What “Fleabag” teaches us about love

Family, depression, relationships, passion, and most importantly, a guinea pig named Hilary.

*Slight Spoilers Ahead*

“Fleabag,” a 2019 Amazon Prime Original, has left its imprint on television in two short seasons. Fleabag, a 30-year-old Londoner, played by the hilariously witty Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also created the show, is caught up in a life of late nights, booze and promiscuity in the fallout of her mother’s death. 

Unlike most shows, this main character breaks the fourth wall and addresses her audience directly. Words alone cannot do her performance justice as the real power lies in her perfectly timed jokes and extremely vulnerable confessions. When “Fleabag”  first aired, it appeared as a simple half-hour comedy following the often naughty exploits of its eccentric main character. However, as the series progressed, it quickly established itself as a truly masterful work, with each episode adding more complicated layers and darker themes to which many viewers can relate. Most importantly, “Fleabag” teaches viewers a lesson about loving people, loving your family, and loving yourself. 

Season two of the show begins with the phrase, “This is a love story,” said by Fleabag. Viewers immediately feel hope for Fleabag, having faith that she might be pulled from her toxic tendencies, but not yet knowing what the phrase entails. As the season progresses, Fleabag begins a complicated relationship with a character named nothing more than the “Priest” that challenges everything she believes about herself and her worth. The Priest is a man dedicated to celibacy while she sees her value in her sexuality. The Priest is a representation of the state of unavailability that one can find themselves falling in. By placing all her desire onto a man who has taken an oath to never have the type of physical romantic relationship Fleabag longs for so desperately, she learns to recognize herself. While viewers know he cares deeply about her in some intangible way, he continuously recommits himself to the church. 

Throughout the season, both viewers and Fleabag herself have to grapple with the fact that the two might not be meant to be. The thought of Fleabag’s love for the Priest disappearing with time feels impossible, but it’s not. The Priest reveals to her a new facet of love: the desire to do better for someone else. Fleabag continuously learns to understand that she still has a chance to move forward even as her love passes by because she has the assurance that she isn’t a hopeless case. There will always be a chance for things to change for the better, and she learns she will always have people in her life who will help her along the way.

The opening phrase of the season does not only refer to romantic interests. “Fleabag” in its entirety is arguably about our protagonist and her relationship with her sister, Claire. Both siblings suffer through extremely traumatic events, such as the death of their mother, and their different methods of coping are shown. Claire’s constant presence in her sister’s life and the tragic experiences they share serve as a reminder that no matter how lonely Fleabag feels, she has never truly been alone. In one important conversation between the two sisters, Fleabag urges Claire to pursue what makes her happy, but in a rare instance of sincerity, Claire tells her sister, “The only person I’d run through an airport for is you.” Fleabag and Claire often argue just before asking if the other is okay, demonstrating that to have a sibling is to love that person regardless of how you currently feel about them. This signifies that above all else, the two are family.

Finally, the phrase demonstrates that a love story can easily be applied to the self-love Fleabag strives to discover. Even though our main character hasn’t truly found peace with herself, there is much to be learned from her unapologetic bouts of truth. Fleabag is unafraid to admit her flaws and nasty bits, but she also isn’t afraid to work on bettering herself. She both understands herself better than anyone else and couldn’t be more clueless. What sets her apart is her willingness to try for herself and those around her. 

If you are someone who appreciates feministic gut-wrenching vulnerability in flawed characters, “Fleabag” might just be worth a try! There is much to be learned from a character who loves so fully and fearlessly no matter how much she loses. Just like real life, love is rough, messy, chaotic and hectic. This show understands the complexity of human beings and the relationships they have with each other. In the words of our Priest, “It takes strength to know what’s right. And love isn’t something that weak people do. Being a romantic takes a hell of a lot of hope.”