Fleabag is back and it’s a hot mess on avo toast. We love it.
Season 2 of Fleabag starts with our nameless protagonist wiping blood off of her nose and upper teeth in a fancy bathroom. At the door, a man calls to ask if she’s okay. She turns to hand a paper towel to another woman, crouched on the floor, also bleeding from the nose. Then, she looks at us, and says, ‘This is a love story.’
The series seems to pick up where the last left off, and at the outset it looks like Fleabag is still a hot mess.
But really, she’s trying. She’s working out, eating avo toast, avoiding pathological sexual relationships, and her café is actually doing well.
She’s really trying to get her life on track but honestly, there’s still a big hole in the middle of it. She’s lonely. She’s isolated from her family: she hasn’t seen her sister Claire in a year, after a nasty kissing incident involving Claire’s husband, who is not the show’s bad guy, but the show’s Worst Guy. (Really, he is the absolute worst. He makes your skin crawl and shudder with every over-loud, obnoxious, aggressive sentence he utters. But I digress.)
She has no friends, and she still mourns Boo, who appears a few times as The Ghost of Series Past. She is also still mourning her mother, and can tell nobody about it: the last person she confided in about this was Boo, who is now lost to her, and it’s probably her fault.
She tries to be good. She attends excruciating family gatherings where people first accuse her of plotting to make the evening all about herself, then accuse her of being too quiet, then make her a gift of a voucher for a therapy session, and then make her complicit in painful secrets which make her say stupid things that ruin dinners and cause her to end up in the Ladies Room wiping blood off of her teeth.
But, there’s a silver lining…
She has met a nice man. He’s a very nice man. He likes the simple things in life: going to bed at 9:30, gin and tonic from a can. He doesn’t expect her to have anal sex with him, he’s quite funny, he’s quite attractive. Her dad and her soon-to-be-stepmother just adore him. There’s just one, small, inconvenient problem: he’s a Catholic Priest. This makes for many excellent opportunities to use dramatic choral music as background to the show, but also, of course, for Drama.
Fleabag is just the best. At six quick 30-minute episodes, it’s like a little beauty bomb.
I feel bad reviewing it because I can’t do it justice. There is so much about it that is just so good. The use of the ‘breaking the fourth wall’ technique – where the lead character repeatedly looks at or talks to us, the viewers – is brilliant. Who are we, exactly? Are we Fleabag’s subconscious? Are we an imagined audience that she conjures to escape from being fully present in emotionally challenging moments? Are we her only friend, the only person who understands her, her only champion? Whatever we are, breaking the fourth wall is used as a device to create perfect comedic timing, and to ally us with Fleabag, who perhaps feels like nobody really loves her.
The cast is excellent. Olivia Colman plays the evil godmother, a character who is perfectly hateful despite the fact that when you really think about it, it’s hard to say exactly what is so loathsome about her. Sian Clifford plays Fleabag’s sister Claire, who is married to Martin (the Worst Guy), played by Brett Gelman, and is a tense, hyper-successful counterpoint to Fleabag’s dopey, failing-at-life character. The priest is played by Andrew Scott and he is just so natural – slightly awkward but so likeable – that I often wondered if he was improvising.
The show is incredibly funny, and often the funniest bits involve Claire, the uptight sister, who on the surface of things would appear to be the least amusing of all the characters. There is a scene involving a bad haircut… I was still giggling about it in the coffee queue at work the day afterwards. The naked woman statue features heavily again this series, and its reappearance is linked to a typical Fleabag mistake-and-fix that can’t not make you laugh.
The show’s real strength lies not in in the funny moments though, but those that are harder to watch. Yes, you laugh at times, but it’s not a comedy. There are moments where Fleabag is hurt by something someone she loves says to her, and these sting for the viewer too, maybe because through the side-eye, winks, and narrative asides she keeps throwing to us, we really feel that we are her. As she is menaced and harassed and threatened by Martin, we feel genuine fear on her behalf.
Ultimately, I think there are two really two central themes. The first is about how, really, nobody has it together. Fleabag feels like she has no idea how to live a good life, a worthy life, and weeps that she wishes someone could just tell her how to do it right. But really when you look at everyone else in the series, they’re not much better off. Her dad is really not sure he’s making the right decision marrying the godmother. The priest… well he has his issues. Even highly successful Claire feels like an abject failure as she contemplates her disastrous marriage and the fact that her giant office makes her feel nothing.
And then, there’s that whole new-and-impossible love thing. Is there anything more wonderfully agonizing than being freshly in love with a person who almost certainly loves you back, but there are, well, barriers? Is there anything more perfect than those early moments, when all you want to do is climb under each other’s skin, before you succumb to the tedium of shared housework, shared utility bills, and a shared toilet?
Hello from the other side of menopause
Kirsten Scott Thomas has a cameo where her character talks to Fleabag about the pain of being a young woman, and the relief of finding oneself on the other side of the menopause, free of the trappings of one’s reproductive organs. The only thing, she laments, is that nobody flirts with her anymore. These days, she never walks into a busy room anticipating a possible spark with a stranger. Fleabag offers her something of a pity-flirt, but Thomas’s character declines. She’d rather go have a quiet martini in her room she says, and then get a good night’s sleep.
This is the arc of the story. The pain of being young: it hurts so good, and we miss it so once it’s gone. But also, we’ll be relieved to adjourn to our quiet rooms, our peaceful lives.
In a month where there have been endings that were perhaps less than satisfactory, Fleabag 2 ends perfectly. Waller-Bridge does not think there will be a third season: she’s a rising star, has other kites to fly, and other scripts to write. And that’s really okay. It ends at exactly the right time, and in exactly the right way, and nothing more need be said.