Killing Eve & The Unruly Woman


In her introductory chapter Feminist Film Theory and the Question of Laughter [1],Kathleen Rowe introduces the idea of the unruly woman, and how laughter and violence in feminist film can be used as subversive tools of power. This clip from the series Killing Eve illustrates this concept. This scene shows the character Villanelle, an assassin and a psychopath, undergoing a psych evaluation from her team.

As she answers their questions she is blunt in her description of her murders, and clear in her enjoyment of her work. She is unaffected, even amused by the images of the dead that are shown to her to try and evoke some reaction. In fact, when she is shown the image of the dead dog, she pretends to be suddenly upset, playing with the expectations and stereotypes of a woman acting violently; Has the image tapped into hidden emotion, has it reminded her of some terrible loss or hint at a tragic backstory? No. It is just Villanelle making fun of the men who expect her to be suffering some kind of emotional trauma. As Rowe discusses, there is a continuing fascination with “women and madness”, and how women’s anger, and by association violence, usually appears on screen as insanity or perversity. Here, the show provides a counterexample.

Rowe concludes that women use spectacle to disrupt men’s power and lay claim to their own. She suggests that women should take “the unruly woman as a model – woman as rule-breaker, joke-maker, and public, bodily spectacle.” In the show, Villanelle fits all of these titles. She is violent, unemotional and insensitive, making jokes whenever she feels like it and laughing at the men who assume she is struggling. There is no sense of the internal suffering we would expect from a female character in a drama. Instead, The show’s approach to Villanelle leans more towards comedy, with Rowe suggesting there is a link between laughter and aggression since both come from the unconscious and both are a taboo for women. Villanelle, as shown in this clip, participates in both frequently. She has many comedic moments because she allows herself to be an “unruly woman”; she is a spectacle because she is good at it and she enjoys it.


[1] Kathleen Rowe, “Feminist Film Theory and the Question of Laughter,” The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter (Austin: Texas, 1995), 1-22.


  1. Great example. I believe it is especially relevant because Villanelle is portrayed so clearly as an unruly woman, as opposed to just an unruly person. He is dressed in pink as opposed to the men’s darker garbs, speaks about her period, and also compliments a man’s legs.

  2. I love this example! I think it would be interesting to analyse Sandra Oh’s Eve Polastri alongside this, perhaps it is one of the main reasons why Eve is so attracted to Villanelle as she sees a reflection of her own unruliness. Eve’s obsession with tracking down Villanelle is seen as almost unhealthy and masochistic by the people around her, but she laughs in their faces because they don’t understand the unique bond between them.

  3. I really enjoy how you use Villanelle as a counter example to the response that most women evoke. I think that she is trying to show those around her that she can’t be touched, yet she can evoke a traumatizing experience in someone else. I think that her lean towards being slightly comedic helps the show to get over harder topics by showing her outlook on everything.

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