Too Close, Too Compromised: “Killing Eve” and the Promise of Sandra Oh

By Summer Kim LeeDecember 4, 2018

Too Close, Too Compromised: “Killing Eve” and the Promise of Sandra Oh
Throughout my time as a graduate student, I binge-watched Shonda Rhimes’s first television show and medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy. However, I was not binge-watching the entirety of the show, but only the first ten seasons — more than once. In those 220 episodes that aired from 2005-2014, actress Sandra Oh played the toughened, irreverent, yet fiercely loved and loving cardiothoracic surgeon Cristina Yang. What happened was this: when I reached Cristina’s last episode, at the end of the tenth season, I would stop and replay the whole series again from the beginning. This viewing cycle carried me through bed bugs in Brooklyn, a break-up, and a dissertation.

When people found out I did this, and were rude enough to ask why, I always told them that Cristina Yang was my last attachment to representation. Put another way, Sandra Oh as Cristina Yang was my last attachment to the political promise of representation, and to the pleasures that representation offers: she gave me an image of myself that I actually liked. She was the one Asian American woman character in popular culture at the time that I overidentified with, aspired to be, and unabashedly loved. To say she was my last attachment was my defensive, witty retort, but I was not lying. As Cristina, Oh was the figure through which I could imagine that a representational politics devoted to diversity can be transformative, and not only that, but feel good. Within representational politics, the production of multiple and nuanced roles, narratives, and images depicting minority difference are necessary to combat phobic discrimination and violence. Oh enabled me to hold onto this promise of representation, or rather, she enabled this promise to keep ahold of me, right when I was trying to figure out how to get away from it.

As I had told the unduly judgmental (duly concerned) people around me, Cristina was my last attachment. I said this because during graduate school, I remained preoccupied with the problem of representation and how to write about it, especially when cogent critiques were being made to move past it. In that moment, critics and scholars were addressing the inadequacies of a politics oriented around representation that could be dismissed as identitarian, as too individualistic, insular, and at times apolitical. Scholars such as Jodi MelamedRoderick A. FergusonSara Ahmed, and Kara Keelingamong others have crucially written about the liberal incorporation of minority difference by way of its representation in institutional life but also in popular media, literature, and visual culture. Inclusion within these spaces and contexts in the name of multiculturalism’s celebrations of difference obscure the structural, material inequalities that produce and maintain minority difference in the first place.

Indeed, in the contemporary moment, representations of minority difference have become marketable. They make for a good image, good business, and good branding. Representation, in this mode, becomes the compromised object of one’s political desires. But it also becomes the object of critics and scholars’ reading and viewing practices, straining to be over and beyond it, to see it as a shallow obstruction, a liberal front, and a distraction that gets in the way of more urgent, important issues at hand. Furthermore, these representations run the risk of becoming prescriptive at the same time that they are plentiful, and can become subject to reductive modes of critique, wherein representations are evaluated according to whether or not they are good or bad, positive or negative, authentic, or inauthentic, progress or a problem — as if such categories are every fully knowable in the first place.

In light of this, I wrestled with how to be properly rigorous in my critiques of representation and a politics around it, now cast as something to be suspicious of and something to leave behind. I struggled with how to acknowledge that diverse characters and stories matter to minority audiences, clearly myself included, who feel excluded and not seen, but without giving in to the idea that one’s political goals should always focus on or end with visibility and the inclusion and normalization of one’s image. I wanted to articulate the trap of visibility a representational politics creates that would have us believe it can be a liberatory site, when we know it cannot give us those things and in some cases is a hindrance to them.

My graduate work was about the contemporary women of color feminist performance practice of detaching oneself from visibility and representation, and yet here I was, attached to Cristina, holding onto to how Oh portrayed Cristina as a power-hungry, ruthless surgeon at the same time that she was a loyal friend to Meredith (the true romance of the show as any Grey’s fan will tell you) and a vulnerable girlfriend, fiancé, and wife to men who did not deserve her (Owen was hands down the worst – any Grey’s fan will also tell you). I could not let go of Cristina even while my academic work and the prevailing critical discourse on contemporary representations of minority difference were doing everything possible to do so, to turn away from such an investment in a character, which, as I have been saying, felt good.

