By Harvey Blume
It’s as if critics of silent films were barred from discussing talkies, or devotees of black and white were banned from discussing color.
There’s a dichotomy that rarely gets discussed, though it should be, and, to my mind, thereafter be dissolved
Let me get at it by referring to Killing Eve (BBCAmerica) — as one of the best, if not the best things I’ve seen this year. It’s compelling, funny, subtle, and includes a face-off between Eve (a splendid Sandra Oh, miles beyond her portrayal of the impeccable but not necessarily sympathetic surgeon she played for ten seasons on Grey’s Anatomy) and the female assassin, code name Villanelle, portrayed by Jodie Comer.
Their face-off in Eve’s bathroom and kitchen is as riveting, to my mind, as — I know I am saying a lot here — the justly famed coffeehouse face-off between De Niro and Pacino in Heat.
It’s true that after episode four the show seems to lose its mind. But that’s true of so many series, television or streaming. It even applies to mystery novels, which often lapse into one massive conspiracy versus another, sparing nothing and no one. There is something worse than an ordinary failure of imagination here, in grasping at conspiracy as default, a way of supposedly satisfying everybody, and of avoiding the strictures of anything like a continuous plot or convincing plot.
Killing Eve has a credible plot, until it doesn’t. The second season is in the works now and I’m not sure how it will revive the plausibility of season one.
Another show that gave me pleasure is Godless (Netflix). Yes, there is that colossal shootout at the end. But it is distinguished by women taking the high ground, all sorts of them, most of whom have never held a gun, and shooting down to defend themselves.
Jeff Daniels is the bad guy lead with a curious psychological past.
Yes, I know, Godless and Killing Eve are not movies that play first of all in theaters. They are made for streaming. There is some sort of division that is supposed to obtain between any kind of small tube/streaming and big screen/big deal films. Take the New Yorker, for example: Emily Nussbaum (small screen) and Anthony Lane (film) rarely cross into each other’s territory. That division is archaic, it seems to me. It’s as if critics of silent films were barred from discussing talkies, or devotees of black and white were banned from discussing color.
I don’t think this rickety opposition between film and video will last too much longer. If it does, something is seriously amiss. But in the end media creativity, not fusty critical reputations, will win. It always has. My point here is not, as so many have noted, that the talent has moved from Hollywood to cable and streaming media, though that should weigh in as well.
Harvey Blume is an author—Ota Benga: The Pygmy At The Zoo—who has published essays, reviews, and interviews widely, in The New York Times, Boston Globe, Agni, The American Prospect, and The Forward, among other venues. His blog in progress, which will archive that material and be a platform for new, is here. He contributes regularly to The Arts Fuse, and wants to help it continue to grow into a critical voice to be reckoned with.