Bossy Shouting: Fleabag Season Two

How To Get Everyone You Know To Watch & Howl About This Dang Show Already

Mmm. And as you know, only love can break your heart. Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn yaaaaaa

So you’ve watched all episodes of Fleabag and now you only want to talk about Fleabag with literally everyone you know, but somehow not every member of your vast acquaintance is yet hip to the gospel of Fleabag. Well, Dames Nationals, you’ve come to the right place (even if you, too, are not yet in our sorority of sobbing {while also howling with laughter and/or lust}, though if you are not among this happy miserable devastated enthusiastic throng and want to approach Fleabag knowing no spoilers, you should close this tab immediately).

Herewith is Dame Sophie’s Handy-Dandy Guide To Getting The People In Your Life To Board The Fleabag Train With You, broken down by appeal factors that will provide useful & convincing talking points for your friends and loved ones who are surely Future Fleabag Fanatics.

Hi, there! We usually make our Bossy Shouting issues available only to paid subscribers but felt this one merited distribution to everyone. If this issue helps you process your Fleabag feels and/or is practically helpful in bringing others to the fold, please consider supporting our cultural criticism endeavors by upgrading to a paid subscription.

If They’re Suckers for Tight, Highly Symmetrical Plotting

I’m not talking about little season-to-season callbacks, which are, sure, cute & fun. I’m saying the bedrock of Fleabag Season Two is creator/writer/star Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s many intentional, extended loopings back on the themes, events, behaviors, lines, and characters from Season One. Yes, it’s exquisitely clever! She revisits so many elements -- smoking against brick walls and the repetition of lines and the sexy getups donned for the benefit of disastrous love interests and conversations about hair and the stolen sculpture and the initially very creepy and terrible loan officer and so, so much more -- because she can, but the cleverness not the point.

The ability to pull it off so that it’s a delight, not a cutesy-poo distraction, every single time is for sure part of the point, it’s dazzling to watch and fun to enumerate, but I believe Waller-Bridge is doing two other, bigger things. First, Season Two as a whole shows us that Fleabag herself has more psychological bandwidth to notice and process others’ emotional states. Second, the show is asking us to consider how much work and time it takes to process the biggest, most complex challenges in our lives. The things that plague us and rip us to shreds are the things that are the most us: what we value, who we love, our biggest questions of identity and purpose, how we move through the world, what we invest our time in. So of course they’re recursive, they’re our habits, they make us ourselves. They’re embarrassing and messy and create problems for everyone around us. Our griefs and grievances, our giddy obsessions and terrible sadnesses, all the things we’re ashamed of and want to hide and ultimately, in the best relationships, what we lay bare in the hopes that our most important people won’t turn away when they see them. They’ll ask sincerely about what they are, and maybe lovingly mock us about them, and say ok, I see these things, I love you anyway.

If They Love To Cry (while also howling with laughter and/or lust) (human emotions are complicated!!!)

Oh boy, are these people in luck. Some sad and/or funny and/or sexy things that happen in Fleabag, a very partial list:

  • Routine & sharply witty direct address to the audience, particularly during excruciatingly uncomfortable social situations and self-obliterating, bleak sexcapades

  • Every single thing Fleabag’s sister Claire (Sian Clifford, the Emmy-deserving MVP of the entire series) says and does

  • All the Boo scenes, especially when she offers to hold all the love Fleabag had for her mother & doesn’t know where to put now that her mother is dead  

  • The whole bit about foxes, which made me laugh the first time I saw it and subsequently full-on guffaw, and then wonder sadly about, and finally -- more on this in a minute -- shake my head in admiration about its placement in Episode 3 and the series as a whole

  • The Godmother’s Sexhibition. Chef’s! Kiss!

  • When Fleabag’s dad (played to stammering perfection by Bill Paterson) tells her he thinks the reason grief is so painful for her is that, out of everyone in the family, she’s the best at love

  • Eros & The Religious Service: Quaker Meeting in Fleabag & the Muslim prayer service in Ramy -- someone, please write this essay. Pretty please? I will read it  and promote the hell out of this quality act of cultural criticism. If this essay already exists, please do let me know!

  • The entirety of the final episode. Every single thing about it, as well as the episode as a whole, is exquisite and delicate, yet somehow also earthy and true and celebratory and elegiac and full of actual grace? How does she do it????

  • And finally, a round-up of important Season 2 gifs you can use to emotionally compromise your quarry (listen, sometimes we have to fight just the slightest bit dirty to meet our noble goals, it’s a very crowded media landscape out here in 2019):

If They’re Super Into Highly Trained British & Irish Actors

These folks are going to be the easiest to inveigle into watching. Chances are they’ve watched it already, if they have the slightest inkling that Olivia Colman is in it. In fact, just casually work Olivia Colman into your next conversation with them and the ship should steer itself directly into the waters of enthusiastic & heartfelt Fleabag yelling.