When I talk about a “good” representation, I do not mean a representation that is morally good. I do not mean to say that Cristina’s character delivered a respectable, dignified representation of an Asian American woman contributing to a larger, positive, public perception of Asian Americans in popular culture. What I am describing is not for a greater good, for the good of a larger demographic, group, or community. What I am talking about is in fact smaller, and more selfish and personal; I am talking about a representation that feels good just to and for me, one that I hold dear and close.

By no means can I claim to be the only Oh fan, or the best one for that matter. But what I am trying to get at is a particular kind of relation to representation that does not have to be in service to or part of a larger political goal, narrative, or endpoint. I have trouble with the notion that good representations must always have a public life, that good representations’ political significance must always depend on their positive impact upon entering and participating within social worlds and the communities moving through them. Therefore, I am thinking about how Oh’s performances as Cristina in Grey’s, and more recently this past spring as Eve Polastri, the titular character of the BBC America television show Killing Eve, push me to articulate this particular kind of relation to representation that has been nagging at me for so long. This relation is unmoored from the political desires for inclusion and normalization within something greater, and instead remains private, close, and intimately entangled with the ways we desire to get closer to what and who we love, without having to compulsively share it so that it might have a public, properly useful political shelf life. What I am describing as “good” is that which I imagine to feel good just to me, even if and when I know I am not alone in this good feeling.


In Killing Eve, MI6 agent Carolyn Martens, played by a marvelously dry Fiona Shaw, finds out that Eve, a fellow agent, has been independently collecting information on a series of murders she believes to have all been committed by the same female assassin. When Agent Martens asks why, Eve self-consciously explains, “I was just interested in what makes a per — I mean woman — able to… you know what? I’m just a fan.” After Agent Martens pushes Eve further on her theory, Eve continues, “She doesn’t have a signature but she certainly has style and I don’t know who or what is behind her but I don’t think she’s slowing down and that just interested me, I guess.” Eve’s fandom and self-effaced “interest” in women who kill leads Agent Martens to assign her the task of identifying and finding the woman behind all of these stylish kills: a charming, multilingual, well-dressed psychopath assassin, played by Jodie Comer, who goes by the name of Villanelle.

Throughout the show’s first season, the obsessive back-and-forth chase between Eve and Villanelle offers a twist on what showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge calls the  “espionage love” undergirding the spy thriller genre. While in recent television, the genre traffics in the homosocial desire between men, as seen for instance in Hannibal (2013-2015), or in the violence and perversion of heterosexual desire between a man and a woman, such as in The Fall (2013-2016), Killing Eve, based on a novella series by Luke Jennings, recasts the genre with two women in its leading roles. Discussion and reviews of the show have focused on how it has exposed the workings of the genre through gender, and specifically through the feminization of a coupled dynamic that otherwise is “implicitly masculine.” Jia Tolentino writes, “the show is about the iteration of a recognizable pattern, its pleasures emerging in the internal twists.” Part of the show’s allure lies not in its ability to radically transform the spy thriller, but rather to, in its gendered recasting, show the queer eroticism embedded within the relation between assassin and spy, or between killer and detective, upon which the genre’s entertainment, pleasure, and recognizability hinges.

