Multi-hyphenate Phoebe Waller-Bridge closes out her series on an emotional high.
Back before she became the next big thing with her award-winning series Killing Eve, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was the creator of the ensemble comedy Crashing (tragically canceled in one season), as well as the TV adaptation of her hit one-woman play Fleabag (2016).
Despite the success of Killing Eve, Waller-Bridge opted not to return as head writer for its second season in order to wrap up what she began with Fleabag. The tragicom was not originally intended to go beyond a single season, but clearly, BBC Three and Waller-Bridge decided that there was more story left to tell.
So here we are, approximately two years and six new half-hour episodes later. The first season ended on a grim note as Fleabag made a scene at her insufferable Godmother (Olivia Colman)’s Sex-hibition and was asked to leave by her father (Bill Paterson). Adding insult to injury, her sister Claire (Sian Clifford) sided with her drunken asshole husband, Martin (Brett Gelman), when Fleabag claimed he made advances on her.
The first episode of S2 is a loose “bottle” episode that helpfully re-establishes all of the family relationships over the course of Godmother and Dad’s engagement party dinner. Just over a year has passed and in that time Fleabag and her sister have barely spoken (Claire’s job requires her to travel regularly) and the weight of season one finale looms over the evening as everyone waits to see if Fleabag, the black sheep of the family, which cause another scene.
The premiere also introduces a new cast member, the Priest (Andrew Scott) who will marry Godmother and Dad, whom Fleabag immediately develops a flirtatious – and inappropriate – connection with. As always Waller-Bridge’s scripts (she wrote the entire series) crackle with intelligence, wit and pitch-perfect timing. The first episode serves as a showcase for just how finely crafted these characters are and how perfectly the cast plays them. For 95% of its runtime, the premiere exclusively focuses on the dialogue of these six characters (with regular interruptions by an unfortunate server caught up in the drama), but it is some of the most hilarious, uncomfortable and witty television viewers are apt to see all year.
Subsequent episodes branch out, but Fleabag’s long memory ensures that pertinent subplots such as Claire and Martin’s marital woes, the bust that Fleabag stole from Godmother and the suicide of her friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), which drove so much of the internal conflict in season one, are never forgotten. The simmering attraction between Fleabag and the Priest is a substantial driver of the new season and although viewers are apt to swoon over the palpable chemistry between Waller-Bridge and Scott, the storyline is just as interested in exploring faith, loneliness, and healing as it is about forbidden romance.
This is a series that is founded on the small tragedies that comprise everyday life, and the emotional connections (or lack thereof) to loved ones that allow us to get out of bed and live another day.
Oh, and foxes… there’s a great recurring joke about the Priest’s fear of foxes.
What distinguishes Fleabag from the endless other series being churned out is its delicate mix of charm, heart, and pathos. This is a series that is founded on the small tragedies that comprise everyday life and the emotional connections (or lack thereof) to loved ones that allow us to get out of bed and live another day. Fleabag undoubtedly benefits from the deeply personal elements that Waller-Bridge brings to her multiplicity of roles, as well as the series’ propensity to break the fourth wall. When Fleabag delivers witty, bitchy, and candid asides to us, it creates a unique bond between the character and the audience that feels deeply intimate. It’s nearly impossible not to root for Fleabag, even when she’s at her absolute, most self-destructive worst and while Fleabag season two finds the character working on her personal growth, she remains a deeply flawed, messy human being who is as likely to do right as she is to spectacularly fuck things up.
Thankfully the drama is perfectly balanced with great comedic sensibility. There’s a sight gag in episode three when Fleabag caters Claire’s work function that is entirely predictable, yet still gasp-worthy and uproariously hilarious; it perfectly encapsulates the show’s tone and character in a single joke. That episode also features a great cameo by a British actress of a certain stature that somehow never feels like stunt-casting, even though her appearance elicited a gasp of wonder in my household.
Naturally all of the narrative subplots culminate at Godmother and Dad’s wedding, which includes (and nicely subverts) the expected tropes of romantic comedies to deliver an emotional and affecting finale. The very last scene of season two is a near-replica of the first season, but a single, final interaction between Fleabag and the audience makes it clear that she – and by extension the series – has grown and evolved. It’s a quietly emotional gut punch if only because there is such finality to it. Waller-Bridge has confirmed that she considers this the end of the series and, if so, it is a fitting wrap-up. It is just difficult to process the idea that this is the last we will see of this amazing character.
In a sea of television content, Fleabag was never a big fish, but in two short seasons, the tragi-com proved to be one of the medium’s absolute best. There is little doubt that the second season will wind up on “Best Of” lists come December; it truly is a masterpiece.
Fleabag premieres May 17 on Amazon Prime.