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2018 Staff Choice Performer of the Year - Sandra Oh



The article was written by Donna Cromeans, Ellys Cartin, Nikos Manesis, and A D Ogutu. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

From the moment it was announced, there was no doubt that Phoebe Waller-Bridge's new series Killing Eve, about an MI6 agent's search for a female serial killer was going to be special. However, when the series aired, it became so much more than just special. The show, with its unique concept and superb writing, took television by storm and for eight tension-filled episodes, viewers were enraptured by the bizarre cat and mouse game between obsessed agent Eve Polastri and the murderous assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer). The show would not have worked if the casting of these two intriguing women was not right. Luckily for us, they exceeded all expectations, it was instant chemistry as one of television's greatest acting duos was created. As Villanelle, Jodie Comer becomes a twisted chameleon whose innocent looks made her a villain people couldn't help but love. However, at the heart of the show was the mesmerizing performance of Sandra Oh as Eve. In her first series since leaving Grey's Anatomy, Oh creates one of the most quirky and layered characters on television today. Throughout the intense first season, she just kept peeling away the layers of this brilliant, quirky character. From her first appearance on-screen, it was clear that there was so much more to Eve than what appeared on the surface. Eve was a highly intelligent agent, at times quirky and somewhat lacking in social graces, but she was a dogged and determined investigator to the point of obsession, and a loyal friend and loving wife. With a lesser actress this character could easily have become a caricature, but in Oh's skilled hands she instead becomes one of television's most iconic characters. It was hard to take one's eyes off her when she was in front of us, and her intricately woven journey in the first season of Killing Eve easily earned her the latest of many awards for this role. After this closer look at her work from this season, it will become clear why Sandra Oh was easily named Spoiler TV's Staff Choice 2018 Performer of the Year.

The phenomenon that is Killing Eve begins with Nice Face (1x1). The first time we see Eve Polastri she is at work and has arrived late for an impromptu meeting. Oh hurries into the room, setting down her bags and her croissant before she even sits down. She quickly pulls off her overcoat but, with her arms still stuck in the sleeves, pushes the croissant out of Eve's coworker Bill’s (David Haig) reach. You know in an instant that Eve is someone who keeps track of even the smallest details. When Eve's tardiness is noted, she switches into another gear, unclasping her hands and dropping them down into her lap, and leans forward eagerly to make an introduction and an apology to the special guest at this meeting: Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw). Eve is ignored by her boss Frank (Darren Boyd). She resumes sitting quietly, but Martens's eye wanders to the pastry bag sitting in front of Eve. It crinkles as Oh reaches into it off camera. Fiona Shaw glides right from fixedly staring at the bag to curiously staring at Eve to giving Eve the smallest smile of mischief. You then go back to viewing Oh. She has one hand deep in the bag, holding it open with the other hand, and an expression of intense concentration on her face. Eve realizes everyone has stopped talking. She backs away from the bag, sheepishly guilty but only a little bit ashamed. When Martens turns her head to speak to Frank, Eve eats some croissant. Oh turns her head off to the side and discreetly stuffs it into her face, raising her other hand to cover her mouth while also frowning at Bill for watching this all happen. Martens places a photo on the table for review. Eve reaches for it and uses the same hand to casually brush the croissant bag further down the table. Every motion in this scene Oh is using to develop her character. Eve's curiosity is captured by the details of an assassination. She transforms again, sitting up straighter, and laying her hands flat on the table after reviewing the pictures. As Eve holds the pictures, you see Oh's face in close-up. She forgets to chew then chews slower than she was. Her eyes move left to right examining the photos, analyzing and recognizing. Eve can't help but ask questions, and Oh makes sure her eyes never completely leave the photos, the signal of someone who knows more than they're telling. She speaks up, blurts out her theory about the assassin. There's confidence behind every word. Martens calmly thanks her by name and departs. Oh still has one more side of Eve to show us though. After being thanked, Eve turns to Bill and gloats merrily in good humor over being called out. There's a spark in her voice and demeanor when she discusses the case. Through Oh's performance, Eve is introduced to us as a fully developed complex character, by turns brilliant and impish yet delightfully human.

