In the second series of Fleabag, our eponymous heroine falls headfirst for a complicated priest played by Andrew Scott but there isn’t a happy ending. Now, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has shared how close we really were to getting to see the pair together forever.
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 Hot 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 months as Fleabag fans around the world fell for this difficult, inscrutable character as much as the show’s heroine did. But their hearts were broken by the end of the series when Waller-Bridge decided to separate Fleabag from her divine partner.
The final episode of season two saw Fleabag tell the Hot Priest that she loved him, only to receive this response: “It’ll pass.” (That’s gotta be up there with “I know” as the most crushing response to “I love you” in the history of pop culture, right?) The Hot Priest had chosen God, leaving Fleabag to figure out her future. Alone.
It wasn’t a sad ending per se. There was a sense that Fleabag was in the best place she has ever been, and when she waved goodbye to the camera it was the certainty that everything was going to be OK. But still – would it have killed Waller-Bridge to have given Fleabag, and us, a happy ending?
Now, on the eve of the release of Fleabag: The Scriptures, a collection of writing and scripts from the television series, Waller-Bridge has revealed that she almost did exactly that.
In a Q&A with the Guardian, Waller-Bridge answered questions from friends and colleagues including Olivia Colman, Sian Clifford and Jack Thorne about the television show. Thorne asked: “Did you ever consider an ending where the Priest – I refuse to call him Hot Priest – said yes?”
Waller-Bridge responded: “May I clarify that I never scripted him as Hot Priest! That was the good work of the internet meeting Andrew Scott’s impossibly intense charisma. There was an idea for an alternative ending, but I’ll never say what it was…”
Not fair! We demand a do-over. Is there some kind of Kickstarter or GoFundMe we could launch to raise the necessary funds to pay for Scott and Waller-Bridge to reunite to film this happy ending? Maybe we could draft in Richard Curtis and we could do it for charity – Comic Relief style?
In the Guardian article, Waller-Bridge also revealed that she’s currently working on a project that combines some of her earliest ideas with her most recent. If she wasn’t a writer and actor she would be Olivia Colman’s “overbearing assistant” or a “criminal barrister”. And she said that she wants “to write for Sian Clifford and Jodie Comer for ever, of course”. (We’ll get a Kickstarter going for that, too.)
Previously, Waller-Bridge had explained the very specific inspiration behind the character of the Hot Priest.
“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?
As the Hot Priest himself says: “Being a romantic takes a hell of a lot of hope. I think what they mean is, when you find somebody that you love, it feels like hope.”
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.)
The release of Fleabag: The Scriptures brings Waller-Bridge’s victory lap to a close. The revival of her one-woman stage show has closed in London, the series has wrapped up, and it’s time to say goodbye to this character that we all love so much.
For now. As 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.