Review: Amazon's Fleabag
by Grace Oeth
It’s funny, heartbreaking, and definitely not something you should watch with your parents. Based off of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show in which she also plays the titular character, “Fleabag” is a British comedy that follows a woman living in London who runs a guinea-pig themed cafe and attends feminist lectures with her “perfect” sister. Although the first season was a smash hit, it’s the second season that brings more depth to Amazon’s already poignant show. With Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s masterful writing, she continues her hilarious wit through the plot, but there is much more underlying impact that is impossible to ignore. In a show so pointedly drawn to how some millennial woman avidly attempt to distract herself with meaningless hookups and flings, there is room, a hidden possibility, for long-term happiness for our protagonist. There’s only the question of whether she’ll end up earning it.
The plot and characters are enigmatically funny and relatable as ever, often fitting into modern-day tropes. Annoyingly passive-aggressive stepmothers trying not to comment on a man’s terrible front tooth while on a date. Jokes over how one of the few uses left of triple A batteries are for vibrators. In an interview with Vogue, Phoebe Waller-Bridge said that the inspiration for this show came from “the cynicism [she] was feeling in [her] twenties, and wanting to play a character [she] could really relate to. And also a touch of female rage.”
The very form Waller-Bridge gives these episodes are contemporary in nature. Six episodes, 15-20 minutes long, makes a manageably binge-able show. It’s just enough to watch on a train commute into the city. The scenes are riddled with fourth-wall breaks, establishing a connection with the main character, Fleabag, and the audience—which the writing cleverly insinuates that the person in the audience is her equal. We grow attached as this woman navigates her life and strains to keep all the unraveling pieces together. We grow to cherish these intimate conversations with Fleabag, especially when they aren’t exclusively ours anymore.
Waller-Bridge took three years to write the second installment of “Fleabag” because she was unsure where the story could possibly go after the first season. But what leads this season is Fleabag’s unexpected, yet highly metaphorical love story (The character looks straight into the camera and says, “This is a love story.”). After an awkward dinner party with her family—whom she hardly speaks to—she is introduced to a man. A Hot Priest, to be exact. What makes this man distinguishable from the many other romantic partners in the show is that he can see her whenever she acknowledges her audience. When the Hot Priest acknowledges them, he says it’s like she turns “invisible.” Therefore, making him the only person that takes notice in her—that can actually see her. It affects the audience unexpectedly, as it does Fleabag, for we never knew it could be done before.
Through this season, we also witness Fleabag’s family start to pay more attention to the woman Fleabag is becoming. Especially within the developing relationship she builds with her sister. It is extremely difficult to write and portray an accurate and realistic depiction of siblings, but Fleabag executes it brilliantly. Not without the usual squabbles and petty arguments, it’s clear that the two sisters can rely on a common and loving bond between them. Fleabag supports her sister through a tumultuous marriage, and vice versa when Claire–Fleabag’s sister– understands how hard Fleabag falls for the Hot Priest. In fact, the audience acts alongside Claire when she discovers the relationship; she’s initially frustrated (possibly a little disappointed) but ultimately acknowledges the struggle her sister is facing as she genuinely searches for what any person deserves—love. These two women give a beautiful depiction of what a sister-sister relationship is like as an adult. As a result, Claire delivers one of the show’s most simple, yet devastating lines: “The only person I would run through an airport for is you.”
“Fleabag,” quite simply, is for women. It was undoubtedly relatable in its first series, but it was the second one that truly understands that every person deserves love. By stating that this was in fact a “love story,” Waller-Bridge not only wants to acknowledge the romance Fleabag eventually experiences, but the familial bond between her sister that grows stronger. Neither of these relationships come easy, but they are the ones that must be built upon in order for them to endure. Fleabag helps us realize that it’s these things that we need to care about more, rather than the fleeting, daily distractions the contemporary world provides for us. In a behind-the-scenes short centered around the making of Fleabag’s second season, Waller-Bridge said “There’s a little bit of Fleabag in everyone, and there’s a little bit of everyone in Fleabag...She wants you to have a good time, but also she desperately wants to connect...You know, like the rest of us.”
What’s most devastating yet clever about Fleabag, is that she says goodbye to us. The entire series is meant to end with the second season, and the last shot we ever see of its protagonist is her walking away and waving goodbye. The fourth wall breaks that sustained throughout the show was no longer something that Fleabag needed to rely on for comfort. And with that realization, she lets go. It’s a heartbreaking ending, both for the character and the audience, but like any person who starts to grieve the end of a fantastic show, we go back to the beginning and watch it again.