Today, I explain how Fleabag‘s second season kicked off with a note perfect perfectly awful dinner.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
Fleabag, the brilliant comedy series written and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge (the episode was directed by Harry Bradbeer), was originally a one-woman stage show, and that stage past was reflected perfectly in the Season 2 opener in 2019, where the main character (who we know only as “Fleabag”) is forced to suffer through a dinner with all of her family members that she alienated by the end of the first season of the show.
There’s her Type A sister Claire (Sian Clifford) and her alcoholic American husband (Brett Gelman), who made a pass at Fleabag at the end of Season 1, but when she told her sister, the husband said it was Fleabag who had made a pass at HER, and since Fleabag has a history of doing stuff JUST that messed up, her sister believes her husband, devastating Fleabag.
There’s her father (Bill Paterson), who is dating their Godmother (Olivia Colman) after their mother’s death. Fleabag hates Godmother, but at the end of Season 1, her father essentially chose Godmother over Fleabag, asking for some distance in their relationship.
It’s a year later, and they are having an engagement dinner for her dad and Godmother. The priest who is marrying them is there, as well (played by the brilliant Andrew Scott). Everything goes wrong, and it goes just so right.
The episode opens in media res, with Fleabag cleaning up a bloodied nose in a restaurant bathroom, before she then hands a towel to a mysterious woman on the floor of the bathroom, before Fleabag turns to us and says, “This is a love story.”
And while that is true for the overall arc of Season 2, I think it also applies to the plot of just episode one, but not a ROMANTIC love story, exactly. You see, Fleabag obviously hates that Claire believed her dirtbag husband over her, and they haven’t spoken in over a year. They are acting nice for the sake of their dad, but there’s a crazy amount of tension. Claire and her husband aren’t drinking (nominally because he is an alcoholic). Claire is starting to freak out that Fleabag is just being sort of “blah,” and not starting any trouble or being snarky or catty.
Things change, however, when Fleabag goes to the bathroom and discovers that her sister is in the middle of a miscarriage. She gives her some aide to stop the bleeding, but when the sister tries to go back to dinner and act like everything is normal, Fleabag can’t abide it, and in the process of trying to think of a way to get Claire to address the issue, ends up claiming the miscarriage for her own…
Of course, Claire’s husband says some awful things thinking it was Fleabag’s miscarriage (like “The baby made the choice to jump ship”) and Fleabag eventually punches him, and he accidentally elbows her AND their overly helpful waitress (the mystery woman).
Fleabag had been getting a vibe with the Priest, and at the end of the episode, Claire stops Fleabag and offers to drive her home in her cab, but Fleabag makes the cab take them to the hospital for Claire, instead, and Claire notes how hot the priest is, and it is clear that the sisters will all right again.
The whole episode is just so well-handled all around, from the lighting to the set design, but especially to the acting, directing and writing, and sure enough, the episode won Emmys for Best Writing, Best Directing and Best Actor (Waller-Bridge took home the writing and acting Emmys).
Sadly, Waller-Bridge has so much going on that she only did two seasons of Fleabag, but boy, were they amazing.
Okay, if I’m going to have 359 more of these, I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!