That’s it??? Fleabag’s done??? But it was only two seasons! And there were only six episodes a season! And they only gave each episode a half hour! How can they be done??
That should probably be all I say to recap my feelings on season two of Fleabag, since I had no clue that there weren’t plans for a third season until I watched Fleabag, at the end of the last episode, walk away from the camera, the audience, and the window into her world and thought, “Wait…. Nooooo… no way…It can’t be…” With a quick Google search, all of my thoughts on the inner complexities and subtleties of a brilliant season two were washed away by bereavement for a lack of another. I’ve never mistaken a series finale for a seasonfinale before, but I guess that can happen when you arrive late to the party (Waller-Bridge didn’t even want to do a second season, my Google search also informed me…much after the fact).
Eventually, I came to grips with the series being cut much shorter than normal series, because after all, the whole series was much different than normal series. Everything from the fourth wall breaks, to the overwhelming music, to the new approach to old themes was done with no regard to how things are ‘supposed’ to be done. There is real guts in the way Waller-Bridge approached the second season, and her decision to end Fleabag ‘before she should’ and maintain her story rather than her fame and fortune, grew on me quickly and will only age better with time.
And after my recovery I was able to confront the season like Fleabag confronting a camera lens. Fleabag is a show about relationships and their complexities, and season two adds a layer of complexity to the relationships established and broken during the first season of the show. During the first season the intimate look the audience was afforded into the narrator’s life was mostly a mirror reflection of what Fleabag was experiencing. So even though the glances into the camera and the dialogue that was ‘just between us’ gave the relationship power and meaning that is unlike other shows, the relationship between the audience and Fleabag remained in the realm of what other shows have done… the main character convincing the world (and by extension- the audience) that they are okay, the too intimate look into a hurting person, the main character withdrawing from the story and those watching it. Fleabag, in season one, communicated these ideas better than most other shows for sure, but season two’s approach to the audience’s relationship to Fleabag retroactively revealed the complexities inherent in the first season as well as adding its own.
For starters, choosing to start the second season almost a year after the first ended, with Waller-Bridge’s life in a much better place, displayed an ability to ‘cast-off’ her audience that we were unsure Fleabag had.
But retrospectively, watching Fleabag interact with the bank worker at the end of season one showed us her withdrawing from the audience after her too intimate moment walking the streets, staring into the camera, unable to leave it, a broken woman. When we jump forward almost a year after not having seen her, the interaction with the banker becomes the beginning of her getting rid of the audience and figuring out her life as the camera pans out and their voices fade away.
And so what is this new relationship with the audience? Why are we allowed to re-enter her world for a front row seat into her special brand of hilarious disaster? The answer, quite unexpectedly, is ‘love.’
We start the first episode of the second season after the events of said episode have already transpired (a bit of narrative genius). Therefore, Fleabag’s decision to let the audience back into her life was made in hindsight after meeting someone (the hot priest) who she could possibly love, at a time in her life where she felt capable of loving and being loved. And she quickly catches us up on the previous events of the year and the day in some of her longest narration directed into the camera. This is something she needs to show us. She is no longer convincing us she is okay. She is sharing with us what might be what she had been looking for all along.
Once again, this new perspective, as established in just one half of one episode, adds complex layers to the season to come, while also making season one more complex. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant. I am just going to keep throwing that sentence in as often as possible.
However, the best is yet to come. When the hot priest notices Fleabag, ‘go to that place’ while sitting on the bus stop, in a powerful interaction, I thought my brain was going to melt. Someone sees through her façade, someone has entered into the world that Fleabag truly lived in, a world where she revealed her true self. Someone in her other reality had made it into ‘our reality’ with her. He was able to read her inner thoughts, or see her recede from the place they were, something no one else in the show could do. Hell, it was something we didn’t know was possible for anyone else to do. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant. This type of a relationship seemed like an impossibility for Fleabag, and the feelings she had for him were probably just as startling as that realization.
All great series are able to take a theme and offer unique takes on it season after season. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant. The Wire on the urban cycle, The Sopranos on family and responsibility, Breaking Bad on morality and The American Dream. And Fleabag did that with love and relationships, with subtle differences between the two seasons.
In season one, Fleabag convinced us her life was okay with a lack of real love, that she found the situations her harmful pursuit of love was putting her in funny, and the life she was living was fine. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant. Season two shifted to a commentary on what love is to people, when it is bad and when it is good, and when you need to ‘buck up’ and deal with it. And those seasons blend together into one of the best series to stream in all of television.
And they didn’t have another commentary to make in season three. Viewed through that camera lens, she ended at the perfect time. But the thing with genius, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant, is that it’s easy to believe that the genius always has something else to conjure, that they could go to the well one more time and blow me away with their creation. But we’ve probably seen too many instances where one more season went awry to fault her for knowing when her character’s story was told.
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