• “She Doesn’t Need Us Anymore”: A Look at Fleabag Season 2

    Writing about the second season of Fleabag feels, in a way, like an act of desecration. So much of the season’s beauty and brilliance are found in the unsaid: split-second glances and fixed gazes, silent Quaker meetings and portraits falling off church walls. There’s magic in the moments when we as viewers are tacitly acknowledged and those when we are quietly ignored. By putting all that power into words, I fear I run the risk of diminishing it — cheapening it, even. But the scribes of the Bible knew better than anyone: some experiences are so moving and revelatory, they demand to be written down.

    Of course, that’s not exactly how the Priest (or, the Hot Priest, as Twitter has officially named him) tries to sell Fleabag on the Bible. “They’re just words,” he tells her offhandedly, as he gives her a copy with some thoughtfully marked passages. “It’s just, I think I know what happens,” Fleabag tells him. She takes the Bible anyway, and reads it in her bathtub, gesticulating as if it were a smutty novel.

    Giving the Bible a good once-over isn’t the only way Fleabag has been trying to dig herself out of her nadir from last season’s finale. She’s been doing squats with a personal trainer, eating toast with avocado and veggies on top, and even stopped having casual sex. We know all of this because Fleabag tells us. The night of her father’s engagement dinner, Fleabag looks us right in the eye, in that intoxicating way that she does, and insists she’s “done everything” to be better.

    At that same dinner, Fleabag is unwittingly seated next to the Priest (“Don’t know who this guy is,” she snidely tells us.) Sparks fly when the two stumble into each other for a smoke outside. “Fellow smoker,” he re-introduces himself. “Do you have a spare one?”

    Volumes could be penned on the romance that follows. I won’t belabor the artistry and chemistry and honesty that merge to animate their love.

    But I can tell you that this season’s brief but profound love story ripped me apart, then stitched me back together. The stitches hurt, too. I watched the entirety of season two sitting cross-legged and recently heartbroken on the floor of John Wayne Airport. I don’t recommend watching all of the second season of Fleabag on the floor of John Wayne Airport. I do, however, recommend watching the second season of Fleabag with a broken heart. What the six episodes — and especially the final episode — offer is acute emotional catharsis.

    Creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge has confirmed that Fleabag’s second season will be its last, making the series, as Alison Herman observed, a diptych. Finality always puts undue pressure — particularly emotional pressure — on works of television, and often final seasons fracture under that pressure. But sometimes, finales stick the landing, striking the perfect balance of narrative closure and emotional resonance. Fleabag is one of the few, hallowed series to pull off the latter.

    Fleabag’s first season ended with our titular antihero wandering the streets of London alone, black mascara tears streaking her cheeks. She had lost everything: her best friend was dead, and her lover, sister, and father had all rejected her in the course of a single night. Watching her drift ghostly through the night, I wondered why Fleabag didn’t heave herself in front of traffic, like her best friend Boo did.

    The series’ final episode also ends with heartrending loss. But this one is bittersweet, destructive, and productive all at once. We hurt for Fleabag, but Fleabag assures us — us! — that it’ll be okay. It’s here that I circle back to that broken heart I mentioned earlier — the pain of holding it, the act of nursing it, and the weirdly specific catharsis Fleabag offered me and, hopefully, other broken-heart-holders.

    ¤

    Fleabag spent the first season of her TV-life avoiding the crushing aloneness that came with losing her mother and best friend. And, as we’ve now learned, her asides were also part of that effort, as her dissociation also provided quick but needed respite from aloneness. For as long as we’ve known her, Fleabag has been “just a girl with no friends and an empty heart,” her therapist divines from her new client’s own self-description.

    Then the Priest wanders into that empty heart. There’s the dinner, the Bible-giving, the bathtub-reading, and lots of talk about the constraints of celibacy. Ultimately, the pair end up knowing each other, in the Biblical sense. But not without a constant simmering of guilt and shame and desire and coveting thy neighbor’s priest — all rather Biblical feelings.

    After their first and only night together, all is precariously well for Fleabag and the Priest. They steal full-bodied kisses at her father’s wedding, which the Priest is officiating. It’s all very forbidden, but what makes their relationship more exciting to witness is its honesty.

    Things end as they must: the Priest chooses God over Fleabag. Their time together will be archived as a series of memories, the kind we flash back to, twinges, every so often. The inevitable dissolution of their relationship is tough enough to swallow. But the hope that comes in its wake is even harder to fully take in — not because it is disingenuous, but because it was so honest and relieving that it was hard to fully accept for myself. To borrow a phrase from Emily VanDerWerff’s astute review, “I almost couldn’t look right at it. It was too bright.”

    For Fleabag, hell — in the words of Jean-Paul Sartre — is other people. She’s gone to great lengths to avoid them, forgoing meaningful connection in favor of casual flings and a secret affair with us, the viewer. So naturally, the second season of Fleabag points to other people — meeting them, knowing them, loving them — as a kind of salvation, no matter how fleeting our connections may be.  “People are all we’ve got,” a sagacious, older businesswoman named Belinda tells Fleabag over drinks.

    ¤

    “I love you,” Fleabag tells the Priest at the bus stop where they part. He tells her, softly, “It’ll pass.” That’s when I thought, on the floor of John Wayne Airport, I might just die.

    This is a fundamentally comforting sentiment, reminiscent of the old adage “This too shall pass.” Her feelings for the Priest will fade — a loss — but so will the pain of their separation, the ache of his absence. And losing that hurt can be painful in itself — hoarding the hurt can be a way of holding onto the memory of the person. “I don’t know what to do with it,” Fleabag tells Boo at her mother’s funeral. “With all the love I have for her. I don’t know where to put it now.”

    Anais Nin once declared that “love never dies a natural death,” and this rattled around my mind as I boarded my plane, awash in the dark and dull hues of the final scene. What hurts most about the Priest and Fleabag’s end is how unnatural it is; their candle didn’t gradually burn itself out — it was snuffed out by circumstance. My chest buckled in recognition.

    But then there is the painful, nourishing, fortifying catharsis that wrapped up the series — the moment that launched a thousand essays. After the Priest leaves the bus stop, Fleabag sits for a long moment. Then she turns to us, close up, and grins a soft, teary grin. She looks away, breathes in, and packs up to leave. We follow her until she turns back and with a delicate shake of the head, tacitly tells us to hang back. We do. She walks away, leaving us at the bus stop just as she was left moments before and gives us a coy wave from down the block. Then she’s gone.

    In this final moment, Fleabag doesn’t just break the fourth wall; she blows it up. It’s a loss for us — we’ve lost Fleabag and Fleabag — but it is also comforting to know she doesn’t need us anymore. She can make it on her own. This is painful, but she’s going to make it out the other side. “I almost couldn’t look right at it.”

    Watching her walk away from me, I exhaled. I was blistered and soothed simultaneously. She’s hurt, she’s hurting. She’s going to be okay. I’m hurt, I’m hurting. I’m going to be okay.

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