The Divine Comedy
‘Fleabag’ Tries to Get it on With a Priest in a Killer Second Season
The second season of Amazon Prime Video’s “Fleabag” begins “371 Days, 19 Hours & 26 Minutes Later” from when we last saw our titular heroine (As with several characters in the show, we never learn her real name).
She’s doing much better, thanks, having turned around her downward spiral by exercising, eating well, toning down the promiscuity, and finding success in the café she created with her late friend, Boo.
Still, a year later, we first see Fleabag with a bloodied face. By the end of the season, she’ll be deeply bruised, too. And… happy? Heartbroken? Written with clever complexity and heartfelt insight by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag, the show and the character, exists within a jumble of contradictions and conflicting emotions.
Fleabag acts sincerely and empathetically in the face of her absurdly monstrous family, including future stepmother and Oscar-winner Olivia Colman and her brittle sister Claire, played by Sian Clifford. And she unleashes her funniest lines when those passive-aggressive family members attack her most brutally.
This season, Fleabag falls for a hellfire-hot Irish priest, Sherlock star Andrew Scott. He drinks, smokes, and curses (frequently!), not just because he’s lonely and traumatized, but because he’s seeking to connect with himself, the world, and God in any way he can. Their chemistry fires off nearly from the start. If predictable TV follows, the romantic dance is still a joy. Not unlike the first six-episode season’s arc, what begins as prurient goes much deeper and darker. Fleabag isn’t as desperate and lost as she was when last we saw her, but no one around her can quite believe that she can feel happy and be loved, least of all by herself.
Waller-Bridge doesn’t spell this out in any obvious ways, but the season’s story nods to the success she’s had off-screen. “Fleabag” started as a modest one-woman stage play and has led to her success as writer and showrunner of “Killing Eve” and a future writer on the next James Bond film.
Success and making the right decisions for yourself, Fleabag shows, might make you happier, but it won’t stop the chaos and microaggressions all around you. It won’t stop your high-strung sister from advising, “Don’t be yourself,” or your new therapist (Fiona Shaw) from describing you as, “a girl with no friends and an empty heart” or from God Himself sending hints that you’re about to make a mistake.
Initially, the show revolved around Fleabag’s sly asides to the camera, expertly timed by Waller-Bridge. She gives us pointed looks when someone says something stupid, she predicts who’s going to have sex with each other, and she shows us the hurt inside when she an unexpected emotional revelation blindsides her.
Smartly, Season Two makes those asides a plot point she shares with another character, upending Fleabag’s relationship with us, the viewers.
In Fleabag, layers and layers of psychology and prickly human interaction exist amid some howlingly funny comedy. The first episode of the season, which takes place almost entirely at a family dinner, goes from tense to harrowing to explosively cathartic in 26 minutes. Waller-Bridge’s ability to emotionally maneuver a set of well-drawn characters around a table in that time should be the envy of any TV writer working today.
It looked for a while as if Waller-Bridge might not create a second season of Fleabag after a perfectly self-contained Season One. But thank God (or whomever’s up/down there) that she did, even if she says this is the last we’ll see of the show.
Sophomore seasons are tough, but Fleabag returned with six episodes of television that were unnecessary, and now feel essential.