Fleabag (Season 2) is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video
American playwright Neil Simon said “My view is, how sad and funny life is. I can’t think of a humorous situation that does not involve some pain. I used to ask, ‘What is a funny situation?’ Now I ask, ‘What is a sad situation and how can I tell it humorously?’”. Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag is a representation of this.
Season 1 of the show told us why Fleabag is the way she is. Be it the endless sex, jokes, or the outright wit, it is all part of a coping mechanism. This is where the beauty of the show lies. It isn’t a dramedy, it is a tragicomedy. It’s not a show with an inherent set up of drama but rather it’s represented as a comedy on its surface with a tragedy at its core. Season one ends up dealing with a theme of guilt which we really learn about in the finale. Everything that she said and did throughout the season suddenly made a lot more sense. You almost forget how funny the show is and realize why it is meant to be funny.
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The (so-called) second golden age of television has had a fair share of great dramedy’s like You’re the Worst, Casual, Transparent, Togetherness, Better Things, the list can go on. All of these have a central idea or theme which kicked off the show and then they slowly became more and more layered – You’re the Worst started as an oddball comedy about asshole characters which moves to mental health and PTSD, Casual was about defining a ‘casual’ relationship or can one ever really know if something is casual, Transparent was about literally a trans-parent and then this toxic family making constantly poor decisions to fit a funny construct.
Fleabag cannot be easily defined as having one such central theme or idea. Firstly, the two seasons have very different subject matters and secondly, you never know what the show is trying to say till the very end. That is where Fleabag is victorious. It keeps you hooked not only by humor but by constantly making you guess what the characters wish to accept for themselves. You’re certain it is different from the rest of the dramedy’s but it gets tough to define how (hence the analogy of tragicomedy).
The real triumph of Fleabag Season 2 stems from how they used the establishment of season one and take it forward. We know who Fleabag is. We know what she has been through. We know her coping mechanism. So how to take this coping mechanism forward? Fleabag in the very first episode says “This is a love story”. The audience’s mind is already thinking that by the end of this season, Fleabag will find the love of her life. Enter a cursing, smoking, drinking, and conflicted Priest (played by Andrew Scott). His name is never revealed (just like most characters whose literal names define their existence in Fleabag’s world- “Dad”, “Godmother”, “Hot Misogynist”). The fact he is always mentioned as ‘The Priest’ is crucial for the end.
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The Fleabag (Season 2) starts with him part of the family dinner. Where we get to know he will be getting Fleabag’s dad and godmother married. The shows eccentric nature lives with through this ‘love story’ from the beginning where the first bit of chemistry between Fleabag and The Priest is seen when she rudely walks away from him after lighting his cigarette and he responds with “Fuck you, then”. Her reaction is a gentle smile, and at that very instant you know they’re going to click.
As the season progresses we see how they’re very different personalities. She is an atheist and he is, well, a priest. After literally googling the world ‘Celibacy’ she realizes he can’t offer her something she actually loves- sex. But still, she is falling for him. There is a point in episode three where The Priest tells her, “Celibacy is a lot less complicated than romantic relationships”. It’s incredible how this subtly hints on the importance of a romantic relationship. That they go hand in hand.
The Priest constantly mentions how he has found peace with God and that is a lot less complicated than being with another person. His inner conflict with Fleabag’s entry in his life is again brought up in episode four after the Quaker meeting where she asks, “oh, my tits ruined your peace?”. She is going after him, trying to understand why he chooses god over a woman, and in this case, her. In episode five, he is blatant and direct when he tells her, “We can’t have sex because I’ll fall in love with you”. This juxtaposition of sex and love is how the show gets educative on telling us how important physical intimacy is with an emotional one. It’s something that we’re always taught to be away from but the show makes us question if that’s even possible?
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Even after the end up having sex, there is a lingering question the next day. Whether he is going to end up with her or not? Throughout their journey somewhere in our hearts, we’re vouching for them to be together. There is a flashback where Fleabag tells Boo that she has all this ‘love’ for her mother but doesn’t know where to put it. Boo replies, “I’ll take it”. In this very instance, we see how much Fleabag loved Boo and now that she is gone, the next person she is planning to give this love to is The Priest.
