Fleabag and I had a very difficult relationship at first. I was left quite unsettled after the first episode and couldn’t wrap my head around a character who seemed to be so innately selfish and reckless. It was difficult to gauge her sex craze or the overly smart commentary, yet I was partially invested. Soon that investment led to a whole commitment and the dynamic the two of us share now, is magical.
Phoebe Waller Bridge stars in her self written and self-directed comedic ensemble titled Fleabag. The Emmy award-winning show promises chuckles at awkward moments and scenes that you will relate to on some astounding, metaphorical level. Set in bustling London, the show features the unnamed protagonist played by Phoebe Waller Bridge, an eccentric woman in her late 20’s, whose life is an intersection of fantasies, fibs, and fear.
The first half of the season really throws you into this world where everyone is a misfit who doesn’t know it yet and adding to it, is her childish antics. She’s caught in the throes of grief after the death of her mother and best friend. It’s when she returns to life that’s functioning as per usual, that she falters. These include the hamster themed cafe she co-owned with her late best friend along with the sparse commonalities she shares with her father. It’s the loss of security as well as a loss of ownership of her personal outlet.
To add to the mix, she interacts with her compulsive and controlling elder sister, Claire, and her moronic husband Martin. There’s also her strange nephew who has his few heroic moments and is her personal source of amusement. Her godmother-turned-step-mother is the epitome of all things passive-aggressive and her devilish smile drives not only Fleabag but the audience too, right over the cliff.
The show is injected with sarcastic interjections, the sharp breaking of the fourth wall, and uncomfortable interactions that will definitely leave you in splits. Towards the end of the first season however, those layers begin to shed and we are finally confronted with the harsh truth of it all, the real reason for her friend’s death. For once, the know-it-all attitude takes a backseat. All her recklessness, the flippancy and the string of men she plays around with have become ghosts. The vulnerability grows so large that she can’t look at the camera anymore. She’s forced to be tethered to a place she doesn’t see herself a part of.
It’s the second season that catches the character off guard and not the audience. It’s when the audience sits back and waits for her redemption while the character picks up the pieces to this crazy unpredictable puzzle. The Hot Priest plays an instrumental role here. He catches her little trick very flirtatiously, as she escapes when she looks into the camera. The whole desire she has to be a complex enigma is broken down bit by bit and ends with a unique redemption. She’s learnt to stop hiding, even if it meant fantasizing about a priest, well, it worked.
The script has gone beyond limits to showcase the weirdness in all of us and how there really isn’t a normal as much as we think there is. The plot is observational and brutally honest. Whether its stalking the cute priest at your local church, or receiving a birthday coupon for therapy from your father, or freeing your sister from a marriage with a perverted loon, they resonate with the audience in surreal and unexpected ways. It serves as a reminder that it’s okay that you “worry whether you’d be a less of a feminist if you had a bigger chest”, and assure you that wallowing in this feeling of loneliness that no one else seems to be experiencing, is alright.
“You know, either everyone feels like this a bit, and they’re just not talking about it, or I’m completely fucking alone.”
The culmination of it all is done boldly with no sugar coating. Olivia Coleman, Sian Clifford, Hugh Skinner and Andrew Scott deserve special mentions for their stellar performances. To Phoebe Waller Bridge, you left me surprisingly reassured. You’ve normalized the acceptance of two very different love’s. The unspoken emotional obligation of love in a (dysfunctional) family as well as the unrequited love. These are the two kinds that never really find its place in mainstream media. Fleabag speaks for a girl that can’t and fears the unexplained obscure that only she will ever understand.
If this isn’t enough, at least watch it for Andrew Scott, a squirmy sex-hibition and an appointment with the Becoming Better Men workshop.