This article includes spoilers for S02E04 of 'Fleabag.'
Fleabag is a show about fucking up. Rarely an episode goes by where the lead character, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge – who also writes the series – does not fuck up to some degree. And while Fleabag's fuck-ups are often cushioned by her social position (she's an upper-middle class white woman with a financially supportive family who live in the same city as her), anyone who knows what it is to be lonely, or bereft, or young without a clue about what the hell you should be doing with your life, can at least sympathise with its sustained studies into these states of mind.
The second season of the show (currently airing on BBC1 at 10:35PM on Monday nights) has mostly followed the growth of Fleabag's emotional attachment to a Catholic priest, played by Andrew Scott. That they have a genuine connection – that he really sees her – is alluded to in that when she delivers asides directly to us, the audience she's always performing for, he notices that she goes "elsewhere" for a moment. Their chemistry is touching and convincing, and it also feels desperately apt that Fleabag should finally fall for someone so unavailable – it's perhaps her biggest fuck up yet.
In last night's episode, their tension came to a head – but not before Fleabag laid herself totally bare to the priest, inside a confessional booth at his church, in a speech more tense and revealing than any sex scene between them ever could be. Sat there, whiskey-drunk and crying, she says:
"I want someone to tell me what to wear in the morning. I want someone to tell me what to wear every morning. I want someone to tell me what to eat. What to like, what to hate, what to rage about, what to listen to, what band to like, what to buy tickets for, what to joke about, what not to joke about. I want someone to tell me what to believe in, who to vote for, who to love and how to tell them.
"I just think I want someone to tell me how to live my life, Father, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong, and I know that’s why people want people like you in their lives, because you just tell them how to do it. You just tell them what to do and what they’ll get out at the end of it, and even though I don’t believe your bullshit, and I know that scientifically nothing I do makes any difference in the end anyway, I’m still scared. Why am I still scared?"
It was a significant scene for the show in a number of ways. Firstly, in terms of Fleabag’s own character development, it’s probably the most open this person – who covers every emotion with charm and humour – has ever been with another character. Secondly, it resonated for reasons totally outside the show, because in many aspects it felt like Waller-Bridge speaking to and for her audience, almost like a mission statement for the show.
It's been said over and over that we live in an era of over-saturation. We are surrounded by so much stuff – news, culture, opinions – that often it can be hard to root out what you really want or think or even know. Social media gives us unparalleled insight into the barrage of frequently horrifying injustices happening across the world, all the time – so even when we do have the certainty of morality, it often comes with a chaser of hopelessness.
Fleabag's monologue in Monday’s episode detailed a type of frustration that is quite difficult to name, because it is so pervasive, and such a fundamental part of contemporary life for lots of young people. It’s hard to get to know who you are when the world around you is changing so rapidly, mutilating into something darker all the time. What the speech offered, I think, was words to put to these feelings which sometimes gnaw at me – and, from the social media reaction to the show last night, others too. Am I a good person? Am I living my life right? How can I be better in a world that feels like it is becoming more diseased by the day?
Fleabag doesn’t have the answers, but it can at least offer audience members who identify with its concerns some empathy, some catharsis, and a way to say what can feel much, much too difficult.