Fleabag: sex, sisterhood and that stepmother

2 Jun
Fleabag

Fleabag

You hear the hype about a certain show, and you go in cynical: surely this can’t be that good. The show is British: are people in love with it because of widespread Anglophilia? And yet, brisk 25-minute episode after brisk 25-minute episode,  I saw why Fleabag has garnered so much attention. It is often hard to watch because of the emotional honesty of the nameless protagonist, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the creator/writer of the show. Fleabag, as she is referred to in the credits, walks around with grief- her mother died a few years ago, and her best friend committed suicide in the near past. Her sister is awful, her brother-in-law is repulsive, and her stepmother delights in insulting her stepdaughters with a smile and a barb. I am of thinking of season one, which introduces us to this world, a bleak one punctuated by the wit of the main character. Humor is the coping mechanism in her chaotic life, and she frequently breaks the fourth wall with a wink, eye roll, or smirk. We end up coping along with her.

Season two is decidedly brighter, following the events of season one a year later. Fleabag announces to the audience at the beginning: This is a love story. And we see two parallel love stories play out: one, between the main character and an endearing, lonely Catholic priest, and two, between Fleabag and her sister, Claire. First, falling in love with the priest, the ultimate unavailable man. Both he and Fleabag lead unconventional lives, with tenuous grasps on how to embrace (or reject) their sexuality. The priest flirts with Fleabag, not seeming entirely comfortable with his vow of celibacy, whereas she admitted in the previous season that sex is more interesting to her as pursuit than act. Both characters open up to each other, and Fleabag is vulnerable in scene after scene with the priest, culminating in a tearful monologue in the confessional. Twitter user Ellen O’Connell Whittet shares an interesting theory about what foxes symbolize throughout the season and especially in the last scene (spoiler alert: only click if you’ve already watched the show). The writing is at its most insightful when both of these characters talk to each other, though there is also a memorable rant delivered by the still-luminous Kristin Scott Thomas on the pain of womanhood that reminded me of the cool girl observations from Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”.

And the other love story at the heart of season 2 of Fleabag, the one that shows its protagonists’s evolution as much as, if not more than, her affection for the priest: her sister Claire. Brittle and unsmiling, she couldn’t be more different from her sister, an open book who can’t help but blurt out what’s on her mind, especially to her rude stepmother (wonderfully played by Olivia Colman). And yet the sisters push each other to be better throughout the season, with Fleabag supporting her on several occasions, defending her from the smarmy brother-in-law from hell and providing a united front against nasty stepmom. One of the sweetest moments of the show is when the reserved Claire tells her sister that she’d only run through an airport for one person- for her.

There are so many aspects of the show to delve into. I’d love to explore the writing,  the feminism, the spirituality. Each season lasts just over 2 hours. This is two evenings, or one cold Sunday, at home. Watch the show if you haven’t already, and if you have, let me know what you think, or if you’ve bought the Fleabag jumpsuit.

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