If They Just Love Love

What a smorgasbord of riches awaits these friends!

Most obviously, you’ve got your scorching chemistry between the Hot Priest and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. How do we wind up rooting for two such messed-up & frequently hateful people? It’s magic.

Bad Romance not their cup of tea? How about one of these Will They or Won’t They scenarios: Dad & Godmother (will they actually get married?), Claire & Martin (will Claire finally tell Martin to piss off?), or Claire & Klare (will they run off together?).

Or maybe your friends prefer to revel in the agonies & ecstasies of friendship. They’re in luck: darling, carceral state-critiquing, pure of heart Boo gets several key scenes in S2. Even the shitty banker from S1 has a lovely grace note that suggests he and Fleabag will continue to be friends, and I’d like to see another scene with Kristin Scott Thomas’ insightful if quite flawed Belinda.

Ultimately, though, the most important relationship is between Fleabag and Claire. Watching them dance their way from skittish mutual support to seething distrust to frank ride-or-die across both seasons knocks me out in the best possible way. I know the show is over for good, but what a gift a holiday special where Fleabag visits Claire in Finland would be! This is a free idea for you, PWB, run with it (I beg you)!  

If Contemplating Mortality and The Meaning (or lack thereof) of Existence is One of Their Favorite Hobbies

One of my earliest notes to myself about this show was “well, death, obviously.” I mean! Obviously! Everything Fleabag says and does is about death. It may look like sex or drinking too much or punching her ghastly brother-in-law in the nose or saying outrageous things to bait her godmother or falling foolishly in actual head-over-heels love with a totally unavailable & likely alcoholic priest, but it’s really about death.

I heard Michael Pollan on Fresh Air last week, talking about the role that carefully-shepherded psychedelic drug trips could play in reshaping our understanding of what constitutes a good death, for both the dying and the ones they leave behind, and I loved what he said about our psychological defenses against terrible sadness: “they're very important. They help protect us. They also wall us off. They wall us off from other people. They wall us off from nature. And to reduce their influence in our lives, especially at moments of crisis, like a death of a loved one, is an enormous gift.”

It made me tear up and I had to pull the car over for a moment to let that moment wash over and through me a bit, because it tied back into what’s for me the most important scene in Season Two, when the Hot Priest sees and correctly identifies Fleabag’s fourth wall-breaking as a dissociative state. I have to remind myself to breathe during this scene.

Now, I am a jaded old pissy bitch, but most jokes, no matter how well delivered, don't retain their full mirth for me beyond the original delivery. The fox material in this scene somehow gets funnier with repetition, though, which feels like a bit of a miracle. The timing of the fox entering the conversation -- in the midst of a soulful back-and-forth about faith & existence & meaning! -- fueled by Andrew Scott's manic performance, turning on a farthing from sincere existential musings to "I’m not being funny, foxes have been after me for YEARS!" is dramatic alchemy. In every viewing, I'm loving the joke & feeling fully present in its hilarity and then am left to sadly wonder, wait, what does it mean to think that foxes have been after you for years? The imagery is so unsettling and odd, but then the characters pivot back to where they were in the conversation.

When we first meet Fleabag, her first utterance is to us via the camera. For all we know, she’s been stepping outside of herself like this for a long long time, to sidestep dealing with her grief and self-loathing. When we first meet the Hot Priest, he’s dropping appalling family details -- his alcoholic parents, his pedophile brother -- in a really light and disarming way, skating his way across Fleabag’s odd family pond.

A couple of episodes later, this scene with the foxes and the Hot Priest noticing Fleabag’s dissociative habit gives us two very damaged people gingerly tiptoeing and then rushing pell-mell towards each other and then turning away at the very last second before either of them says anything too revealing because fundamentally they both fear intimacy. But he sees her trying to take this shortcut and says, every time, “please come back. It’s worth it to be present here with me, I promise, although I myself am gasping for another sip of this canned G&T because I can’t be fully present in my life all the time, either.”

We none of us are able to conquer all of our worst habits and inclinations all at once. We can give good advice but not always take it. We’re messy and flawed. People, as Boo and the Bank Manager remind us, make mistakes. But we can make progress. We can make better choices today than we did yesterday. We can stop taking too many unhealthy breaks from reality and lean on the people who are sticking around with us every day.

Whew, ok, that’s it! I’m going to wrap up here with one of this newsletter’s patented Link Round-Ups & then wave sadly but very hopefully goodbye.