After the hammer-drop of the Priest’s telling Fleabag that they weren’t going to have sex, I figured that might be the last we saw of him for a bit. But this season of Fleabag is all about unexpected twists, and the follow-up episode turns out to be an all-Fleabag-and-Priest affair, with the rest of the cast only appearing in flashbacks.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Fleabag is now trying the whole “just friends” thing with the Priest, trailing him on his rounds with puppy-dog eyes. It’s hard to be an atheist going cassock-shopping and popping in on a Quaker meeting, but it’s even harder to go without ogling his lovely neck. Fleabag’s so infatuated that she accidentally breaks the fourth wall for real (a first), though she’s able to play it off.
But the hangout is uneasy for reasons beyond the sexual tension. It’s Fleabag’s first real friendship since Boo’s death, and poignant reminders of Boo are everywhere, from the Priest’s dressing-room antics (a callback to a Fleabag-Boo scene in season one) to his easy facility with Hilary the guinea pig. Boo would have loved Fleabag’s Quaker-meeting confession that she might not be such a feminist if she had bigger tits. When the Priest snickers too, the spirit of those anarchic days come flooding back.
The Priest genuinely wants to know Fleabag’s troubles and to help her. But all Fleabag can see is Boo’s ghost in corners of the café, warning her against getting too close to someone and being hurt again. Other painful flashbacks — of the previously unseen funeral for Fleabag’s mother, for instance — are bubbling up, too. Once she tells the Priest to go home, we get an extended flashback to the saddest day of Fleabag’s life — which, in true Fleabag fashion, is still peppered with lots of comic absurdity.
The narrative flits between a few incidents on the day. One is purely comic: Claire is appropriately disheveled and drawn, while Fleabag is struggling with the Champagne problem of looking utterly lovely, to the point that mourners are complimenting her on her appearance. The threat of Godmother is already present, as she attends to Dad and consoles the sisters with over-the-top promises of how much she’ll be there for them. Dad himself is devastated, realizing that even the thing that annoyed him the most about his wife (“She knew how to be fun, how to be kind; she just knew”) is now gone forever.
It’s a heavy dose of bad memories, but it’s still a shock when the narrative comes to with Fleabag, alone in a dark church pew, getting on her knees to pray. It wouldn’t be the first time an earthly romance kindled a spiritual one, but for a woman who believes becoming an optimist “would ruin [her] life,” it’s a surprising turn. But that’s only the start of the wild ride that is the episode’s second half.
Fleabag’s tentative prayer is interrupted by a blast of loud hip-hop from the vestry, which turns out to be the Priest. He’s drunk and unsteady, trying to coax a hidden bottle of booze from a high shelf. But after he asks God for help, it pops out in a perfect arc, landing right between his hands. Now, that’s divine intervention.
Over neat whiskeys, Fleabag and the Priest bond over their love of Winnie-the-Pooh. (They both have a soft spot for anxious Piglet.) He knows what she’s there for (“Fuck you, calling me Father, like it doesn’t turn you on just to say it,”) and she knows he’s interested, as he tells her the story of an aspiring saint who castrated himself just to avoid earthly temptation. “Here’s to peace,” he says in a toast. “And here’s to those who get in the way of it.”
Coasting on this unsteady mix of emotional intimacy and kinky Catholic roleplay, Fleabag and the Priest tumble into the confession booth, where he encourages her to spill what’s troubling her. She explains the miscarriage lie, and how she had to cover for Claire. But when Boo’s face presents itself again, Fleabag clams up. She’s not just ashamed of her role in Boo’s death anymore; she’s ashamed of her shame, her inability to move forward.
That leads to a very unfeminist and unatheist confession: “I want someone to tell me what to wear in the morning. I want someone to tell me what to wear every morning. I want someone to tell me what to eat, what to like, what to hate, what to rage about, what to listen to, what band to like, what to buy tickets for, what to joke about and what not to joke about. I want someone to tell me what to believe in, who to vote for, who to love and how to tell them. I want someone to tell me how to live my life, because so far, I’ve been getting it wrong. And I know that’s why people want you in their lives, because you just tell them how to do it.”
It’s an unflinching, raw performance from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, one that feels all the more shocking because of its sudden, intense sexuality. The Priest tells Fleabag to kneel, leaning in from above to kiss her in a kind of BDSM-adjacent benediction. But just as they begin ripping each other’s clothes off, another ominous painting drops from the wall, giving the Priest second thoughts. As he stumbles out in spiritual agony, she shoots the camera a determined look. Just because Fleabag wants to be told what to do doesn’t mean she wants to listen.