“I have a horrible feeling that I’m a greedy, selfish, apathetic, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist”
We meet Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) mid-shag with Arsehole Guy (Ben Aldridge), so named for his delight in anal sex (and presumably because he’s also an arrogant arsehole). Through asides to camera and flashback, she recounts her recent break-up with live-in boyfriend Harry (Hugh Skinner), a recurring event in which he moves out of their flat but comes back when she calls. He left this time due to her Barack Obama-related masturbation. She gives herself 48 hours tops before Harry returns.
“I’m not obsessed with sex, I just can’t stop thinking about it”
Fleabag owns a guinea-pig themed café in London, which she started with her best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford). It was an ordinary café but after she gave Boo a guinea pig named Hilary as a last-minute birthday gift, the décor spiralled. Boo, we learn at the end of episode one, accidentally killed herself by walking into traffic outside the café after her boyfriend cheated on her. Only intending to injure herself to punish him, she and two other people died in the accident. The café is failing, the lease renewal is coming up, and Fleabag’s application for a bank loan with Bank Manager (Hugh Dennis) ends fruitlessly when he suspects her of trying to use sexual favours to swing the decision (uncharacteristically, she wasn’t).
“I have two degrees, a husband and a Burberry coat”
Fleabag’s highly strung sister Claire (Sian Clifford) is a high-achiever in a non-specific but successful job. She lives with her art dealer American husband Martin (Brett Gelman) and his 15-year-old son Jake (who has a habit of trying to get into the tub with his step-mother). For her birthday, Fleabag buys her a “Burrower” vibrator, which an embarrassed, emotionally stilted and sexually frustrated Claire admits is actually a very thoughtful gift. Claire earns a lucrative work promotion which would involve her relocating to Finland, but doesn’t feel she can go because of her “weird step-son and broken sister.”
“Dad’s way of coping with two motherless daughters was to book us tickets to feminist lectures, start fucking our godmother and stop calling”
In lieu of actually talking to them about their shared pain at the loss of their mother, Fleabag and Claire’s father books them tickets to women-centric events. They go to feminist lectures and a silent mindfulness retreat (for Mother’s Day), neither of which touch their pain and estrangement. At the retreat, Fleabag runs into Bank Manager, who’s there on a course learning how to be a better man following a sexual harassment scandal at work. Over a cigarette, they share their desperate unhappiness.
“You’re just tipping your prime”
Claire’s husband Martin is awful. He tries to kiss Fleabag at her sister’s “surprise” birthday party (organized meticulously by Claire, obviously) then lies to Claire that Fleabag made the first move and gloats about it. Martin’s a drunk liar who withholds affection, makes uncomfortably inappropriate sexual remarks and convinces a very unhappy Claire not to follow her dream of moving to Finland, but instead to stay with him. On the scale of poisonous Fleabag characters though, he comes a couple of notches underneath Godmother (Olivia Colman).
“Please look after yourself, you really do look ghastly, darling”
Godmother, an artist, moved in with Fleabag and Claire’s father (Bill Paterson) after their mother died of breast cancer three years ago. (Or, as Godmother would have it “their parents split up”.) She’s a vial of poison wrapped in a tunic, who, despite being Fleabag’s godmother, is connivingly cruel to her at every opportunity. When Fleabag pushes her against a wall, Godmother slaps her hard on the face, an act witnessed by Fleabag’s father.
Fleabag’s father tells Fleabag he can’t help her financially (not that she’d asked for help) because he and Godmother can’t afford it, and then it turns out they’ve bought a second home in France. Godmother’s expensive cat Felicity is always trying to escape, so Fleabag lets her out onto the street. Godmother undermines Fleabag’s job, relationships, appearance, and dead mother, always with a smile, always in front of Fleabag’s clearly unhappy, emotionally distant father.
“You’re both looking very… healthy. Very good and healthy”
Unhappiness and emotional distance is a family trait. At least twice an episode in Fleabag season one, someone asks someone else if they’re okay, and they reply that yes, they’re fine, totally fine. Nobody is fine, least of all Fleabag. She’s grieving the loss of her mother—jogging through the graveyard where she’s buried every day—and the loss of best friend Boo, not that she’s admitting it. On the underground, she imagines the commuters rhythmically crying out in contortions of agony under their facades of normal happiness.
“It’s really all that humans want, is to be loved and to be touched”
Fleabag steals a valuable sculpture from her artist step-mother’s studio and attempts to sell it through Martin. He, desperate for a birthday gift for his tense, stressed wife, gives it to her as a present, delighting her. Fleabag is forced to confess that she stole it from their Godmother, and Claire makes her return it, but then re-steals it after a display of particular Godmother awfulness at the family’s annual memorial lunch for their mother.
At the Godmother’s series finale “Sexhibition” (at which she surprises Fleabag by making her wait on the other guests), she makes a pointed speech about the theft. Fleabag protests publicly, breaks a tray of champagne flutes, and is sent away. Outside, she sees her father crying, and the pair very nearly connect about their shared grief when Godmother interrupts.
“Do you still wank about me sometimes?”
Boyfriend Harry did return after the break-up, and suggested the pair stop masturbating and try to surprise each other every day. His surprise was a romantic home-cooked meal, hers was posing as a knife-wielding home invader and jumping out at him in the shower. He realises she was lying about giving up masturbating when she finds her porn search terms on his laptop. This time he leaves for good, and starts a relationship with his work colleague Elaine (Kae Alexander).
“I just want to cry all the time”
Arsehole Guy is a recurring shag in season one. She brings him to their mother’s memorial lunch so that she can bask in Godmother’s reaction to his extreme handsomeness. (The reaction—barely veiled insults to Fleabag—is characteristically Godmotherish.) In the series finale, he breaks up with Fleabag, telling her that he’s in love with another woman and that his attraction to her was just a fixation with her very small breasts.
“It’s like having sex with a protractor”
Other sex partners don’t prove any more successful. On a bus, Fleabag meets a dentally-afflicted man, Bus Rodent (Jason Demetriou) whom she dates and brings to her sister’s party, and has uncomfortable sex with. Sensing that she’s not telling him the truth, he walks out too.
“How can I believe you, after what you did to Boo?”
While shopping for her sister’s birthday gift, Fleabag ran into Boo’s ex-boyfriend and it sends her spiralling. It’s revealed in episode six that Fleabag was the woman he cheated on Boo with, and she’s been carrying the guilt and shame around ever since.
“Somehow there isn’t anything worse than someone who doesn’t want to fuck me”
After she’s dumped by Arsehole Guy, meets Harry’s new girlfriend, is humiliated by Godmother and betrayed by both her dad and sister, who side with their partners over her, Fleabag walks to the café in streaming tears and contemplates stepping out in front of traffic. Bank Manager appears, asks if she’s okay, and when she confesses to her intense guilt and emotional distress, he restarts the loan application interview and tells her that people make mistakes. That’s why they put erasers on the ends of pencils.
Fleabag Season 2 debuts on Amazon Prime on Friday, May 17.