Following a year of good behaviour and minimal contact with her family, a tense dinner in series 2’s opening episode culminated in Fleabag faking a miscarriage, to cover for her sister, and punching her awful brother-in-law in the face. Since then, we’ve seen her visit a therapist, destroy a fancy award and fall for a priest, all while continuing to struggle with the grief she still feels for her best friend Boo and her mother.
The first series of Fleabag was a sharply written comedy with an undercurrent of sadness, coming to a head in its final episode with an unexpected gut punch. This time around, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has managed to maintain the smart, acerbic humour of series 1 while injecting more emotional moments throughout – some of them so powerful they make you want to go back and rewatch episodes as soon as you’ve finished them.
Unarguably the most moving episode so far has been the fourth one, in which the Priest’s attempts to get to know Fleabag trigger memories of Boo and flashbacks to her mother’s funeral. It’s difficult to not feel heartbroken as Fleabag sobs “I don’t know what to do with it, all the love I have for her… I don’t know where to put it now” and Boo responds “I’ll have it”, knowing that Fleabag did give this love to her friend only to wind up losing her as well. This episode also ends with her breaking down to the Priest, confessing “I want someone to tell me how to live my life because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong”, and it’s perhaps the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen her.
Of course, these tragic moments have been balanced with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments too. Particularly in episode 3, which sees Fleabag enlisted to help out at the ‘Women in Business Awards’ hosted by Claire’s swanky firm, and it isn’t long before she’s accidentally poisoned someone and smashed the main award, leaving her sister to present the winner with an inappropriate last-minute replacement…
Sian Clifford remains brilliant as uptight control freak Claire, from the look of horror on her face when she visits Fleabag’s café on ‘Chatty Wednesday’ (“Why’s everyone… talking to each other?”) to the breakdowns she has after getting a terrible haircut and giving a speech in which the only joke she tells is one her sister said earlier. “You’ll always be interesting with your quirky café and your dead best friend, you just make me feel like I’ve failed!” she yells, standing in her absurdly massive office. Brett Gelman has really ramped up the creepiness as Claire’s husband Martin, who’s so repulsive that even his own son wants Claire to leave him. Here’s hoping she ultimately does so and hooks up with her Finnish co-worker instead.
This series has also given us memorable guest appearances from Fiona Shaw and Kristin Scott Thomas, as a straight-faced therapist and a world-weary businesswoman respectively, with the latter delivering a particularly powerful monologue about how “women are born with pain built in”. But it seems the new character who has made the biggest impression (and been the subject of some rather lustful tweets…) is Andrew Scott’s enigmatic Priest, who shares such a strong connection with Fleabag that (in a genius move from Waller-Bridge) he is able to see her breaking the fourth wall.
Throughout Fleabag, our protagonist has consistently delivered knowing looks and candid asides to camera, letting us in on her deepest, darkest thoughts in the absence of a real friend in her life like Boo. With just the finale left to go, and episode 5 finishing with her literally pushing the camera away for some privacy with the Priest, could the series conclude with her no longer needing us at all? Regardless of how it ends, and if this is, in fact, the end forever (Waller-Bridge says she currently has no plans for more), those of us who have followed Fleabag over two near-flawless series are unlikely to forget her in a hurry.
Fleabag concludes on Monday on BBC iPlayer and BBC One.