The second and final season of ‘Fleabag’ trades cynicism for hope

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 5:21pm

BBC

NOSELL

Yesterday, I finished watching season two of “Fleabag,” and everything feels different now. To even attempt to articulate how perfect it is feels like an injustice. Words could never be enough, yet I still feel a compulsion to scream out to the world just how much I love it, how great it is, how it may even be the greatest TV show we have. “Fleabag” is so good it hurts.

Season 2 is glorious. It’s devastating. It’s heartwarming. It’s cruel. All of this is true of its first season as well, but season 2 somehow finds a way to magnify its greatness in what could only be described as a colossal improvement. I didn’t think improving “Fleabag” was even possible, but here we are.

The central premise of season 2 may come across as somewhat unexpected, even laughable to anyone who has seen the show’s bleak first season. Fleabag, played and written beautifully by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Killing Eve”) falls madly, hopelessly, head over heels in love. She acknowledges this herself when she tells the camera in the season’s very first moments, “This is a love story.” Of course, it wouldn’t be “Fleabag” if there wasn’t a tint of dark comedy at play. As it turns out, the man Fleabag has fallen in love with is a Catholic priest played by Andrew Scott (“Sherlock”), a person whose position leaves him inherently incapable of being with Fleabag without jeopardizing both his way of life and sense of morality. This unlikely relationship obviously lends itself to comedy, but, under Waller-Bridge’s careful guidance, it also lends itself to a powerful examination of love, loss and what we are willing to sacrifice for true connection.

We get the sense that this new relationship is a breakthrough for Fleabag’s character through the season’s manipulation of the show’s signature fourth wall. In season one, the fourth wall is used as a comedic tool for Fleabag to mock mock the situations she finds herself in the middle of. In fact, it’s not at all unlike how the fourth wall is used in the U.S. version of “The Office.” Similar to John Krasinski’s (“Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”) Jim, Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag looks at the camera, right at us, whenever something particularly stupid or ridiculous occurs.

However, something very special happens with the fourth wall this season. Granted, it’s not only a stylistic/comedic function, but a narrative one too. For the first time, another person — Fleabag’s love interest — sees right through her. Unlike any other person in Fleabag’s universe, the priest can actually detect her fourth wall breaks, without the privacy of which she is left vulnerable. With him, she’s fully exposed, unable to hide behind the defense mechanism that’s protected her for so long. Fleabag begins to realize that maybe this is a good thing, to be seen.

“Fleabag” inevitably finds humor in this newfound phenomenon. The priest repeatedly calls out Fleabag for her behavior, questioning “What was that?” and “Where did you just go?” As a viewer, it’s an exhilarating experience — we are just as much a part of the show as these two characters are.

While undeniably funny, the priest’s awareness of the fourth wall is also quite profound. He sees her. The only other people who’ve really seen her, her mom and her best friend, are dead. But now, now she’s found someone new to love who sees her for who she truly is, which may just be what she’s been looking for all along.

I’m not going to tell you how this love story ends. To do so, I feel, would take away from the finale’s incredible emotional punch. And honestly, whether or not Fleabag and the priest end up together is irrelevant. What matters is that Fleabag, for the first time in a very, very long time, has rediscovered how to love and be loved in spite of all she’s lost. In the words of the band Alabama Shakes, whose muted ballad “This Feeling” closes out the season, she’s “gonna be alright.” That, I think, is as happy and hopeful of an ending as we could have expected from a show as cynical and brutally honest as “Fleabag.”