This elevates the stakes of how much she loves him. We want something nice to happen for her sake. But in the end, The Priest chooses God. It is a real tragedy when literally God comes in the way of you and your love. It teaches us that life can be cruel more than once and how love is never enough. Loving a person unconditionally or having great compatibility can be certain metrics of being with someone but a true tragedy can still take place where you do everything right and still things don’t work out the way you wish.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge said earlier how the show is about ‘female rage’. This is constantly shown in small or big moments. Kristin Scott Thomas’ cameo with fairly contrasting view on menopause and the truth about women’s pain since birth, Fleabag’s monologue at the church (which is true for the youth in general), the Hot Misogynist who defends rapists and has a never lost a case are a few examples. But my favorite bit is still from episode 5- “Hair is everything”. It’s almost a universal fact that men are very ignorant about women’s hair and that scene will make anyone understand what it represents. The show portrays female rage in many such direct and indirect manners.
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There are multiple moments where Phoebe Waller-Bridge also makes us think against society norms while being true to the show’s oddball humor. The fact that she looks gorgeous at her mother’s funeral and is expected to cry. Claire saying in the final, “I can’t leave my father’s wedding”. How a miscarriage should only bring grief. One of the best scenes of the season, in the end, is when Fleabag’s dad tells her “I love you, but I don’t like you all the time”. Almost a slap to the face of every blind believer who loves their families just because they are ‘blood- related’. The representation of the complex nature of this love-like relationship is simple yet moving.
The genius of edgy writing and takes an incredible turn this season with how breaking the fourth wall is used. It’s not a tool used for the first time in history but there is a twist to it, the fact that someone actually notices it. Andrew Scott’s character asks her directly again and again that “where do you go?”, almost noticing that she is talking to the camera. This subtle play on how absent-minded a human can be in a conversation is fruitful not only because it is funny but also because you see how this tool is blended. You almost stop for second and wonder whether he knows that we’re there as well. This bit of dark comedy is a brilliant layer added in this season which is a very weird way to keep the audience wondering whether they’re going to be caught by him.
Finally, the acting. Phoebe Waller-Bridge just like the first season lives her character in the truest form. Her sincerity to her character is visible in her eyes. She effortlessly switches from delivering the funniest lines to complete anguish at times. Then there is the ever-reliable Olivia Colman. She continues playing the almost bitch-like (bigger bitch than Queen Anne in ways) godmother and she nails it. It’s not just her expressions or body language but so much of her voice that does the trick. On the outside, it’s just this weird balance of shrill and innocence but with situations, it changes – especially when she pretty much screeches when the Priest cancels the wedding.
Sian Clifford, Brett Gelman, and Bill Paterson all provide tight and layered performances that require constant doses of grief and comedy. But the pick of the lot this season has to be Andrew Scott. He played a pretty esoteric James Moriarty in the past but that just feels like a convenient performance now that he has pulled off the ‘hot’ priest. His character not only has a quirky personality on the outside but also has constant self-doubt throughout the season. Scott is phenomenal with pulling off this out of the box priest with realism. One can never argue that a character like his may not exist because he makes you believe that everything he does, which is against the societal norms of a priest, makes him nothing less of a priest because of his strong belief. He fluctuates between being loud, tender, unsure, in love and he aces every emotion with a certain vulnerability that comes from a place of truth and his understanding of this complex character.
The final scene where Fleabag and The Priest just look at each other before even talking at the bus stop says what is next to come. We almost subconsciously know this isn’t going to end well and it leads to a truly heartbreaking finale. A great deal of credit here has to go to both of them on making us feel almost empty at this moment and shouting from within – wishing them to be together. Her watery eyes and a single tear from him make it painfully magical and surely one of the best-acted scenes this year. It pains me to write that there’s a likeability that there will be no Fleabag Season 3. But at the same time, it’s one of the few shows one can savor in their heart. So, all I can say in the end is thank you, Phoebe Waller-Bridge for this hysterical heartbreak. It won’t be forgotten.