Fleabag Season Two: The Healing of the Fourth Wall

If you have not seen Season 2 of Fleabag then watch it first. Then come […]

Sarah Condon / 5.22.19

If you have not seen Season 2 of Fleabag then watch it first. Then come back and dish with me in the comments section about that caliente priest.

Full disclosure, I enjoyed the first season of Fleabag but did not adore it. But the second season contains more incredible moments than should be allowed in any one show. The first episode alone must be required viewing for anyone in pastoral ministry or counseling. It portrays some of the best examples of dysfunctional family dynamics being lived out onto the identified patient. In this case, that patient is our protagonist: Fleabag. She sits silently as her family consumes alcohol and one another’s dignity at the dinner where they’re celebrating her father’s upcoming nuptials to her horribly unpleasant godmother. The family is distressed at Fleabag’s lack of response. She has obviously been the cog in the family machine through which drama and pain are processed; if she is not engaging in her usual way, then who will do that job? It is so blissfully uncomfortable to watch.

But let’s talk about the best part. There’s a really hot priest.

As Fleabag (yes, that is indeed the only name the character has in the show, “Flea” for short) sits quietly watching her family’s loop of poison, we notice a man sitting next to her. He is a priest, also known only as “Father” who is Irish and handsome in a did he shower today? kind of way. He begins to engage Fleabag in a way that no one else in the show really has. He asked her questions about herself and responds with unexpected affection.

Despite our hope that Fleabag will escape this familial interaction unscathed, she steps right into her family’s time-trusted expectations, like all of us would. When her Type-A, tightly wound, grief-denying sister has a miscarriage in the women’s restroom, during dinner no less, Fleabag steps in to be the reluctant rescuer. She shields her sister from the humiliation and sadness, and claims the miscarriage as her own. And she gets into a fist fight with her creepy brother-in-law.

It is funnier than it sounds.

And yet, when the entire family has named her as the Problem and left her for embarrassed in the restaurant bathroom, the priest, “Father,” stands outside to ask her if she’s okay. He tells her to come by the church if she wants to talk, saying as only a Catholic priest can, “I’m always there.”

Fleabag shows up at church. She accidentally gives money to the offering plate. The priest invites her in for tea, but they end up having warm cans of gin and tonic. He catches her sniffing the inside of a Bible and eventually gives her one to read. Fleabag is surprised at what is contained in the those pages. But aren’t we all?

They talk. Lots. For hours. Days even. They almost have sex in front of the confessional booth one night. But they stop. Because a painting of Jesus falls on the floor.

Fleabag, a character who is known for having multiple sexual partners and a wall of cynicism to protect her, suddenly feels it all falling away. The show makes it impossible to judge her. Which I love, because I do find her sins and her sorrows incredibly relatable.

The complicated genius of the show has always been that Fleabag was willing to break the fourth wall. She would literally speak to the camera while in conversation with another person. Usually she would say something funny, pithy, or super lustful only for us. It was as though the audience was in on the joke with her. But in this second season, we come to realize that the audience is not really an audience. The breaking of the fourth wall is Fleabag’s own commentary to herself in a way. We begin to realize that it is her own distracting from woundedness, her own momentary separation from pain and reality. It is not a good thing but a coping mechanism.

And with the priest, it begins to fall away, or put more religiously, to heal. He notices immediately when she looks to the camera and calls her out. “Who are you looking at?” he would ask as he glanced back at us. “Where did you go just then?” he would wonder aloud. Fleabag dismissed him. “Oh, no where.” In truth it was almost as alarming for me as an audience member to have the priest point this out as it appeared to be for Fleabag herself. I liked her hot-takes and dismissive looks. Perhaps because I cling to those things in myself.

The final scene on this subject is spectacular. I will only say that over the course of her relationship to the priest, the fourth wall slowly mends entirely. Fleabag stays in the genuine present with him, not looking to escape her own ghastly longings in the faceless void of the audience. I will think of the final moments of Fleabag when my own broken heart tries to make a snarky joke or hateful thought to buffer its own insecurity or fallenness.

The second season of Fleabag spoke to something that is always with me. The part of me that wants to always have an escape hatch. The part of me that never wants to give myself over fully to anyone, just in case rejection is around the next corner. But it also reminded me that the church, or Jesus, or in this case an Irish Catholic priest has something different to say to me. Pain and heartache are the currency of this world. They are undeniable, fundamental parts of being human. And we cannot escape them by trying to escape one another. In fact, it is only through the open-hearted agony that love gets let in.