August 25, 2019


Can a fleabag clean up her act?: The sarcastic and sacrilegious two-season show has a moral center. (Kathryn Reklis, July 12, 2019, Christian Century)

It doesn't take long to realize that behind the snarky asides, Fleabag is suffering profoundly. Her mother has re­cently died and her father, who is so awkward he has trouble finishing a complete sentence with his two daughters, has taken up with his late wife's best friend, who is a magnificent incarnation of the wicked stepmother dressed up as a self-involved artist. Fleabag has a strained relationship with her sister, Claire, who represses all her emotions and is married to a narcissistic Ameri­can. And floating in and out of Fleabag's nearly every thought are flashbacks of her lifelong best friend, Boo, who died in a freak accident.

Grief runs through her life like a current she cannot control, unleashing chaos she cannot easily narrate away. Inside that grief are darker emotions of shame and guilt, whose source is gradually revealed. When it is, Fleabag cannot spin her past into an episode of wacky adventure. But by then, we realize how much she is paralyzed by her own guilt and feel no need to shame her. The final moment of the first season could have come straight out of a Flannery O'Con­nor story: a moment of grace in the guise of a loan officer which could easily be mistaken for an ordinary encounter, except that Fleabag seizes on it and begins to change her life.

The second season picks up a little over a year after this moment, and we see how far Fleabag has come--no more random sex and lots more responsibility. This season raises the stakes of her quest beyond "not destroying her life"; she is asking what it means to be fully present to her own life, committed to someone or something.

It is still Fleabag though, so the vehicle for these explorations come in the form of a foul-mouthed, almost-alcoholic Roman Catholic priest (played by Andrew Scott). He can match Fleabag's sarcasm and sacrilege beat for beat, pouring gin and tonics out of aluminum cans in the vestry. She is intrigued by his sexual unavailability (that celibacy thing), but what really puzzles her is his commitment to a life that demands something from him. If Flannery O'Con­nor haunts the first season's finale, season two is like a much raunchier Graham Greene novel. (Waller-Bridge went to a private Catholic school in England, so I might not be making up these influences entirely.)

The priest's relationship with God is both the butt of a lot of jokes and taken seriously enough to withstand the humor. It becomes a foil for Fleabag's own uncertainty about what, if anything, makes a life meaningful. To this point, not being a total fleabag has been her only goal. The priest suggests there might more to aspire to, like peace, or joy, or even love.

How one wishes Peter Augustine Lawler were still around to watch it.

Posted by at August 25, 2019 4:34 AM