh) who soon becomes obsessed with catching her.

Problem is that Villanelle’s work takes her all over the world. She has a home base in her super chic Paris apartment (all you need to know is that she has a fridge full of nothing but champagne), but other than brief respites there as she waits for her next job, she’s constantly on the move. Obviously this makes her difficult to pin down. Sound familiar? (Do it, Rockapella!)

Killing Eve and Carmen Sandiego
Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri – Killing Eve _ Season 2, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Aimee Spinks/BBCAmerica. Acquired via AMC Networks Press Center site. /

But Eve is up for the challenge. And as the two women begin to engage in an increasingly dangerous cat-and-mouse game, the episodes pinball around the globe, following the ladies as they touch down in various locations including cities in France, England, Italy, Russia, and Germany.

While the comparisons between Carmen and Villanelle – and Eve and any given player of the original Carmen Sandiego game – are apt, Killing Eve goes far beyond a simple hunt for a criminal. Whereas the game didn’t delve into the motivations and inner life of its subject, Killing Eve gives us the full, unadulterated picture.

It certainly makes sense that a game aimed at helping kids learn about geography wouldn’t bother to detail the nitty gritty of a life of crime, but as a tween working her way through the levels, I yearned to know more about the enigmatic woman behind that pixelated Mona Lisa smile. After watching Killing Eve, I finally have some psychic relief as I can now retroactively attempt to fill in the blanks. For someone who lives a life powered on illicit thrills and risky behaviors, I imagine Ms. Sandiego getting involved in shady back alley deals, sleeping with the wrong people, and just generally engaging in self-assured debauchery. Or maybe she’s a devoted mom of three who collects art and moonlights as a secret agent? Or – as imagined by the new Netflix series – might she be a Latina Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to the poor? The possibilities are endless, and that delights me.

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What’s so miraculous about Killing Eve is exactly what was missing from Carmen Sandiego – a careful fascination with psychological detail. The series certainly delights in jet setting around the world, but at its heart, it’s not seeking vengeance or justice; it’s seeking to explore universal (and often thorny) truths about women and relationships. These pursuits are certainly messier than the simple open-and-shut cases presented by the Carmen Sandiego games, but they’re far more important than learning what the capital of Belarus is. (Okay, it’s Minsk.)

In its second season, Killing Eve is set to traverse more of the physical world, but it will most certainly go deeper on the female psyche as well. It’s a one-two punch that will prove irresistible to anyone who’s interested in watching complicated women wrestle with complex issues in gorgeous clothes and iconic locations. The real question is, where in the world has this show been all our lives?

Killing Eve airs Sundays at 8/7c on AMC.