Warning: This post contains spoilers for “Fleabag” Season 2.
“Fleabag” Season 2 is a revelation, a religious experience, ecstasy.
It’s funny, depressing and mesmerizingly romantic, proving yet again that Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the kind of storyteller that only comes along once in a very long while. The actor and writer, who’s brought audiences “Crashing,” Killing Eve” and “Fleabag,” created a near-perfect conclusion to a project that began as a one-woman play.
And at the center of this “love story,” as anti-heroine Fleabag labels the narrative to viewers in the first episode of Season 2, is a Very. Hot. Priest.
Played by Andrew Scott, who “Sherlock” fans might recognize as villain Moriarty, The Priest (now informally known by “Fleabag” fans as Hot Priest) defies stereotypes. He is introduced to us ― and to Fleabag ― during the first episode of Season 2 at a terribly awkward family dinner. Fleabag’s dysfunctional family (plus The Priest) have gathered to discuss her father’s upcoming marriage to Godmother (played in pitch perfect subtle awfulness by Olivia Colman), which The Priest will be officiating.
There is a near-instant connection between Hot Priest and Fleabag, a connection that begins as curiosity and grows into deep friendship and eventually romantic love. The taboo relationship could have easily been played for titillation and shock value, but instead it’s used to explore Fleabag’s capacity for true intimacy, and the devastatingly powerful pull of unexpected, ill-timed love.
HuffPost senior reporters Emma Gray and Leigh Blickley discuss their fixation with Hot Priest and exactly what made the closing moments of “Fleabag” such artful perfection.
Emma Gray: Is it too dramatic to say that “Fleabag” Season 2 broke me apart and put me back together again? I watched it for the first time last week, and then went back and watched parts of it again. And even on the second time around, it hit me right in my softest, most vulnerable places. “Fleabag’s” second and final season is indeed a love story, but it’s also a bittersweet one. And despite its somewhat insane premise ― our sex-obsessed, potentially emotionally broken heroine discovers love by way of a Catholic priest who also happens to be hilarious, insightful and sexy ― it felt alarmingly realistic. I’m a Jew and watching “Fleabag” made me want to go to confession, kneel down and then promptly commit a bunch of sins. And I think I’m not alone. Why are we all so hot and bothered by Andrew Scott’s hella hot priest?
Leigh Blickley: I can’t remember the last time I watched a scene that gave me such sweaty palms.
Listen, I’m Catholic and go to church frequently enough, so this storyline was, at first, very weird for me ― as I’m sure it was for a lot of people. But then I began to fully embrace what I was witnessing on-screen: an examination of love in all its forms. Hot Priest grapples with his own devotion to God while figuring out his feelings for Fleabag. And Fleabag starts thinking about spirituality while trying to convince Hot Priest to hook up with her. It’s all so complicated and riveting and sexy because it’s forbidden. Fleabag, and us as her fourth-wall minions, want her to get what she can’t have.
Emma: To want what we can’t have strikes me as one of human beings’ most base emotional reactions. There is a desire inherent in something ― or someone ― just out of reach. Hot Priest is more available to Fleabag, in some ways, than most men she’s encountered. We saw her stumble through Season 1 making reckless decisions, using “fuckability” as a measure of her own self-worth (because that’s the measure that society so often uses to determine women’s self-worth), using sex to avoid emotional intimacy, and destroying her dearest relationships as a result.
But with Hot Priest, something is different. He’s available emotionally. He’s available spiritually. He is teacher and counselor and friend and confidante. But lover remains just out of bounds. And as his spiritual and emotional intimacy with Fleabag grows, the pair inch ever closer to crossing the proverbial line in the sand that every Catholic priest vows to draw. (I would argue that the whole celibacy thing does significantly more harm than good, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.) But because that line existed to begin with, Fleabag is able to build a relationship that isn’t built on whether she is fuckable in Hot Priest’s eyes. And that relationship is exactly what ultimately leads to sexual tension and eventual consummation. The season is one ... long ... well-earned build up ― and then release.
