Looking at the criminal profiles of assassins and psychopathic serial killers, we see that Killing Eve’s Villanelle, TV’s most glamorous villain, could not exist in real life. However, her unrealistic qualities are those which make her most compelling to watch.
When we think of serial killers, we tend to imagine them as male, which makes the feminine yet deadly Villanelle a unique character from the get-go. There are female psychopaths and serial killers, but they tend to operate differently from their male counterparts. Their methods are significantly more slick, making them more effective assassins but less interesting subject matter to base a story around. The most famous female serial killers tend to be those such as Aileen Wuornos, whose crimes take on a more male form so they receive more media attention. Most female killers are more like Madame Popova, who poisoned around 300 men at the request of their their wives and who was only caught after one client grew too remorseful and went to the police.
There are three main differences between typical male and female serial killers:
1. Men typically use more violent, dramatic methods such as strangling, while women opt for poisoning or drowning their victims. Men also tend to draw out the murder because of the pleasure they get from it, while women will make it quick and clean.
2. Men are more likely to kill strangers, while women are more likely to kill close acquaintances, family members, or those in their care. In a similar vein, women are more likely to do all their killings in the same environment or in a small geographic range, whereas the men will stray from their hometowns, often stalking their victims for a little while. One study from 2015 found that 39% of female serial killers are healthcare workers, their victims being patients clustered in one physical location such as a hospital.
3. Men are more motivated to kill by psychosexual urges, while women are more motivated by things like money, revenge, or attention from sympathetic mourners who don’t know the real cause of death.
Villanelle's killing style is typically male, firstly in that she is constantly trying to outdo herself with the drama of her hits. She craves attention from Eve Polastri, the MI5 agent trying to hunt her down. Unfortunately for those who hired her for these assassinations, her exceptional flair makes her far easier to track, and she becomes a liability.
Villanelle, because she works as a hitwoman, kills strangers most of the time. She only kills people she knows when they pose a threat or get in her way. Villanelle also does her killings across Europe, rather than in a small area.
Finally, while Villanelle is technically motivated by money, since she gets paid for most of her murdering, we do see the psychosexual element pop up. Her obsession with Eve is quite sapphic, delighting LGBTQ fans of the show and drawing upon the influence of Daphne du Maurier’s bisexual and psychopathic Rebecca. Villanelle intensely stalks Eve throughout the first season, which is an unusual behavior for a female, even one who is a serial killer. The question of whether or not Villanelle or Eve will try to kill the other keeps us on our toes.
We’ve never seen a woman like this on TV and she’s thrilling to watch. She’s stylish and multilingual, she makes good money, and she genuinely enjoys her life. Still, part of why we’ve yet to see a Villanelle before is because she is so unrealistic. In the pilot episode, before Eve begins hunting her down, it is emphasized how talented Villanelle is at her job. However, in order to be an effective assassin, you need to blend in. Think of Miss Froy from The Lady Vanishes. Some of the most successful assassins are seemingly plain middle aged women who are able to blend into a crowd and who are forgettable. I imagine Villanelle would rather die than be forgettable. Even when she’s technically in disguise, she stands out with her beauty and designer clothing.
The only person remotely like Villanelle is the woman who inspired the character. The book series Codename Villanelle, which the show was based on, was written by Luke Jennings. He has said he partly based the character on real-life assassin Idoia López Riaño, whom the Spanish press referred to as La Tigresa. Still, she is not entirely like Villanelle, as after serving a 23-year sentence for the murders she committed, she did claim to feel remorseful, a feeling Villanelle has never shown. Additionally, her motivation was partially political as she was working with the Basque separatist group Eta, while Villanelle kills for the money and the thrill of it.
There is no evidence someone like Villanelle could exist, but she’s so charming that we still almost wish she were real.