by Megan Bishop
Fleabag is one of kind yet one of us. The titular character of the show Fleabag (yes, her name is Fleabag) is an ordinary woman dealing with ordinary problems whilst breaking the fourth wall, talking to her audience. Fleabag can be unlikable through her self-obsessed and cynical attitudes but her uncensored dialogue is honest and raw. While Amazon’s Fleabag is a comedic show, delivering some of the best comedic lines, performances and scenes on television, the show is also a tragedy, following the life of a woman who is failing at every aspect in her life. Season One chronicles Fleabag coming to terms with a life without her best friend and business partner Boo, while also examining her self-destructive tendencies and her obsession with sex. Season Two is quite different as Fleabag experiences romance and love with a man who she can never be with: a priest. With the endless amount of depictions of women being sex symbols and dependent on male characters, Fleabag is a perfect show in a feminist world.
One thing that instantly sets Fleabag apart from other characters in female centric shows is her honesty and unfiltered dialogue. With the ability to break the fourth wall, Fleabag can comment on everything happening in her life at real time to the audience. Although I cannot break the fourth wall and say things out loud with only a select few to hear, I easily relate to Fleabag as I am always responding in my head about events and occurrences happening in real-time. While comedic, the fourth wall break lets the audience hear Fleabag’s inner thinking, the things we aren’t supposed to hear and the thoughts women are encouraged not to disclose.
While the fourth wall break brings the audience into the mind of Fleabag, she does not hide her true self from the rest of the ensemble and is constantly unfiltered. She is an unapologetic and selfish character. While she cares about how she is perceived by others, it does not change her attitude or personality, many of these traits cover up her guilt and act like a shield. While Fleabag is by far the most honest character with the most resistance to personal growth, every character in the show is flawed and struggling with personal demons. For example, Fleabag’s sister Claire is uptight and rigid, the exact opposite to her sister. She tries to hold a perfect image while she is dealing with her terrible marriage to alcoholic Martin. While the two are completely different, they have commonalities, like how they both would rather give up five years of their life for “the perfect body” (which they both publicly reveal during a feminist lecture). Fleabag demonstrates that everyone has problems that they need to deal with and that everyone has to own up and work through the issues they ignore and cast aside.
Finally, Fleabag flawlessly subverts sexual objectification that women have faced on screen since the beginning of cinema. Since women have been forced to be objects of desire and sexual gratification in film and television for countless years, it is extremely important to have female characters on screen who have agency and are defined outside of their relationship to men. The show flips Laura Mulvey’s male gaze through Fleabag’s “obsession” with sex, in the character’s words "I'm not obsessed with sex, I just can't stop thinking about it. The performance of it. The awkwardness of it. The drama of it. The moment you realize someone wants your body. Not so much the feeling of it." Many of the problems Fleabag faces stem from this obsession, which ultimately ruins her relationships. Fleabag is never once objectified in her sexual encounters which are depicted as mundane and meaningless. Objectification and desire aren’t at play until Season Two, when the male character, affectionately known to some as “Hot Priest”, becomes an object of desire for Fleabag. Religion becomes a major player in Fleabag’s romantic and sex life, and is a force that challenges Fleabag to re-examine her ideas of love and intimacy. By bringing in the concept of religion and turning a priest into a sex symbol, Fleabag goes against normative representations of love and female desire.
Fleabag has clearly struck a chord with audiences becoming a massive hit, critically and commercially, for BBC and Amazon Studios. The show took home four awards at the 2019 Emmy’s ceremony for best direction in a comedy, best writing in a comedy, best comedic actress and the coveted best TV comedy. The show’s critical acclaim and fan following demonstrates the importance and value of stories about unfiltered and honest women that do not shy away from subject matter that was once considered taboo. As said by the creator, writer and star of Fleabag during her Emmy’s acceptance speech “It’s really wonderful to know a dirty, pervy, angry, messed-up woman can make it to the Emmys”. Fleabag flips expectations and demonstrates that women are allowed to be greedy, selfish, apathetic, cynical, and depraved and that’s perfectly normal.