Given this, Eve’s fandom becomes an infatuation, an admiration, and a crush, all of which Villanelle reciprocates. Eve’s fixation at times concretely and at other times more vaguely takes the shape of a queer desire that Villanelle also shares and manipulates through flirtatiously terrifying threats. Throughout the first season, Villanelle leaves Eve a handwritten note calling her “baby” (which Eve returns in kind) along with gifts of tasteful clothes and luxurious perfume; she breaks into Eve’s home, only to ask if Eve will have dinner with her. Through Oh’s distracted yet self-conscious gestures such as playing with her hair, which she knows Villanelle likes (the first words Villanelle says to her in their strange meet-cute are “wear it down”), through her concentrated expressions of fascination, fear, and rage, Oh conveys Eve’s “interest” in Villanelle’s “style.” Yet this interest renders indistinguishable the very style of Eve’s queer desire, the kind of attachment she has, or that has her, and the way in which she likes women — this woman in particular. At the risk of sounding like a gay cliché, this brings to mind a performance piece I saw this past summer at Cherry Grove on Fire Island. In her solo work, ALBUM, artist Mariana Valencia sings of interest’s indistinction, calling it “The Lesbian Dilemma.” To a beach full of queers, Valencia mused, “Do I wanna be with you? Or do I wanna be you?” With that I ask, does Eve want to be withVillanelle, or does Eve want to be Villanelle, or both?

While Eve’s interest makes her the right agent for the job, this same interest is what also makes her a liability, as someone with an inability to separate personal identification and desire from an impersonal job. Her ruthless dedication and persistence as an agent in pursuit are questionable: it becomes unclear whether or not she is doing this for the right reasons, whether or not she is loyal to MI6’s mission, or instead a compromised, reckless agent in the field. Eve’s intentions and unclear motives on the edges of queer desire form her refusal to see the bigger picture of the case she has been assigned. Throughout the season, her coworker and friend, Bill (David Haig), as well as Agent Martens, must remind her of this. They must tell her repeatedly that the point of finding Villanelle is to find who is giving out the orders she follows, who we later come to learn is an all-reaching organization called The Twelve.

Eve’s focus on Villanelle potentially clouds her judgment and jeopardizes the investigation, as well as the safety of Eve’s assembled team of agents, in ways that become fatal. Her focus on Villanelle is too shortsighted, off-track, and beside the point. Eve’s statement that she is “just a fan,” points out that she is precisely more than that: she is too close and wants to get even closer. Eve sees herself in the way Villanelle desires both women and violence, the ways she pursues and acts on both. Eve sees how she could be and who she could be with, how her life could be and feel better, through someone she is not supposed to like, through someone she is not supposed to sympathize with, let alone have sex with, or even kill. After Eve realizes that she is the only person who can identify Villanelle, in the opening scene to the third episode, she gives a detailed description of Villanelle while dreamily staring off in the distance, stating wistfully, “she had very delicate features,” and “a lost look in her eye.” When she finishes speaking, the camera pans to another agent trying to map out Villanelle’s face with a computer program, who must dispel all sexual tension by asking for clarification about the shape of Villanelle’s face. The camera then cuts to Bill, who raises his eyebrows in amusement as he sits across from Eve in what turns out to be an interrogation room. Eve’s description is that of a crush seen in a fleeting moment, at the same time that it is a criminal profile. Eve’s ability to identify Villanelle becomes Eve’s desire to identify with Villanelle. This overlap stages the dilemma of desire that Eve cannot herself figure out even though those around her clearly have.

Eve is not alone in this dilemma. As I watch Killing Eve — as I specifically watch Eve — I am captivated and drawn in. Much like my feelings about Cristina, much like Eve’s feelings toward Villanelle, I could not tell the “style” of my own interest, where my desire was directed and for what purpose. I started thinking about how Eve’s fandom reflects mine for Oh: one where representation, identification, and desire get messy and weird with each other, and with me. Another Eve gives me the language for this. As queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick writes, “After all, to identify as must always include multiple processes of identification with.” This problematic confronts heterosexuality’s constructed logic and its reliance on the shaky notion that an identification as and with someone could be separate from a desire for someone. Eve is then not alone in the queerest of dilemmas, which I too share.

