Home > love, tv, Uncategorized > A Messy Love Letter to FLEABAG

A Messy Love Letter to FLEABAG

YO. SPOILERS. Don’t read if you haven’t seen Season Two. And if you HAVEN’T, GO DO THAT NOW.

 

At the beginning of season two, Fleabag turns to the camera and quips, “This is a love story.” And, as she usually is during those furtive asides, she’s right. It is a love story, but it’s not just about one kind of love. It’s about love in the wake of grief (the loss of their mum). It’s about the love between sisters (Claire and Fleabag always show up for each other, despite their clashes). It’s about loving yourself, even when you make a mistake (too many examples to list, but Claire’s awful haircut comes to mind). It’s about loving yourself enough to walk away from things that don’t make you happy, not really (Martin, because good god, he’s a proper shit, isn’t he?).

And along with all that, it’s about unexpected, unlooked for, tricky love. Love that makes you question things, upends your whole world. Because it’s not a shallow connection. No, it’s a real and deep one, and holy hell, that is scary. Obviously, I’m talking about the relationship that develops between Fleabag and Hot Priest (Andrew Scott can kiss, because I nearly swallowed my own tongue just sitting there).

As the season progresses, the relationship between them deepens and grows. It starts as an attraction, but then careens off a cliff into something more. Why? There are a few reasons. The character of the Priest is so perfectly flawed. He’s awkward (the bit about not knowing how to talk to babies), sweary as hell (fuuuuck), and purposefully open, even when he’s unnerved by it. And that is quite interesting. Scott portrays him as playful, messy, and deeply aware. I mean, on one hand, he’s a dork who reads, likes extravagant robes, and drinks G&T out of a can. On the other hand, he really sees people. Specifically, Fleabag, who people constantly misinterpret, chastise for being herself, or outride deride (again, Martin).

The awareness of the character is incredibly alluring. It’s that recognition that tips the pulse—Fleabag’s and the audience’s—to race. The Priest isn’t simply hot because he’s forbidden. No, his hotness increases exponentially because he sees Fleabag—and tells her when he does. In a way, he intrudes on her peace just as she intrudes on his. As the show progresses, her deadpans to the camera become less and less, because she no longer needs to disassociate. She doesn’t need to escape or collect herself. Because she’s incredibly, painstakingly present.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge taps into something very real: our desire to be seen and understood as we are, hot mess and all. Not the polished version we present to the world. The Priest disrupts Fleabag’s coping mechanism (retreating), which opens the door for her healing (the grief of her mom, her best friend Boo–up until the Priest, she’s been chased around by her pain and guilt). These two characters challenge each other, meeting in a clash of ideological separateness. He calls her out from her hiding place and on her own actions: “Fuck you, calling me ‘father,’ like it doesn’t turn you on just to say it.” I’ll admit, I had to pause the show for a moment, because, like Fleabag, I was also stunned. The almost casual audacity of his honesty was alarmingly attractive, even when he was struggling with it. There’s an electric rawness to their interactions—something that can’t be articulated, but you know it when you see it.

There’s also an element of inevitability to the relationship. It’s clear that the attraction is there, but the question is: give in or not? Do they, as it were, kneel to it? Eventually, we all do. And even though, superficially, the Priest goes to Fleabag’s to assure her they won’t be physical, you have to wonder who he’s really saying that to—her or himself? And it’s truly the latter. It’s a very real moment of someone trying to convince themselves that what they want won’t happen, right up until the moment where it does.

I found it fascinating that he stops by wearing his priest outfit, as if it’s armor. A way to cause a separation between them, perhaps a way to remind himself of his commitment to God. But he was wearing it in the previous confessional scene, so the choice is fascinating. We’ve seen him out in the world wearing regular clothing—in those moments with Fleabag, when he’s simply not a man of God. But again, he puts himself in the exact situation he wanted to avoid, knowing the upheaval it meant. And that is a brilliant kind of bravery. He could’ve run away. He could’ve spoken to her in full daylight, out somewhere that didn’t have perpetual sex lighting and a bed. But he didn’t, which is a reminder that we often know exactly what we’re doing and why, even when we say we don’t (the therapist said as much).

In the end, Fleabag and the Priest walk, literally, in opposite directions. He’s trailed by a fox, which is arguably a manifestation of his faith. They love each other, and that ached in such a beautiful way. The writing is brilliant, but I have to wonder, when he told her “it’ll pass,” was he speaking to her or himself? And did he truly mean it? Because love isn’t a kidney stone, even if it sometimes hurts like one.

In the closing moments, despite the heartbreak dampening the air like the rain, the audience knows that Fleabag will be okay. She gives us a last look, before turning her back. In that, she’s walking away not only from the Priest, but of the old habits she used to lean on as a crutch before the Priest. She’s changed; their relationship changed her, quite obviously for the better. And that’s a powerful thing, isn’t it? Love that leaves us better than we were before. That’s what unselfish love does. It sees and restores.

The hopeless romantic in me realizes that the Priest is right when he talks about how difficult love is, how much it sometimes hurts, and how much it feels like hope. Love is absolutely, maddeningly terrifying. But it’s also life-changing and healing, often in hideously unexpected ways.

In the first episode of the season, Fleabag walks into a family dinner and meets a man who sees her—in a room full of people who don’t. When she’s at her worst, he doesn’t run. He pries her open and holds up a mirror. It’s a mess, but it’s real. And in the end, it’s a multilayered love story. Sex features in it, but it’s not the focus—although, it’s the culmination of things we already know to be true. In fact, consider that Fleabag outright sent the Lawyer away—the best sex of her life—in favor of real connection with the Priest. In that scene, it’s real intimacy that she’s after. There’s a hunger, too, when she and the Priest kiss; it somehow manages to illustrate that soul-deep intimacy that’s so rare. (And god, when you find it. Whew.)

Yes, the season was a love story. It was Fleabag learning to love herself, through the love of someone else. The Priest held up a mirror that allowed her to transform her own understanding of who she was. Sometimes, we all need reminding that we are worth loving, even when we are difficult. In fact, I’d argue that’s when we most need love.

And yes, the show made me fall in love with a Hot Priest. As someone who was raised Catholic, that made me quite uncomfortable—but it also resonated wonderfully. No one controls who they love, what their heart wants. And often, the only way to honor that is to surrender to the whole mess. Plus, anyone who bonds over Piglet has a place in my heart.

  1. August 12, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    So many things to say about “Fleabag,” and God only knows I’ve been trying to figure out all of the things I’ve felt about it, but anything brilliant I would try to write pales in comparison to this.

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