The searing first season of “Fleabag” felt like a complete story in and of itself. As adapted from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show, the series expanded on the world of a woman wild with lust and grief with such expert ease that by the time it ended, even Waller-Bridge herself was sure that it was the last we’d see of her. Instead, she dug deeper and found something new to say about Fleabag, her acute self-loathing, and the startling way she could grow up beyond eating avocado toast and hoping for the best.
The resulting second season, which dropped May 17 on Amazon, is a meticulous triumph as gorgeous as it is wrenching. It gives Fleabag, her sister Claire (Sian Clifford), and father (Bill Paterson) moments of maturation a long time in the making. It sparingly uses caustic side characters like their condescending godmother (Olivia Colman) and Claire’s alcoholic husband Martin (Brett Gelman) for greater effect. It introduces an anxious wit to rival Fleabag’s own in an intriguing new priest (Andrew Scott), whose chemistry with her permeates every scene like frissions of static electricity.
But the smartest writing in “Fleabag” season 2 unfolds as Waller-Bridge more and more directly interrogates a narrative device she’s used since the beginning. “Fleabag” began as a stage play in which Waller-Bridge spoke to the audience. She carried that confessional vibe over to the TV adaptation by having Fleabag sporadically talk to or wink at the viewer by addressing the camera directly. These fourth wall breaks quickly became crucial to the particular success of the show, but it’s only in this second season that Waller-Bridge breaks down what it actually means.
To explain both how Fleabag breaking the fourth wall works and why it makes this second season so astonishing, here are the top ten moments of her doing it, ranked.
[And here’s the requisite spoiler alert for the entire second season going forward!]
10. “It is. It really is. It actually is!” (Episode 1)
The Season 2 premiere, which picks up more than a year after the first season finale, is a farcical disaster of a dinner featuring a messy brawl, a devastating miscarriage, and the Priest being charming to a downright alarming degree. (Seriously, Scott is maybe too good.) But one of its most surprising moments comes when Fleabag smiles and says that her guinea pig-themed café is doing “really well,” actually. She then turns to the camera and repeats that, yes, really, “it is.”
No one at the table quite believes her. Her father even gives her a belated birthday present in the form of a coupon for therapy. Fleabag takes it in stride; she even tries to trade it in for cash in the second episode. Much to her own surprise and dismay, she not only fails to get the money, but ends up learning something about herself when the therapist (Waller-Bridge’s “Killing Eve” star Fiona Shaw) asks her if she has any friends. Blinking back memories of her dead best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), Fleabag makes eye contact with us and insists that she does, and what’s more:
9. “They’re always there.” (Episode 2)
This is the first time that “Fleabag” explicitly admits that her pithy asides are her way of coping with her own loneliness. Left with the glaring absence of the only friend who wholly accepted her, Fleabag turns away from hard truths and to us as a replacement confidant. (It’s no coincidence that these revelations happen after she tries even just five minutes of therapy — go back to therapy, Fleabag!)
Sometime, these sidebars are just for fun, like when Martin pisses off Fleabag enough in episode 2 that she unleashes a flood of such beautifully pointed insults that she keeps interrupting it to be impressed with herself (“I can’t believe how well this is going!”) — that is, until she loses steam and concludes by calling him “a weaky.”
8. “Damn! Damn, damn, damn,” (Episode 2)
Fleabag exhales at the camera, knowing that this last pathetic blow just nullified every other withering thing she said. It’s a perfect example of how Fleabag can shine when she’s equally frustrated and amused, a signature combination that keeps the fourth wall breaks from becoming too weighty — and makes the times when she does need to make urgent, pained eye contact even more impactful.
Fleabag often turns to us in such times of crisis when she’s not sure where else to turn. In the second season, she’s never more confused than when she and the Priest have an unbearably charged moment in
7. The Confessional (Episode 4)
This pivotal scene sees both Fleabag and the Priest at their most conflicted as they bare their deeper insecurities and try to physically separate themselves from each other — and then, in a truly stunning moment, fail spectacularly. But it’s telling that Fleabag doesn’t avert her eyes from the reality of what’s happening until it falls apart, only glancing up at the camera the second before the episode ends.
This might be in part because at this point, the Priest has done something no one else in the series ever had, and never would again.
6. The Priest Notices (Episode 3)
Fleabag and The Priest are drawn to each other from the moment they meet, and it’s only a matter of time before they explicitly acknowledge the sexual tension hanging heavy between them. In the third episode, the Priest sighs and informs Fleabag that they won’t be consummating their bond any time soon, to which Fleabag responds by looking at the camera with a wry smile and saying, “We’ll last a week.”
Every other time this has happened on the show, the scene continued like nothing happened. But this time, the Priest does a double take. “What was that?” he asks, bewildered. “Where did you just go?” Fleabag can’t believe it. No one else has ever noticed, or cared, when she’s zoned out like that before.
Worse still, it just keeps happening. With every passing episode, the Priest keeps clocking her attempts to retreat into herself and keep her distance. At one mortifying point, she mixes up what she’s saying in her head with what she’s saying out loud, resulting in her staring dreamily at him and breathing, “his beautiful neck” (Episode 4).
The last time they see each other before that fateful confessional scene, the Priest calls her out on trying to avoid his more personal questions, staring around her cafe and almost right into the camera himself with an intrigued yelp. “It’s like you disappear,” (Episode 4) he says, fascinated and more than a little concerned. The defenses she’s so carefully built since the deaths of Boo and her mother are coming apart in the face of his attention and care.
And with that, Fleabag’s biggest fear is officially coming true: her walls, which strategically include that fourth wall, are crashing down.
And yet, as she told us way back in the opening moments of the season, staring into a fancy restaurant’s bathroom mirror with blood running down her exhausted face, “This is a love story” (Episode 1), and love stories require vulnerability like Fleabag has never wanted to show before. She’s been hurt and hurt too many people to open herself back up to the possibility of failure. But The Priest, in all his understanding and ability to truly see her for who she is, nevertheless knocks through their mutual trepidation, because the only thing more frightening than admitting their true feelings for each other is the idea of never doing it. When they finally come crashing together to have hungry, almost frantic sex, Fleabag does something she’s never done before. She shoves the camera away (Episode 5) so she can stay in the moment, experience it without making it a joke, and keep it all to herself.
That unprecedented trifecta is, in the end, what makes the finale so breathtaking. Though Fleabag and the Priest spend most of the episode giddy with the reckless joy of what they did and feel for each other, they nonetheless end up leaving each other behind in a bruising scene that reveals the depth of Waller-Bridge’s writing and her and Scott’s performances. In opening up to each other, Fleabag and The Priest learn something crucial about themselves that they may never have truly embraced otherwise. For The Priest, that means doubling down on his commitment to God with a renewed appreciation for life’s wonderful mess. For Fleabag, it means remembering how hard and rewarding it can be to be an entire person, and accepting that she can’t meaningfully move on without moving out of her own head.
And that’s where we leave Fleabag — or, to be more accurate, that’s where Fleabag leaves us. Left with the crushing, miraculous knowledge of her own capacity to love, she stands up and walks away, giving the camera one last nod of appreciation before she goes. Fleabag says goodbye (Episode 6) to the narrative and emotional crutch that has long outlived its usefulness. The show’s greatest gift is that after delving so far into Fleabag’s head, it finds the grace to let her go, knowing once and for all that she’ll be better off without us.