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Fleabag – love and what it means to be seen

Credit: Amazon Studios / BBC

Fleabag (2019) has already received all the praise a TV show could possibly receive, so perhaps it’s best to avoid repetition by looking underneath the exceptionally well written and executed layers of the show and talk about how fleabag portrays love, understanding and what it means to be seen. The first season introduces the audience to the concept of the carefully curated public persona versus the deeply flawed self. It is established that fleabag uses humour and sex to cope with her much darker feelings- like her mother’s death, her best friend’s suicide which she caused in a way by sleeping with her boyfriend. There are several kinds of love portrayed in season one, the main two kinds being the love between Claire- fleabag’s sister, and Fleabag and the one between her late best friend and fleabag. However, the second season is, as Fleabag declares in the very first episode- ‘a love story.’

The audience is introduced to fleabag’s love interest- the hot priest played by Andrew Scott, in the first episode where fleabag addresses the audience to let them know that no one has asked her a question in several minutes and the Priest interrupts her and asks her a question. This establishes the idea that the Priest truly sees Fleabag, not like the others who cannot tell when she is going off to a place in her own head or hiding behind her persona; the Priest sees through all that, as he asks her in one of the later episodes- “where did you just go?”. He even looks directly into the camera, which no one besides fleabag does, and this sort of implies that he truly understands her, he knows her hiding place. Both of them are attracted to each other, but being a celibate Priest, they do not consummate their love until much later in the season.

Even when they do, it is evident that the Priest’s character is struggling between his faith and his desire for Fleabag. At the wedding, Fleabag asks the Priest who says he does not know what this feeling is- “Is it God or is it me?” A question that has echoed throughout the season, and perhaps the big dilemma the Priest was facing. Then comes the heart-wrenching monologue of the Priest on love and he says love is awful and he complains about all the awful things love makes you go through, but he concludes by saying perhaps that’s why no one wants to do it alone. “when you love someone, it feels like hope.” And the heart breaking part is, while for Fleabag the Priest’s presence felt like hope, while he was the one who seemed like the light at the end of the tunnel for her, the one who truly saw her underneath all the layers of humour and sarcasm; for the priest it was God, it was God who was his source of hope.

Credit: Amazon Studios / BBC

The show ends on the famous melancholic bus stop scene, where Fleabag realizes that the priest is choosing his faith over her and she says- “I love you”, and the Priest replies- “It’ll pass”. In the end, though it is a love story, it is a very different kind of love story. In a way, neither of their loves is reciprocated, and in the end it becomes more about the love between a man struggling with his faith and God; and the sad part is it leaves the audience rooting for the other love, the one between fleabag and the Priest but then Phoebe Waller-Bridge knows how to break hearts, doesn’t she? So in the end, it is a love story and a story about being seen and how terrifying it is to be seen by someone else, and yet somehow, that is all we want- to be truly seen beyond all the walls we have put up to keep people at a careful distance; and it is terrifying, sure, but it also feels like hope.

Aishee Ghoshal

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