The story takes an interesting turn in I'll Deal with Him Later (1x2) when Eve is summoned to a meeting with Martens after being fired. Oh gets to take a magnifying glass to Eve's insecurity, zest, and frustration. Her initial emotion in the scene is nervous excitement. Eve hesitantly approaches the table. She pulls her chair in too far and bumps the table, apologizing for the silverware rattling. Finally, Eve calms herself by clasping her hands and setting them firmly on the table in front of her, as if they are a weight keeping her from floating away. Everything beyond her hands, Oh allows to squirm about. Her shoulders bob back and forth. She leans forward, cheerfully rambling about her life; but when Martens mentions that Eve's hard drive has been swept, Oh pulls away and stops moving. She looks across at her scene partner with mortification. However, the pictures aren't what Eve thought they'd be, and she relaxes, laughing and flipping through the pages with a smile on her face. The stammer returns when Eve is asked to explain her research. Oh shows the self-doubt cracking through by slowing her speech and repeatedly looking down and back up, as Eve struggles to articulate her motives. Her entire demeanor changes when Martens insists on hearing her explanation. She lists off her conclusions, punctuated by calm gestures; and her whole frame is energized. She goes right into a spiel of righteous indignation at being ignored. And the scene ends on the note of Eve taking a gulp of her gin and tonic, a weight off her chest, as Oh relates with a subtle shift of her shoulders into a resting position.

At the start of Don't I Know You (1x3), Eve is relishing her new job. Oh breaks into a smile during every sentence, conveying the giddy joy that Eve feels at tackling her dream job. After learning that their target Villanelle knows her identity, there's genuine concern on her face. She paces outside and pleads with Martens to not take her off the case. Oh's expression is one of determination, not consternation. But she shows us more than Eve's enthrallment with the case, she depicts Eve as being intoxicated with it. As Eve jokes with her husband, Niko (Owen McDonnell) and downplays her upcoming trip to Berlin, she glows and flirts. There's an interlude where he walks away, and Eve is left standing there. She furrows her brow, a question unspoken in her eyes that is quickly replaced by amusement which fades, leaving her face expressionless. Eve hasn't been entirely truthful, and Oh uses a few precise brushstrokes to let you see Eve's doubts. Those emotions are set aside as Eve gets to lead the investigation in Berlin. Everything she does is marked by enthusiasm. Oh walks with a quick, light step, as Eve shops for new clothes after her suitcase is stolen and prepares for dinner with someone who has information on the assassinations. That's still her mood when she enters a dance club, looking for Bill who called her there saying he was tailing a suspect. Oh skips across the street, haste in her movements, but not panic. She has a giddy smile on Eve's face, embracing the adventure, as she enters the club and calls for Bill. That is gone in an instant when Eve realizes something is wrong with Bill. She throws herself at the wall of moving bodies repeatedly, crying out in fear and anguish, even as she's only held up by virtue of being packed on all sides by other people. She gasps for air, gathering enough breath for a heartbreaking guttural scream. This tragedy massively escalates Eve's conflicted quest to track Villanelle, gives her a personal need for vengeance that wars with her self-declared admiration for Villanelle's work. Oh's performance sets up a fundamental shift for Eve.

Oh's performance in Sorry Baby (1x4) earned her SpoilerTV’s Staff Choice Performer of the Month honors. (A more detailed review of the episode can be found here in her April Winner’s Article) In an odd way, Eve had played her pursuit of Villanelle up until that point as almost game like built on her strange fascination with serial killers. But that all changed when Villanelle killed Bill. Eve was shaken to her core and it was no longer a challenge. Eve and her crew are at a very emotional time, the group has been dealing with Bill’s murder and the episode begins with Bill’s funeral. Eve’s body language when her husband Niko tries to console her at the church is a clear illustration of how Oh has mastered the art of performance devastation since her days on Greys Anatomy. We can finally see how the events leading up to Bill’s death have taken a toll on Eve. Despite Eve’s stoic nature, Oh manages to express Eve’s anguish over losing Bill with a flow of tears during Frank’s eulogy. The eulogy is a catalyst for the events that happen after the funeral. Oh puts Eve’s pain aside and heads back into the investigation as well as dealing with her husbands' concern for her. In one of the scenes between Eve and Niko, despite feeling sad and depressed, Oh brings out Eve’s tough sides when her husband gives his opinion on the investigation. Her suitcase is found and sent to her house, and she eventually decides to open it. Right before, she sits on her bed, despondently trying to wipe away tears. Oh unzips the suitcase robotically but freezes when Eve looks down at it. She briskly examines the compartments and notes the clothes are all unfamiliar and unworn. Oh portrays wary confusion as Eve double checks the address tag. When she reads the card in the box, Eve's eyes enlarge. She scrambles backward off the bed as if escaping a living creature. Her husband enters, and she frantically shouts at him to stay away. For the first time, you see total and complete fear washing over her. She doesn't let it overcome her though.

