“Is that holy?”
“A little bit less than it was before.”
Fleabag is populated with unlikely pairings, some more so than others, including Claire’s marriage to Martin, who couldn’t be less appealing if he tried (and he does), and the engagement of Fleabag’s father, a gentle man of few words and even fewer complete sentences, to her blithe, garrulous godmother. The series has rather impressively managed to explore in a relatively short period why these couples are together, though—career-minded Claire got an instant family when she married Martin, who already has a creepy teenage son, which saved her some time. Godmother may run roughshod over everyone’s feelings, not to mention that she was Fleabag’s mother’s best friend, but she’s also revived Fleabag’s widowed father (referred to as “Dad” on IMDb, so that’s what we’re going with going forward), offering him all kinds of new experiences.
What’s also at the core of all of those relationships and countless others is loneliness, which nothing—not a promotion or sex or friendship or bassoon lessons—is capable of warding off all the time. When season two begins, Fleabag has garnered some success and greater control of her impulses, but she’s mostly estranged from the person who knows her best (even if that person won’t admit it): Claire. So Fleabag attends a family dinner where insults inevitably become the main course, in effort to reestablish that connection. It’s not sex with strangers, but neither is it that much healthier of an approach, given that humiliation is a prerequisite.
But that’s the rub, isn’t it? With every relationship, romantic or otherwise, we set limits on what we’ll tolerate (some by not having any limits at all). Early on, Fleabag described herself as “a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman,” and ever since, her family has been positioned as beset by her flaws. What season two delves into is everything she’s taken from them in return—not just the insults, but secrets and lies. Her place in the family becomes more clearly defined: Fleabag isn’t just a sinner, she’s a sin-eater, made privy to all their worst decisions not because of a sense of confidence, but because she’s clearly heard and done worse.
Which is why, despite a certain set of pesky vows, her crush on the Priest isn’t nearly as outrageous as it initially seems. There’s the obvious physical appeal of Andrew Scott and his charming readings of lines like “Oh, I don’t know how to talk to babies!,” but as Fleabag and the Priest spend more time together, we see how they play similar roles within their communities. They hear the confessions of others with no judgment, the Priest being deemed above it, and Fleabag below it. The responses to her miscarriage ranged from matter-of-fact to deprecating. Even as Claire thanks Fleabag in “Episode 2" for taking that on, her gratitude has the same ring as deprecation: “You’re better at dealing with awful things.”
When the season begins, Fleabag is somewhat penitent and increasingly abstinent, which makes her that much more sympathetic to the Priest’s reality. He’s also someone who has walked the road of excess Fleabag was recently on, and the measure of peace he’s achieved is every bit as appealing to her as his earthiness. We don’t know where this is going (or, if you’ve also watched ahead, then you do know, but please don’t spoil it for others!), but the dynamic Phoebe Waller-Bridge creates is believably romantic, moving from arm touches and knuckle brushes to revealing recommendations, the highlighted Bible passages being the equivalent of a mixtape. There’s a very Thorn Birds moment as the two bond over spilled tea and canned G&Ts before a religious painting comes crashing down in the background. Fleabag’s earlier reaction to that imagery is a gas—as she takes in the sight of a woman kneeling before the sinewy son of God, her “Jesus” translates to “naughty.”
And it is naughty when she admits to us that she fancies the priest, just as it’s naughty for her to move forward with her pursuit even after speaking with a therapist (Fiona Shaw, who might just as well be playing God for all her inscrutability and formidability). It also feels inevitable, and not just because of her track record. Fleabag and the Priest have more in common than checkered pasts and hearing the confessions of others—they’ve also sublimated desires (with varying success) for some greater purpose. Fleabag is just realizing that, and the Priest seems eager to help her find it. After reminding us of the many reasons people stay together, Fleabag explores the reasons they might initially fall for each other. Loneliness clearly isn’t the only factor for Fleabag, although it is definitely there—as she admits to the therapist, her father has been distant since her mother’s death (which was more than four years ago now), her sister thinks she tried to have sex with her husband, and she has no friends now that Boo is gone.
“This is a love story” set the tone and direction last episode; after the therapist’s observation that Fleabag “already [knows] what [she’s] going to do. Everybody does,” we have a better idea who that story will center on. Frankly, it’s kind of hard not to root for them.
- Fleabag’s lack of discretion actually makes her great at therapy, though she probably won’t go back any time soon.
- “Can you fuck God?” “Oh yes.” Her time is limited, but god, does Fiona Shaw make it count. For more on her roles in Killing Eve and My Left Foot, check out TV Editor Erik Adams’ interview with the esteemed actor.
- I can’t make up my mind about my favorite Priest line this episode—it’s a tie between the baby thing, which is something no Irish priest is probably ever supposed to say, and “I’d spend 40 days and nights in that dessert,” a punny headline he shares with so much pride that it’s clear he knows his audience (Fleabag).
- Godmother was just as effortlessly mean as ever, from projecting an intent onto Fleabag’s miscarriage (“You probably did the right thing”) to the back-handed compliment of “my, you have a very thick neck.”
- Was Pam’s cupcake situation really just a cupcake that fell on the ground? I’m not Catholic, but that seems like a bit of an overreaction.
- “Just a girl with no friends and an empty heart.” I can’t tell if I want this on a T-shirt or not.
- Equally sexy Priests: I know I mentioned The Thorn Birds up top, but Richard Chamberlain was always too waxy-looking for me. Instead, might I remind you of the dearly departed Heath Ledger in 2003's The Order?