Even the GIFs floating around Twitter of Hot Priest feel NSFW even though they’re barely explicit at all. We see very little actual sex between this pair, and yet it’s hot. Why do you think Phoebe Waller-Bridge is able to do so much without actually exposing much?
Leigh: In Season 1, Waller-Bridge was all about letting the audience in on Fleabag’s escapades. We saw her reaction to Arsehole Guy’s various sex quirks, we witnessed her toothy makeouts with Bus Rodent, and we watched as she masturbated in front of her hyper-sensitive on-and-off boyfriend, Harry. But her situation with The Priest is different. Knowing sex is, initially, off the table, she completely falls for him emotionally as they build a friendship ― despite their obvious attraction to one another. Fleabag becomes vulnerable and more open to The Priest’s inner anxieties while also trying to figure out if he’ll ever defy his celibacy oath. Through this process, she comes to fall for him and he comes to understand her in a way no one else does. How do we know this? Well, he breaks the fourth wall! Hot Priest figures out her secret: she’s disappearing somewhere, and that somewhere is with us.
Once she realizes she’s been found out, Fleabag begins to shut the audience out, leading her to eventually confess her sins and kneel before Hot Priest in the most erotic church service I’ve ever been to. Of course, Christ interrupts that steamy sesh (falling religious artwork, nice touch, Phoebe), but Hot Priest comes back around, letting go of his vow to God and succumbing to Fleabag in her apartment. We’re not invited to that party, though, as she keeps their intimate moment between the two of them. She shut us out, the one time we really, really wanted a front-row seat! Emma, what was your take on Hot Priest catching onto Fleabag’s cut-to-camera act?
Emma: One of the (many) brilliances of “Fleabag” is that the camera is its own character. The camera, and thus the audience, has an intimate relationship with Fleabag ― one that most other humans don’t get to have with her, because she simply won’t allow it. As we’ve both mentioned, it’s different with Hot Priest. He sees her ― truly sees her. And because he sees her, he picks up on the moments she isn’t present. Fleabag uses the camera as a way to escape from the moment she’s experiencing. But with Hot Priest, she isn’t allowed to, because he calls her out. We see this building in the first few episodes. As they get closer, he picks up on it more. And then after their confession booth tryst ― which is cut short by an act of God (or, ya know, shoddy hanging) ― Hot Priest comes over to Fleabag’s home and just loses it when she turns away from him to look over at us. And therein lies the beauty of Hot Priest: He makes her want to leave behind the intrusive camera, the outside characters, the escape hatch. He lets her let us go.
But, now that we’ve thoroughly explored the emotional intimacy of this relationship, I do think we need to talk a bit more about the pure heat of it. Watching Fleabag and Hot Priest together ― all that sexual tension let out after five episodes of watching it build ― is like the difference between a one-night stand and sleeping with someone you’re falling in love with. You can feel that it’s more than just fucking, even if someone else she fucked a few episodes before supposedly did make her cum nine times. And there’s something about that combination ― pure lust mixed with burgeoning love ― that makes it all the hotter.
How do you feel about the way Andrew Scott played Hot Priest?
Leigh: I actually didn’t know about Andrew Scott before seeing him as Hot Priest and, to be honest, I think that made me that much more invested in this storyline. We meet Hot Priest at a restaurant in Episode 1, where he’s seemingly a random dude invited to the small engagement celebration of Dad (Bill Patterson) and Godmother (Olivia Colman). At first I thought he might be Fleabag’s new boy toy, but soon enough he’s introduced as “Father,” which is hot in and of itself? His appeal only skyrocketed from there as he shoots Fleabag flirtatious looks and joins her outside for smoke breaks. “What kind of priest is this dude?” I thought while watching him curse and drink like a sailor. “He can’t be serious about his job?”
But, he is. He just also likes to sip on some gin and tonics while contemplating the complexities of homilies and church fundraisers.