What I am trying to say is that Oh’s portrayal of Eve — an Asian American woman, who, if not outright queer, then certainly not straight — feels good to me as a queer Asian American women. You probably rolled your eyes as you read that, and trust me, so did I, as I remain stuck in the dilemma of how to describe my identification as/with Eve, as/with Cristina, as/with Oh as one that lends critical legitimacy to all the good feelings I have about her. The return of Oh brings me to write about this representation and this pesky feeling, rather than to pull back from it as I am wont to do, for reasons precisely having to do with how I am now in the position of having to identify myself in ways that unavoidably and embarrassingly slot me into narratives of coming out and the cohesive categories of racial, gender, and sexual identity at which such narratives are said to arrive.

These feelings, and my own questionable intentions behind them, sit in that maddening area between wanting to be someone and wanting to be with someone, between identifying with someone and identifying as someone, all of which speaks not to a queer identity, but certainly to a reading practice born out of a queer desire. Here I process my Oh fandom, I air out this obsession at the same time that I let myself get closer, at the risk of being dismissed as transparent and merely identitarian in my critiques. I interrogate but also indulge in the annoyingly pleasant feelings that Eve and Cristina give me that ostensibly ticks off all the boxes, giving me representations of an Asian American woman I have always dreamed of seeing, specifically enacted by Oh, just to and for myself, in ways that compromise my work as a critic and scholar.


When re-watching Grey’s, the moments that stick out to me the most are those when Cristina surprises and infuriates herself by suddenly bursting into unstoppable, uncontrollable tears. In these scenes, Oh’s composure as Cristina, the confidence with which she struts down a hospital hallway or charges through the doors of an operation room in her scrubs, beeping pager in hand, completely dissolves and caves into a mess that begrudgingly admits to needing love, care, and the company of others. Oh made Cristina a combustible figure that at any moment could humorously yet heartbreakingly collapse and fall apart.

In one of my favorite scenes, Cristina triumphs over the fact that she was right about a patient’s diagnosis, one she stubbornly pursued while herself a patient in the hospital recovering from an emergency surgery. Standing there in her hospital gown and a robe, holding her IV fluids, she repeatedly asserts, “I was right, I was right, I was right,” before giving way to such violent crying that when asked for what she needs, she flinches from everyone’s touch and screams, “SOMEBODY SEDATE ME!” Oh’s face displays disbelief and annoyance that this is happening, that anything or anyone could get so close, under her skin. Her character, although at times flirting with the stereotypes of the high-achieving, self-sufficient model minority, or as the inscrutable, cut-throat dragon lady, nevertheless has moments where something else escapes, where something else happens in those breaks of upset, pissed-off porousness.

As Cristina, Oh displays her capacity to break down with the gradual release and relief of tears that express a hot-burning anger at having let people and things affect her. To me, Oh’s breakdown gave me an image that conveyed what it felt like to be so compromised and hypocritical in my writing, it mirrored the duplicity and frustration I felt in having this “last” attachment. I felt it as I claimed to write about detachment in graduate school, at the same time that one of my mentors told me, “You are too close to your objects.” This mentor did not mean this as outright criticism, or at least I hope not, and I did not take it this way (although tears of self-doubt and devastation were shed). Instead, I took it as an opportunity to think about how proximity, how being too close rather than so distant and detached, unavoidably directs my reading and viewing practice. This closeness puts pressure on how we deem representations of minority difference to be collectively and politically productive, or not.

To be too close shifts what we imagine representation can do for us, outside of an imagined collective community, and outside of the ways these formations demand that representation do a certain political, collective work. How do we talk about representation in a way that does not merely desire inclusion and normalization within a larger group? How do we still hold close the desire for the banal, the small, the nonsignificant yet deeply intimate and private modes of identification we feel with certain representations, without reducing this to a sign of reaching normalcy within corny, liberal, affirming depictions of minority difference? It seemed that as long as Cristina was around, these questions could not be resolved, certainly not within my writing. Therefore, when Oh made the decision to leave the show after ten years, I felt sad, but also relieved. Her leaving television, her no longer being Cristina, meant I would no longer have an excuse, an object, and a reason to linger, I would be able to finally relinquish that last attachment and move on to other more pressing political matters. I could detach. Or so I thought.

