To say series two of Fleabag has “grasped viewers” is like saying Godmother in the show is “not very nice” but in the wake of the finale, I’m struggling to find the words.
I write (and talk) about television a lot but never has a series – and one that consists of 30-minute instalments at that – dominated conversations on this level. Whether I’m chatting with work colleagues, friends or people I’ve met once down the pub, the question always comes up: “Are you watching Fleabag?”
I’ve had entire WhatsApp chats that consist solely of emojis, exclamation points and the word “priest”, all conducted while frantically pressing play on an episode I’ve already watched twice. Women have shared their miscarriage experiences after seeing Claire’s, “Hair is everything” has been shouted across dining tables and when, I ask you, has the word “kneel” ever sparked such passionate discussions?
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing is magic and I’m not going to pretend for one second that I’ve worked out why and how this series hit so hard. But she somehow captured perfectly what it is to be a human – and more specifically, a woman – who fucks up a lot, fights with her family and has sex with increasingly inappropriate people.
Her characters all make mistakes and shout at each other, trading punches and then swapping them for punchlines (“I look like a pencil”). On a sliding scale of shittiness, Godmother and Martin sit somewhere near the bottom, while Claire and her Dad are arguably at the other end and Fleabag – whose betrayal of Boo still hangs over her – swerves between them, stolen statue often in hand.
From the moment when, in her first look to camera at the start of episode one, Fleabag says, “this is a love story”, the series has felt like a dare to be romantic. I (an unsentimental person, it is more than fair to say) found myself putting faith in the relationship between Fleabag and a PRIEST, that when you take a step back was so clearly going to fail.
Lines that I’d usually find cheesy in another show or film – “I can’t have sex with you because I’ll fall in love with you” – were weirdly beautiful. Going into the finale, I was willing this incredibly attractive priest, who might be harbouring an alcohol problem, to turn his back on a faith that seemed to have saved him. He could see she was breaking the fourth wall, for god’s sake! If that isn’t intimacy, then what is.
Maybe they could walk off into the sunset, without a church painting ominously clattering to the ground behind them? After all, Claire leaves Martin and runs off to chase her namesake to the airport – a simultaneous win for both womankind and romance.
When the finale opened with the Priest laying in bed next to Fleabag, it bolstered my faith in the romance and the way he glanced towards her as he delivered the wedding homily made me forget to listen to what he was actually saying.
Fast forward to the end, when he then took a seat next to her at the bus stop, the same one we’d seen them sit at just one episode prior, it took just seconds for me to realise it was never going to work out. It’s obvious now that it wasn’t going to be but thanks to Phoebe’s writing, it really did seem possible.
The last minute of the series is testament to it as a whole; it’s devastating and devastatingly funny. The Priest’s last look and “I love you too” will break even the hardiest of viewers (aka me) but then there’s the fox – a fox! – and Phoebe’s final quip: “He went that way.”
Then there were just a few things left. She pulled out the statue, smiled through tears and began to walk away. As if she could somehow hear our cries for more episodes, Fleabag then turned and gave a shake of her head, before a wave. Without moving her lips once, she said all we needed to know. Fleabag is definitely gone for good. But what a glorious two seasons it was.