Andrew Scott and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s chemistry is outrageous, but I’m pretty sure his on-screen chemistry with anyone would be off the charts. He just seems so unbelievably present as a scene partner, and has said he considers himself a “playful person.” In a recent interview with The Guardian, Scott explained, “I like a fluidity in relation to the work I do— even in my own personal life. I like the idea of not being defined as one particular thing, whether that’s being an actor, or being Irish, or being gay, whatever the fuck it is. I don’t think there’s too much value in saying, ‘This is what I am.’”
That approach is what convinced him to take on a role that initially sounded so outrageous and make it into something magical. Not everyone can play a devout Catholic and a sexy, slightly alcoholic dreamboat at the same time. He managed to pull it off in spades, and made me IMDB everything else he’s in.
Emma: Agreed! And as an aside, he is seriously great/deranged/sexy as supervillain Moriarty in the “Sherlock” series. Highly recommend. But Scott might be at his most fantastic in this role. As consumers of pop culture, we are always trying to put things, and people, into categories. A Catholic priest is a Catholic priest, and therefore not a sexual figure. But, as evidenced by this performance ― and, ya know, all of life ― that’s bullshit. Our categorizations have meaning, but they don’t mean everything. And “Fleabag” is a study in flipped scripts. Fleabag and her sister, Claire (a relationship which is arguably the greatest love story of the series), do feminism “badly.” Fleabag wants to be told exactly what to do while simultaneously knowing exactly what she wants. She loves the hardest and stumbles into real love with the least grace. Her love story is a tragedy and a comedy and a drama and it has an ending that rips your heart out and also seems gloriously happy.
The triumph of Fleabag’s arc in Season 2 is that she does find love. And it’s real and it’s true and it’s hard and it’s messy and it’s beautiful and it’s finite. And that doesn’t make it a failure. And it doesn’t make the show unhappy.
Hot Priest officiates Fleabag and Claire’s father’s wedding to Godmother, which takes place in the series finale. And he gives one of the most perfect speeches about love I’ve ever heard.
“Love is awful,” he says, to a crowd of people expecting the same, tired, saccharine cliches you hear at most weddings. “It’s painful. It’s frightening. It makes you doubt yourself, judge yourself, distance yourself from the other people in your life. It makes you selfish, makes you creepy. Makes you obsessed with your hair, makes you cruel, makes you say and do things you never thought you would do! It’s all any of us want and it’s hell when we get there. So no wonder it’s something we don’t wanna do on our own.”
Fleabag, like the rest of us, doesn’t want to do love on her own. And by the end of the season, you feel certain that she isn’t and that she won’t. She has Claire and her father, and Hot Priest has his faith in God. And they both have each other, even though their romance was doomed from the beginning.
Leigh: For a second you think, just maybe, Hot Priest will leave his commitment to the Catholic Church behind and ride off into the sunset with Fleabag. But no. He’s committed to his love of Christ, his work and his ceremonial garb ― even if he also loves Fleabag. And the series would have been worse ― less truthful, less Waller-Bridge ― if it had been wrapped up neatly.
“You know the worst thing is that I fucking love you,” a teary-eyed Fleabag tells Hot Priest at the bus stop after the wedding. “I love you. Let’s just leave that out there for a second on its own ... I love you.”
Hot Priest, charming as ever, grabs her hand and says, “It’ll pass.” He gets up, turns around and with a tear streaming down his face says, “I love you, too.” My heart wept, and smiled, in this moment.
Then I sobbed again when Fleabag looks at us and then walks away, turning around only to let us know that she may not be done with Hot Priest, but she no longer needs us.
Emma: “Love isn’t something that weak people do,” says Hot Priest in that same wedding speech. “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.”
And that’s what “Fleabag” season 2 felt like for so much of us watching: Hot, steamy, sexy, rip-your-clothes-off-and-cry-out-for-God’s-mercy hope.