This past spring, four years after Cristina left Grey’s, I was cautious and hopeful, then giddy and thrown as I watched Oh in Killing Eve. Not only did she come back with a leading role, one untethered from an Asian stereotype, but she was possibly gay, in a manipulative, playful chase-as-courtship and vice versa with Villanelle. Oh’s intensity but also her charismatic comfort and ease on screen shape Eve’s chemistry with Villanelle and others, whether she is averting her eyes from her boss as she conspicuously eats a croissant at a work meeting, or looking directly into Villanelle’s eyes, only inches away from her own, soaking wet in a tight cocktail dress, with a knife held up to her neck. It all surprised me, and I felt tricked for feeling so surprised, for being so affected by the fact that I was seeing Oh on screen again, and for a whole episode’s worth of time. I could not help but feel for Oh when I read that even for her, the role was surprised, for as she told Vanity Fair, when she first received the script for the show, she had to ask her manager which part she was reading for, unable to even imagine the leading role could be hers.

Just when I had been able to feel like those first ten seasons of Grey’s were no longer immediate but nostalgic, and just when I had been feeling like I could successfully detach myself from representations in popular culture, Oh came back. She then continues to be who I pursue, or rather she continues to pursue me, following me around as someone who all this time I have wanted to write about but felt like I could not since my identification as/with the characters she portrays made her too obvious an object of study. It was as if to write about her, to admit my attachment, would be proof of a petty identity politics and a non-rigorous mode of critique that yield to the complicity and inclusive normalcy of representations within popular culture. I guess, then, I finally give in: I return to representation, as something to neither cast off nor recuperate, but as something to sit with too closely, which is to say reluctantly but obsessively. Representation persists as the object of study, inquiry, and critique that I never quite know how to write on or around yet cannot leave behind or ignore.


I am struck by the problem of being too close to representation, as a kind of disproportionate desire and asymmetrical relation to one’s object that one chases, whether that be the alluring serial killer for Eve, or for me, Oh. What does it mean for me to be a critic that gets too close to a representation that feels too good? Especially when I am used to writing about representations of minorities in popular culture that for the most part feel bad, if they even exist at all?

It has become expected for queer/of color/women critics to engage with either the lack of diverse representations or with bad ones — with the stereotype, with the inadequacies of diverse representation itself, and its inability to make good on its political promise of transformation and change. To be sure, we critics still derive pleasure from bad representations of ourselves, or the lack thereof. In fact, we have become virtuosic at finding pleasure where it is not supposed to be, at inventing reading practices wherein we might, as Sedgwick puts it, “smuggle” representations of ourselves and our own meanings so that we might still enjoy things even if and precisely when they are not meant for us and we are not supposed to be there. We do not critique to say this is why we cannot have nice things. Rather, in our critiques, we refuse to not have nice things.

Scholarship in queer, feminist, and critical race studies has then been invested in the possibilities of the guilty pleasure or the “problematic fave,” the “cruel optimism” of our attachment to troubling objects, such as the “bad tv” we cannot notwatch even when it undermines our political subjecthood. These bad objects are the sites where we might find traces of ourselves when reading against the grain, when intentionally misreading, when reaching and stretching meaning in perverse and inappropriate ways. We are not used to having representations that give us what we want upfront, therefore we have grown accustomed to keeping bad company, to sitting with what does not feel right in ways that have made our modes of critique more capacious, fun, indirect, shady, and bizarre.