In the next scene, Eve summons her teammates Elena (Kirby Howell-Baptiste ) and Kenny (Sean Delaney) to update them on the new wardrobe. Oh gets the chance to inject some levity when Eve sighs over how amazing the clothes are. The tables have flipped in this scene, and Eve is the one deciding what course will be taken. Back at the office, Oh permits one breath of reflection when Eve pauses at Bill's desk. She doesn't look at it again. Eve's only focus now is on her mission. Oh gives one of the best performances in Sorry Baby in butcher where Eve meets with Caroline to discuss her findings on Frank. Oh uses her body movement as she whispers and anyone looking from outside would definitely be under the impression that the two women are exchanging views on the meat on display. The direction in this scene is minimal with Oh and Shaw talking in low tones as Eve and Caroline pretend to be there just for the meat.

If there is a defining moment in the show's first season, it comes in I Have a Thing About Bathrooms (1x5). What had until now been an elaborate cat and mouse game between the two crosses into even more dangerous territory in a handful of shocking scenes in this episode. After getting to a panicked Frank who is being pursued by Villanelle, instead of fleeing to safety, Eve makes the bizarre decision to get out of the car and face her down. At that moment the almost wild look in Oh's eyes makes one wonder if Eve has gone truly mad. She's startled not only her companions but Villanelle as well. Eve is afraid but stares at Villanelle when she approaches her. Oh straightens her hands and opens her eyes wide, which startles Villanelle and forces her to re-examine her approach with Eve. It is a key moment in the series, as it marks the first time pursuer and pursued come face to face armed with the knowledge of who the other is. Oh and Comer play the scene with deliberate perfection.

Later weary after retrieving Frank, still mourning Bill and reeling from her encounter with Villanelle, Eve retreats to her home. It is there that the writer has Eve tiptoe along a fine line between genius and insanity. It was one thing for Eve to look at the items, including a designer dress and specially crafted perfume that was in the stolen suitcase that had been returned to her. Oh easily masters a blank, detached look as she almost reverently examines each one, but then she turns the moment slightly creepy by not only touching them but trying on and wearing them. If that wasn't strange enough, the episode takes a completely unexpected turn when Villanelle turns up, chases a panicked Eve through the house, terrorizes her then calmly announces she just wants to have dinner with her! It was a scene that took viewers breaths away with intensity and creativity.

What comes is a scene that many critics chose as one of the standout scenes of the year. It's a scene that highlights the incredible chemistry between Oh and Comer and features the two at the top of their game. They sit across from one another sizing each other up, you can see the wheels turning in their heads. Villanelle acting as though she's an invited guest, and a frightened Eve trying to decide if she's about to have her last meal. The brilliance comes when Comer, her of the expressive face and baby-doll eyes, cries to Eve she wants out of the killing business, that she's being made to do it. But you can tell the exact moment she overplays her hand. Oh's face relaxes and then hardens and her body language changes as Eve goes from being frightened and terrified to being an in-control, intelligent investigator and calls bull. Comer turns the tears off like a faucet and becomes the cold, hard assassin as she threatens Eve. It's a strange seductive dance and more a love scene than a threatening moment. Oh and Comer fully embody their characters and connect on such a deep level in these moments. The scene would not work without them making the connection they do. It's an acting pairing that most directors/producers can only dream of.

