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What Fleabag taught us about love, loss and sisterhood

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When Phoebe Waller-Bridge first introduced Fleabag to our screens back in 2016, it was revolutionary. Here was a woman in her thirties, who was, in all honesty, a bit of a mess. Her best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford) had taken her own life because of something she had done, her mum was dead, and her dad was sleeping with her godmother, her sister was uptight and the only time they spent together was at feminist conferences organised by their dad. 

Image Credit: BBC 

When the show first aired, the audience knew it was something special. Any show that has a woman masturbating to Obama’s inauguration speech in its first ever episode is going to change the world.  

It covered so many taboo topics in its 12-episode run, from sex addiction to loneliness and grief to the depression that led to Boo taking her own life.

Alongside PWB the show boasted an incredible supporting cast. For a start, Academy Award winner Olivia Colman starred as Fleabag’s godmother - the most passive aggressive person in the world (her c bomb littered rant in the second series was nothing short of spectacular). Hugh Dennis (Outnumbered), Sian Clifford (Vanity Fair) and Hugh Skinner (Mamma Mia Here We Go Again) were all stars of the first series who reprised their roles this year. 

Series one was good, but when it returned for a second series it was clear that Fleabag part two was set to be a totally different ball game. The cast this time featured some serious acting heavyweights; Andrew Scott (Sherlock), Dame Kristin Scott-Thomas and Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve) were just three of the brilliant additions. 

One of the best elements of Fleabag was the breaking of the fourth wall, a trick very scarcely used on screen. There’s Zack Morris in Saved By The Bell, for example, who has the ability to freeze the world around him whilst he chats to the viewers. Fleabag was different; PWB offers passing glances, eye roles and witty quips about what’s going on. It shouldn’t work, and it takes a while to get used to, but by the final episode she’s an old friend.

Fleabag is a love story. An untraditional love story, but a love story all the same. It starts with the hapless Harry (Skinner), who is incredibly sensitive and sweet but a terrible match for her romantically. She periodically dumps him because it means he’ll scrub their flat clean to help him cope with his emotions. A handful of men come and go after Harry, but none stick, until she meets the Priest.

Image Credit: Luke Varley / BBC

Oh, the sexy Priest (Andrew Scott). Brought into the show to officiate the wedding between Fleabag’s father and godmother, the priest was young and he swore and smoked straight cuts and drank heavily and was everything he shouldn’t be but we wanted him to be. There’s a particular scene in the confession box in the church where things get hot and heavy with him telling PWB to kneel (or was he actually telling her his name was Neil? the jury’s still out on that one). 

“I won’t have sex with you, because if I do, I’ll fall in love with you” he promised her, but of course this is PWB, so she sleeps with the priest.  

At the wedding he gives an angry sermon about what love is, how it touches and breaks all of us; “Love is awful. It’s awful. It’s painful. It’s frightening. It makes you doubt yourself. Judge yourself. Distance yourself from the other people in your life. It makes you selfish. It makes you creepy. It makes you obsessed with your hair. It makes you cruel. It makes you say and do things you never thought you would do. It’s all any of us want and it’s hell when we get there. So, no wonder it’s something we don’t want to do on our own.” 

What follows is a gut-wrenching exchange in the final episode where he tells her he has chosen god and they can’t be together. A tear-soaked goodbye at a bus stop where she tells him she’s in love with him is totally soul destroying, but also ok because you know deep down that she is going to be ok. She will be fine because she has her sister, Claire.

Image Credit: BBC

The relationship between Fleabag and her sister Claire (Clifford) is the true love story. In the first series, their exchanges are sharp and awkward – they are two sisters who are still desperately riddled with the grief of their beloved mother. 

At first glance, Claire is uptight and humourless, trapped in a loveless marriage with her insufferable American husband, Martin (Brett Gelman). Their relationship was left in what appeared to be unrepairable tatters at the end of the first series after Martin tried it on with Fleabag. In series two, we were introduced to the sisters again, a year later, and it was clear that their relationship was colder and more fraught than ever.  

Throughout the series, they slowly became closer, as they accepted who they both were as people without their mother. Fleabag encouraged Claire to leave Martin and go to Finland to be with her true love (the fantastically monikered Klare). Of course, the sensible sister came up with 101 and reasons why chasing a man through an airport is totally ridiculous – she’d have to buy a ticket to even get through security for goodness sake.  

In true PWB fashion the exchange went from witty to moving in just a few seconds when Claire turned to her sister and announced matter-of-factly; “The only person I’d run through an airport for… is you.” 

The Fleabag finale taught us all a lesson that we should have known all along – sisterhood is the most important love of all. It’s a tale as old as time, The Bennet’s and The March’s were advocating for ‘sisters before misters’ long before television was even invented. More recently we’ve had millennial bible Everything I Know About Love, where journalist and dating columnist Dolly Alderton wrote a book about love – only to end it by writing that the true love of her life was her female friends.  

The unconditional love that sisters (biological or not) have for each other is much more powerful than any romantic relationship could ever be. It’s hard and it’s messy, it’s angry and intense, but it’s a love that runs deep – and it’s there forever. 

Fleabag showed that it’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to screw up. It’s ok to cry and grieve and scream and hate the world. It’s ok to shut the world out, as long as when you’re ready – you let it back in. 

The Fleabag boxset is available to watch on BBC I Player now.




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