With that said, during a moment when critics engaged with minority representations have more or less gotten used to writing about the bad, about asserting our guilty pleasures and bad object choices as a means of making do with the few representations we either get or never get in popular culture, what happens when after all that, we start to get what we want, and what we think is and feels good? What happens to our critical and political relation to representation when a representation is not “bad,” which is to say, not the injurious, hurtful, phobic stereotype? What happens if our reading and viewing practices must no longer solely navigate the bad, but now must make sense of what feels good, politically and affectively, and in a way we need not be ashamed of? How does Oh, as Cristina and as Eve, offer encounters with representations of queer Asian Americanness, of Asian American women, wherein a willfully pleasurable self-recognition takes place in a way that feels fun and pretty hot? Furthermore, what are the risks of giving into good representation and its attendant feelings? How does admitting our enjoyment of a good representation compromise our politics? It is this compromising position that Oh drudges up for me, and it is a critical, readerly one that for me is without firm answer or resolve. Arriving at the good representation does not mean we have arrived at a political good, yet even when saying so, something of ourselves and our political grounding has still been compromised.   

These conversations have recently emerged given the success of Crazy Rich Asians, and here I also insist upon the Netflix indie rom com darling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. For with these films comes the possibility of what Viet Thanh Nguyen calls a “narrative plenitude”, when more than one representation – more than one narrative in more than one genre – can exist at the same time. Nguyen writes that the political possibilities of narrative plenitude emerge with “the luxury of making mediocre movies,” and perhaps, too, the forgettable, average, or bad representation. Yet, as we are seeing, with this plenitude also comes the possibility of some good movies and television, and their representations that give us what we want and what feels good. (To clarify, this is not a positive review of Crazy Rich Asians, so much as it is a love letter to Lara-Jean and To All the Boys.) We need to shift critical discussions around Asian American representation in contemporary popular culture to account for the spoils found in plenitude. We must take seriously how good representation and its pleasures can operate within problematic, dominant narratives of liberal progress and inclusion, of which we should remain critical and suspicious, but also how such representations and its pleasure are not reducible to them. Again, and from the other side of things, I refuse to not have nice things.

Hua Hsu writes that what he liked most in Crazy Rich Asians were not the moments in the film displaying capital’s excess, but rather the moments in excess of the narrative and the rom com genre. He writes, “I found myself moved by moments when very little was happening, the kinds of everyday moments that I’ve always wanted to see onscreen. […] Maybe it’s the endpoint of representation — you simply want the opportunity to be as heroic, or funny, or petty, or goofy, or boring as everyone else.” I wonder why the pleasures derived from the uneventful and banal, from the in-between of the quotidian as montage, becomes pleasures derived from the inclusiveness of being like “everyone else.” For what resonates with me in Hsu’s description is the way these ordinary moments that could have been cut or discarded in production do not move along a plot line or develop a character but nevertheless gesture toward the nonproductive moments of sociality, intimacy, and care shared between Asians and Asian Americans sharing screen time instead of being the only one. When we find ourselves within these scenes, no narrative has progressed – they just give us smaller moments we as viewers like to imagine we found on our own.

The scenes I have described in Grey’s and Killing Eve provide that for me. These scenes are moments when viewing and identifying as/with does not solely and necessarily speak to a collective and communal practice. Instead, these moments are what feel so personal, so personally good, and not for everyone else, in a way that for now might not need to do, change, or advance anything beyond and outside of myself. When I watch Oh, I imagine that the good feelings I have in identifying as/with her are not like everyone else’s feelings, and therefore stay for a moment politically nonproductive and noncommunal. I entertain the idea that these moments can be imagined and felt as so private and singular, and that is enough, for now.


This past July, Oh became the first woman of Asian descent to receive an Emmy nomination for best leading actress in a drama for the role of Eve. Even though the Emmy’s have passed, and we are now left with the disappointment of knowing that Oh (along with Keri Russell in FX’s The Americans) was robbed, regardless it is a significance landmark. In response to the nomination in an interview with E. Alex Jung prior to the awards show, she explained, “I’ve always felt like it’s not just me. […] I know that I’m part of my community. […] So I am exceptionally honored that I am able to hold this moment, not only for myself, but what it may mean for our community.” Oh takes on the burden of representation and lets herself become a public figure who, as an Asian Canadian actress working in American film, theatre, and television, is always already representing and speaking for a community of which she is a part: “my” and “our community” of Asian North Americans more broadly. She becomes a figure to which “my” and “our” community attaches itself, as a point of identification for the collective whole.