Eve plans to leave for Moscow with Martens to pursue a lead on Villanelle (real name, Oksana) in Take Me to the Hole! (1x6). Before she does, though, there's a stormy encounter between Eve and her husband Niko. After the deaths of her colleagues and the break-in at their home, he has developed some anxiety. He confronts her about the latest death, and her first reaction is to argue that everything is going well. As he melts down, confessing his fears, Eve's responses become harsher. Her body language goes from defensive to offensive, as she starts stepping into Niko's personal space. And she yells in his face, angrily pointing to herself and saying she must be the one to stop Villanelle. Oh balances Eve's physical aggression by telling a very different story with her face. There are surprise and effort there. Even when she hauls back and slaps Niko and shoves him not once but twice. She can't quite believe what she's doing. But then Eve stands still, savoring the rage and adrenaline. You know right away that Niko's calmer invitation to go home for a cup of tea will be turned down. Oh doesn't turn around at first, letting Eve's breaths gradually slow. Her nostrils stop flaring. When she does turn, there's a hint of a smile on Eve's face as she says she must work. Oh shapes the scene so that you see a more danger-seeking version of Eve, while still leaving breathing room to take a step back.

The season finale God I'm Tired (1x8) follows Eve after she finally uncovers Villanelle's past, determined to take her down. The high stakes of their confrontation are balanced by comedic moments between Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) and Eve, who has doubted his loyalties since she laid eyes on him. Her deadpan look of disgust towards him is rivaled only by her grin of satisfaction as she starts to get the truth out of him. He tells her they need to give Villanelle what they want, to which Eve replies "me" while thinking out loud. Constantin, of course, meant himself, and embarrassed Eve who let her mutual obsession with Villanelle slip out. During their stand-off with Villanelle, she shoots Constantin but instead of shooting back, Eve begs Villanelle to come with her before she gets away. At the airport Eve receives a call from Elena who found a connection between Villanelle's previous attacks and a flat in Paris, Sandra Oh is coyly downplaying her facial expressions for Eve not to raise any suspicion in front of Carolyn who's given clear instructions for the team to return to London. The lead takes her to Villanelle's apartment where Eve revels in finally having the upper hand by popping a bottle of expensive champagne and picking apart Villanelle's wardrobe before trashing everything in sight while Oh burns with anger and relief. Villanelle soon returns and is pleasantly surprised to find her there. Eve is battling with her logic and instinct as she threatens to kill Villanelle for everything she's caused her. Villanelle, however, points out Eve likes her way too much to kill her.

In one of the most tantalizing scenes of the season, Eve sits on her bed and admits for the first time that she can't stop thinking and fantasizing about Villanelle. Villanelle lets her own guard down to admit her thoughts about Eve go as far as masturbating about her by which Eve is notably not turned off, just surprised. A season-long buildup of their cat and mouse chase game culminates to a very intimate and delicate scene between the two leading ladies in bed together; as Oh stares affectionately into Comer's eyes, Villanelle looks back at Eve awkwardly and longingly, unable to believe she finally got her in her own bed. The chemistry between the two is explosive and unpredictable. While Villanelle strokes her face, Eve plays it naive and nervous right before she pushes a knife into her stomach. Villanelle feels betrayed and hurt and Eve second guesses her attempt to murder her as it sinks in because of her own affection towards her. Sandra Oh's determined gaze quickly dissipates and is replaced by panic and regret. While Eve hurries to get a towel and manage Villanelle's bleeding, she disappears yet again and the season ends with a cliffhanger of Eve asking where the hell Villanelle went, more infuriated and conflicted than ever.

With Eve Polastri, actress Sandra Oh was given a unique opportunity. As one of the extremely talented performers who had spent most of their careers in supporting roles, ably backing up show leads, carving out unique niches and characters she was given the chance to shine. It is rare for normally supporting actors to get the lead in their own show and she made the most of it. After a ten-year run as the iconic Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy, she is now raking in awards this award season by creating yet another iconic character in MI6 Agent Eve Polastri. How good is she in Killing Eve? In a mesmerizing performance, partnered with an equally mesmerizing co-star in Jodie Comer, she was so good that the show was renewed for a second season before the first episode had even aired. And, so good that for seven consecutive weeks since it premiered it showed demo ratings growth which was a first for a scripted series, according to BBC America. Her incredible work in Killing Eve has earned her a Golden Globe award, a Screen Actor's Guild award, a Broadcast Film Critics Award, and countless other nominations. She can also add SpoilerTV’s Staff Choice 2018 Performer of the Year to the list of her accolades. One can only imagine the brilliance that is to come in Season Two of Killing Eve this April.

This article couldn't cover every single brilliant moment of acting from this season, so please use the comments to discuss the moments this article didn't cover and reminisce about the ones that were covered.

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