Romantic Relations – Love is Awful

Hello, it is me, the wild Katie that can sometimes be spotted in everyone’s favorite Monday blog, HYGAS. I’m dropping in to tell you about the hit Amazon Prize series, Fleabag, and why I think it showcases one of the greatest romances ever seen in modern media. Based on the one-woman-show written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, it’s a modern classic that takes many tropes such as breaking the fourth wall and subverts them in the most unexpected way. I could talk about this show for hours — Joel can confirm this — but I will focus on the aspect that is relevant to this event. There will be spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution, friends.

Let’s meet our lovers


The protagonist of the show is woman never referred to by name and is only understood as Fleabag. Her introduction in season one focuses on her hilarious yet terrible navigation of life after losing her mother to a long battle with cancer and her best friend to a freak accident. She lost the only people she could be vulnerable with and was left with her grieving father that avoids interacting with her at all costs, her workaholic sister who is the epitome of the British stiff upper lip, and her emotionally unstable on-again-off-again boyfriend to fill that void. Needless to say, she does not confide to those people in her adversity and instead opts to fill the void with hyper-sexual behavior, stirring up trouble where ever she can and confides with audience sitting behind the fourth wall on her deepest darkest secrets. Phoebe Waller-Bridge refers to this action as Fleabag’s “secret camera friend,” because we the audience are the only people that see what she’s truly going through, yet are obviously unable to provide her any support. Eventually she lets this behavior spiral out of control to the point that her actions have caused a major schism between her family, the only people she has left in her life, and does not speak to them for 371 days.

The Priest

Another unnamed character, The Priest is introduced in the second season when he is hired by Fleabag’s godmother-soon-to-be-stepmother to officiate her wedding to Fleabag’s father. Despite having one of the most disciplined professions that requires one to follow the most numerous and strict rules, he isn’t afraid to expose his imperfections as a human. He’s quick to curse but quicker to share faith, because his devotion is what has brought him the most peace in life. He too has a complicated family history, being the child of two alcoholic lawyers and a registered pedophile brother. Unlike Fleabag, he recognizes that empathy and vulnerability are key tools to healing.

Awkward family dinners,
am I right?

Our lovers eventually meet at the first reunion of Fleabag’s family after their falling out at the end of season one. Fleabag has taken this time to reject her old habits of sexually deviant behavior and instead opting for new and healthier activities. For the first time, possibly ever, she feels like she is thriving. However, she is still alone as ever, with only her friends behind the fourth wall to listen to her.

This is the moment their story begins.

It’s a painfully simple question, but it’s a surprise to Fleabag because she once thought that she had every person figured out, yet her expectations of this new person has been turned on its head. Up until this point, we have only witnessed Fleabag constantly being met with extreme misunderstanding in every exchange of communication with another character. The Priest is unique because he is able to recognize Fleabag as the black sheep of her family, and openly offers his ear to listen because he recognizes his own loneliness and struggle with grief in her. He too has a complicated family history but has currently found himself at peace after recently becoming head of his parish, yet experiences the same loneliness Fleabag does.

The Priest’s response when Fleabag asks if he is a “cool priest.”

Fleabag takes The Priest up on his offer to chat and the relationship blooms from there. It is a charming yet thinly-veiled romantic pursuit that Fleabag makes though he repeatedly sets his boundaries because he is a devoted man of the cloth. That doesn’t mean he rejects her company, regardless of time or place. As they become more familiar with one another, The Priest begins to recognize a weird habit of Fleabag’s that no one else has:

The wall begins to crumble

The Priest, one of the most enigmatic characters in Fleabag’s life, somehow has the ability to see right through her most present coping mechanism. It’s of the most surprising moments in television and speaks to the powerful chemistry that these two have.

I will admit, the way that this relationship develops to its climax is fairly standard as far as romances go. However, every time The Priest recognizes Fleabag running away from addressing her true feelings and talking to the secret camera friend, his interrupting is a rude awakening for Fleabag. We see her rely on this habit less and less as their story evolves. While the audience is at the edge of their seat to see if these two will finally kiss, they are more invested in seeing how Fleabag’s time with this person is really changing her. She is beginning to make the 180 degree turn from the person she was in the first season, and starting to find power in herself to face the things she has been avoiding and deflecting.

Oh, if you’re wondering, they do consummate the relationship, and it’s glorious. I’m not one to enjoy sex scenes, but this one is rather short and for the first time ever you actually see Fleabag pushing away the secret camera. For the first time in the entire series, she has chosen to not share her vulnerable side to us, and instead to be a real human. It’s a major milestone for both characters, mutually tearing down each other’s walls. Unfortunately, they both know that this romance can’t sustainably continue without creating more upheaval in their lives. This final moment in the final episode says it all.

This is the moment their story ends.

So heartbreaking, yet so utterly important that they don’t continue together, no matter how perfect they seem to be. This romance is so powerful, not because it has a perfect happy ending that was alluded to over the course of six seasons, but because it began and ended over the course of six episodes and they became better people because of it. Fleabag’s “star-crossed” relationship with The Priest helped her tear down the fourth wall that she built into her closest confidant, as well as recognize the power of being vulnerable. The Priest’s relationship with Fleabag was the ultimate challenge to his faith, yet it remains present as ever despite succumbing to temptation. They walk away from each other finding themselves to be new people. There isn’t a need to try and put this relationship back together with chewing gum and string, they don’t need it to continue because they have individually found themselves. Most importantly, Fleabag has finally found peace with herself, and she has learned to love again.

She doesn’t need us anymore.

Thanks for sticking along on this hopefully coherent discussion of Fleabag. I hope this post encourages you to check it out if you haven’t already, it’s only 12 episodes total so it’s perfect for a lazy weekend. And if I haven’t convinced you yet, I’ll let The Priest close this out:

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, makes you obsessed with your hair, makes you cruel, 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. I was taught if we’re born with love then life is about choosing the right place to put it. People talk about that a lot, feeling right, when it feels right it’s easy. But I’m not sure that’s true...”

“…I think what they mean is,
when you find somebody that you love,
it feels like hope.

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