This articulation of Oh’s burden gives me pause, and not just because I am acting like a jealous girlfriend, although I am a little bit. What makes me uncomfortable is how Oh’s work, as an actress, as Cristina and Eve, cannot just be about her, and instead must enable and facilitate a community that needs her to mark “our” progress. In a way, I am jealous that Oh has to be that representative figure for so many people, and I am frustrated that in her feeling like it is not just about her, I must then position my own identity in this way, in relation to her work. Why can’t she feel like it is just about her? Or really, why can I not just feel like it is about her and me? Bowen Yang works out this relation and dilemma in his lip-synch to one of Cristina’s monologues he recorded with his phone and posted on social media. I cannot stop watching it. While sitting in what appears to be his living room, with the smallest of gestures such as the curl or tremble of the lip and the furrowing of the brow, Yang imagines, as the caption for the video describes, “when u Sandra Oh,” enacting the mumbling of her stubborn words as they melt into a tearful breakdown.

Through Oh’s return to television, her Emmy nod, and #AsianAugust, I have had to revisit my political desires for representation and what it promises to formations of “my” and “our” community, “when u Sandra Oh,” and also when this identification as/with her might mean you want her to yourself. I have had to think about it what means for me to feel a certain identification as/with Oh and the roles she inhabits in a way that I might not want to always have to be about and for a community. I say this knowing it makes me come off as self-centered, as a bad political subject complicit with liberal fantasies of individualism, one seemingly not down for the greater good and cause, a compromised critic and academic.

For critics and academics, especially when queer and/or of color, one’s political desires for representation seen as springing from one’s identity are crucial to one’s reading and writing practice at the same time that they are understood to deter or jeopardize one’s skills and critical capacity as such. Such political desires mean one speaks on behalf of that same community, as Oh says, but not too much or else personal feelings and investments will undermine the validity of one’s critique. Likewise, Eve is a character whose queer desires, the ambiguities around identification as/with Villanelle, lead her to getting the job, but get in the way of her ability to do her job the right way – the right way being that which keeps in mind the larger picture, beyond Villanelle. What Oh conveys in Eve is a dissatisfaction, a boredom, and moreover a longing for Villanelle and her pleasure in killing, as well as in flirtation and sex. In the first season’s final scene, these pleasures become indistinguishable from one another as Eve and Villanelle become entangled with each other in a bed with sheets, blood, a knife, and champagne. Eve’s longing and her inability to act on it or follow through – which is to say, both her inability to have sex with Villanelle and her inability to kill her – is what makes her an agent with questionable intentions. There is then a way that the compromised scholar and writer, “too close to your objects,” is like Eve, the compromised agent in bed with the enemy, too infatuated and interested in her suspect to have the distance assumed necessary to catch the criminal, to make political critiques.

To be compromised is to be too involved and too close to one’s objects in pursuit. It is to perhaps willfully cultivate forms of clouded judgement and irresponsible, shallow desires that shape a compromised political subject position, one that does not let representation wholly organize one’s politics and sense of community and collectivity, but nevertheless lets it feel good when it can. I am not making a case for some kind of optimistic, individualistic approach to representation. I still am wary and weary of it and the version of identity politics it can promote. Instead, in my compromised position, I sit with what feels good about Oh’s work, the representations she gives us, and my identification as/with them, without calling them guilty pleasures or pleasurably bad objects. This is my own way of admitting that, like Eve, I’m just a fan and that all of this just interested me, I guess.

LARB Contributor

Summer Kim Lee is an assistant professor of English at UCLA.


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