It took a while for the steadily welling tears to finally shed in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s intimately crafted first season of Fleabag. It is all the more surprising, then, to see the series’ long-awaited season two premiere open on a dramatic image of the titular character dabbing at her bloodied face in the mirror of what is clearly a classy restaurant’s bathroom. Wiping the blood from under her nose, she stares her reflection down with a mix of defeat and determination before turning to the equally punched-up face of a young woman reaching her hand out from the bathroom floor.
Yes, Waller-Bridge, the queen of penning excruciatingly intense, passive aggressive family dinner situations, is back – and with a delightful vengeance. While everyone is sitting around the restaurant table in a desperate attempt to demonstrate their personal growth, it is more than apparent that the only person who has genuinely matured since we last caught up with this dysfunctional family is, in fact, Fleabag.
She quietly sits through this pathetic spiel of competitive enlightenment, allows the bellicose daggers thrown at her from all angles to bounce off her – despite some of them penetrating deep – and keeps a relatively neutral smile on her face while the family blatantly ignores her. If it weren’t for the several cigarette breaks she uses as an escape to breathe, we may have actually bought her nonchalant stance.
On one such break, her innately awkward and forever blundering Dad (Bill Paterson) acknowledges the lack of naughtiness she has displayed throughout the dinner and previous months. And while he seems somewhat proud of her having grown out of her confrontational self, it doesn’t quite seem as though he believes her to be in a good place either – perhaps subconsciously he realises she is at risk of loosing herself by trying to be someone she is clearly not. Hence the belated birthday present: a coupon for a counselling session. Then again, it could have been just another sideways attack on her, courtesy of the Godmother (Olivia Colman).
It is the revelation of this gift – one that, according to Dad, was meant as a “bedroom present” and is not one you open in front of everyone – that causes the evening to finally take a challenging turn when Claire (Sian Clifford), out of all people, insists that the only way to live is to, “face who you are and suffer the consequences”. All this coming from a woman who, just moments ago, admitted to her approach to positivity being the act of bottling everything up and burying it deep never to resurface again.
It is at this point that Claire can no longer believe her own lies, leading to a miscarriage in the bathroom. Upon finding her in this vulnerable position, Fleabag is immediately accused of being resolute to find a way to make it about herself – not the only time this evening someone challenges her on this. The reality, however, is that while she may have done so in the past, her behaviour points at nothing more than a young woman in search of meaningful connections, not competition.
For a moment we are fooled into believing that this intimate moment in the bathroom could reignite the strange bond between Claire and Fleabag. Instead, the mounting pressure of the atmosphere breaks and suddenly the family is caught in a hail of truths, lies and manipulations that erupts into a storm of punches – literally and figuratively. And that is ultimately what this life – and this wonderful show – is all about: reading between the lines and catching the punches as they come.
Published 5 Mar 2019
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