Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Killing Eve’ and ‘The Pain of Others’

“Killing Eve” (Amazon, Apple)

“Killing Eve” manages the impossible by feeling fresh without actually doing much radical to the genre it inhabits, espionage. At least not much obviously radical — it’s the subtleties that do that work. This is the story of a woman operative for MI5 who feels she never gets her due and finds an opportunity following her obsession with a female assassin she starts to track. Aside from the innovation of focusing the story on two women — and certainly in this genre, that is an innovation — on paper, it doesn’t veer too far away from tropes of the genre. But that doesn’t mean its not a dynamic and special work.

Playing the operative is Sandra Oh, who gives an amusing, touching performance that through vocal delivery, facial expression and body language delivers the intricacies of a person who has to second-guess her own confidence but is learning to go with her instincts and to assert them.

The assassin is played by Jodie Comer, a damaged psychopath whose killing career seems as much an opportunity for her to seize order in the world as anything else. The two playing opposite sides of the same coin — women trying to get their due within their respective fields — mesh well together, balancing out the episodes with excitement and intrigue, and also some great human comedy.

“Killing Eve” doesn’t announce itself as a feminist show, instead, it does the hard work of just being a feminist show. It allows its women cast, who dominate the show, to unfold as fully formed characters and not just types. By creating this fullness in depiction, it doesn’t just validate the involvement of the women, it creates a superior, engaging production that offers thrills and hilarity and compassion all in the context of spy versus spy.

And in the end, none of this really matters, because the succinct truth is that if you watch it, you will probably love it on its own terms, without thinking about any of this.

“The Pain of Others” (Fandor)

Director Penny Lane compiles a documentary about sufferers of the mysterious Morgellons Disease almost entirely through YouTube clips and by doing so creates a mesmerizing portrait of how technology creates communities while also isolating those in the community from the larger world.

Morgellons is a disputed disease in which the stricken claim to have sores all over their bodies purportedly caused by parasites, which create crawling sensations under their skin. The sores are accompanied by a fibrous material that can be pulled from the skin.

Lane doesn’t offer any commentary on the disease either pro or con but instead allows the clips to speak for themselves. Presenting several YouTubers with large subscriber numbers, the monologues by the women are extremely sincere and it’s hard not to have sympathy for their suffering. The problem is that while the anguish is real, as the film progresses you will probably find yourself at odds with the sufferers as they begin to investigate and explain the source of their anguish, with DIY research veering into conspiracy theories and crackpot medicinal solution, as well as wholly speculative theories about the nuts and bolts of their disease.

But what seems to interest Lane the most isn’t so much the disease as what the belief in the disease has created. There’s a community that has sprung up around these videos, but it’s one that has been created by being at odds with other people who don’t believe the disease is as sufferers present it. As such it becomes a fascinating feedback loop and technology plays into a form of personal obsessiveness that sits silently as the real disease afflicting these people.

As you watch the separate reality take tangible form in their videos, it’s not hard to apply the dynamic to almost anything that exists online, isolated and intense, harmless and dangerous. The promise of a digital reality hasn’t brought a wide openness between all of humanity, a fluid exchange of ideas, but instead a collection of self-imposed leper colonies built around beliefs. There’s hardly any need for cults anymore since they are so easy to access online.

Originally published at

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