In the second series of Fleabag, our eponymous heroine falls headfirst for a complicated priest played by Andrew Scott, whose life of celibacy stands in opposition to her need for casual sex. Phoebe Waller-Bridge explains why a priest could have been the only person to make Fleabag question everything.
Few sex scenes in television history are set inside a confessional and involve fumbling with the folds of a cassock after being told – in no uncertain terms in Andrew Scott’s dulcet Irish brogue – to ‘kneel’.
But, then again, few sex scenes in television history are between a whiskey-drinking Catholic priest and Fleabag, the eponymous heroine of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s critically-acclaimed millennial comedy. In the second season of Fleabag, Waller-Bridge introduced Scott’s quite literally holier-than-thou character as a foil to her messy heroine, a woman who relies on the crutch of casual sex to plaster over her blistering grief for the death of her mother and best friend.
By the fourth episode, the sexual tension is simmering away nicely. And that’s when the priest tells Fleabag to ‘kneel’.
The gifs! I’m sure you’ve seen the gifs. The internet has been awash with sexy priest gifs for the last few weeks as Fleabag fans fell for this difficult, inscrutable character as much as the show’s heroine did. And, with the second and final season dropping onto Amazon Prime Video in the US today, Waller-Bridge has spoken about the inspiration behind the beloved character.
“I thought it was the thing that would surprise and fascinate Fleabag the most,” Waller-Bridge told the New York Times. “He is the absolute opposite to her in what he believes and how he wants to live, and yet there is a connection. Fleabag chose a life of casual sex, he chose a life of celibacy. Both choices are informed by their personal lives and what they believe they need to survive.”
The writer added that the true light bulb moment came when she overheard a conversation between two young women “in really sexy clothes”, she told New York Times, talking about the Old Testament. “And something clicked,” Waller-Bridge said. “Modern life and religion felt like the perfect imperfect companions.”
In season two, in which Fleabag wrestles with not just the meaning of capital L Life, but the meaning of her life, there could be no better literal bedfellow than faith. What is falling in love, if not a strange, terrifying act of hope? How else can you think about something bigger than yourself without thinking about God?
But the show also caused a spike in interest in religion. Google noticed an uptick in queries about whether or not priests could get married, while porn sites saw a surge in searches for “religious” and “priest” based materials.
The power of Waller-Bridge is in making us see the world through Fleabag’s eyes and understand why it is that she wants the things that she wants, even and especially if they’re self-destructive. We want to drink those M&S tinnies, we want to wear that black jumpsuit, and we want to fall for that dangerous man of God. (Forgive me father for I have sinned, etc etc.)
After Fleabag takes its final bow on the London stage this summer it will be goodbye to this character that we all love so much. But, Waller-Bridge told the New York Times, she would be open to bringing her back at some point in the future.
“I will miss her, but I hope there will always be a little bit of Fleabag in everything I write,” she said. “I’d love to bring her back when she is 50. Only God knows what she’d have to say then.” Amen.