DISCLAIMER: This is not a spoiler-free review of Fleabag. Proceed with caution. You’ve been warned.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s dark comedy Fleabag came to a close this year with its second and final season. Part of Fleabag‘s magic is its utilization of the fourth wall. Several times throughout the season we see Fleabag break away from a scene and give her two cents to the audience. Her reliance on cutting dry remarks is a coping mechanism, as we learned from her one-time therapist (Fiona Shaw). It’s utterly relatable and a normal, human knee-jerk response to handling grief. Fleabag navigates the murky waters of grief with expertise and grace, reminding us that everyone copes differently when faced with traumatic experiences.
Now, we’re still privy to flashbacks of Fleabag’s best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), who was co-owner of her cafe. Fleabag was also indirectly responsible for Boo’s death. We learned in Season 1 that Boo stepped into traffic after having discovered her boyfriend’s affair. However, she didn’t know that Fleabag was the adulterer in this scenario. This alone begs the question: is Fleabag really the villain in her own story? I’d argue that she’s more of an antihero, someone with a morally gray background who’s embarking on a road to redemption. Throughout the series, we’ve never really seen Fleabag take responsibility for her part in Boo’s tragic passing. Others have overtly accused her of being the catalyst, like her sister Claire (Sian Clifford) and her brother-in-law Martin (Brett Gelman).
Of course, the introduction of the Hot Priest (Andrew Scott) certainly impacted Fleabag’s journey. And, on a materialistic note, I believe his name is a perfect fit. Fleabag Season 2 explores the duality between spirituality and our animalistic urges. The Hot Priest struggles to juggle his carnal desires for Fleabag with his devotion to God. Fleabag even does her own internet research on the subject – can Catholic priests have sex? Can one devote their entire soul to God and still succumb to appetites of the flesh? Their attraction to one another culminates in one seriously smoking scene in a church confessional. I wouldn’t be surprised if overall church attendance spiked after Season 2 hit Amazon Prime.
Now, just when we think Fleabag and the Hot Priest will ride off into the sunset together, the latter breaks off their tryst. The final scene of the series is a swift punch to the gut. “I love you,” Fleabag professes tearfully. “It’ll pass,” the Hot Priest whispers. Never have two lines in a series (of recent memory, at least) delivered such a blow to my soul and simultaneously ripped out my heartstrings.
Of course, the Hot Priest proceeds to profess his love for Fleabag, and urges her (jokingly) to stay away from his church. A bittersweet reminder that unconditional love isn’t enough to make relationships work. Here’s two people that love each other with a burning passion, but they look at the bigger picture and consciously decide to part ways. Hot Priest’s lifelong devotion to God would most certainly put a damper on a potential future relationship. So, can one juggle earthly desires with a puritanical devotion to God? In this case, the answer is no.
Waller-Bridge delivers an outstanding performance, managing to raise the stakes in Season 2. We all can relate to Fleabag – her reliance on humor, her lust for sex, her longing for true companionship. The weight of her crushing grief is tangible, whether it be her regrets over Boo or the grief of losing her mother. Waller-Bridge’s heart wrenching monologue in the confessional scene should be her Emmy submission. Fleabag’s desire to have someone commandeer her life is akin to one’s religious faith. Christians pray to God for guidance, for direction in life.
However, the Hot Priest provides plenty of wisdom along the way, reminding Fleabag that there is light on the other side. She can take control of her own destiny. Fleabag’s feelings of powerlessness and lack of direction is a nightmare for many of us. But Fleabag emerges in the end with a newfound sense of confidence. We see her wave goodbye to the camera and, despite her heartbreak over losing the Hot Priest, we know she’s going to prevail. She knows she’s going to prevail.
Other notable performances in Fleabag Season 2 include Scott, whose sizzling chemistry with Waller-Bridge is off-the-charts. He brings nuance and complexity to the Hot Priest. Even men of God still struggle with direction and moral foibles. Clifford as Fleabag’s stoic sister Claire is another inimitable talent. We see Claire bloom throughout the season, finally taking the reins on her own life. She dumps her morally bankrupt husband Martin and decides to chase her newfound love…who also happens to be named Klare. Claire learns that perfection is unattainable, and sometimes getting a little messy is one of life’s joys. Clifford has us rooting for Claire in Season 2, and her ending is a satisfying one.
Now, Gelman makes you despise Martin, which means he’s done his job as an actor. Martin engages in despicable acts throughout the series as a whole, but his rampaging monologue to Claire provides context. He asserts that he’s not a bad person, he just has a “bad personality.” So, are bad people really not inherently “bad?” Is it just a matter of poor personality? Fleabag is always providing food for thought. Olivia Colman as the godmother-turned-stepmother to Fleabag and Claire is a conundrum on her own. We see that she inherently despises Fleabag, but is she really a villainous person? Her love for Fleabag’s father (Bill Paterson) is evident and palpable.
In the end, Fleabag learns to accept the fact that her dad is allowed to be happy, he should move on with his life. Grief shouldn’t impede you from living. Colman is, as always, top notch. Paterson’s nuanced portrayal of an emotionally distant father grappling with his own internal wounds is touching and raw. “I think you know how to love better than any of us,” he tells Fleabag before his wedding in the series finale. “That’s why you find it all so painful.” I think that’s an accurate summation of Fleabag as a person. It’s why she initially avoided commitment and supplanted it with copious amounts of sex. Fleabag loves wholly and passionately, and when that love grounds to a halt she feels pain on a visceral level.
In short, Fleabag Season 2 surpassed my expectations. It managed to outdo Season 1. I laughed, I cried and I screamed at my laptop screen. Fleabag’s life lessons were my life lessons – I learned that people serve a purpose in life, and sometimes they aren’t meant to stay. However, their indelible footprint on my soul will remain eternal. Waller-Bridge is an immensely talented performer and writer. I can’t wait to see what lies in store for her.
Overall Grade: A
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