This article contains mild spoilers throughout Season 2 of Fleabag.
Fleabag doesn’t follow her older sister’s lead. The titular protagonist of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ecstatic Amazon Prime series has mostly tripped her way into a chaotic, circuitous life path. The resolutely uptight Claire (played by Sian Clifford), by contrast, has forged a meticulous plan. The two sisters are almost uncannily different: Where Claire is propelled by a suffocating sense of duty to those around her, Fleabag (played by Waller-Bridge) struggles to show meaningful consideration to even those whom she most loves. By the end of the show’s devastating first season, the reckless antiheroine had alienated everyone in her life, and Claire was no exception.
But the show’s second and final season begins with a sign that Fleabag might be capable of bridging that gap. At the start of Episode 1, the sisters, having been forced to gather for a group dinner organized to celebrate their father’s engagement to their godmother, regard each other with uneasiness. “Nice jumpsuit,” Claire first says to Fleabag, the terse phrase more an accusation than a compliment. But late into the tumultuous dinner that animates the episode, Fleabag notices that her estranged sister has been missing from the table for a while. Rising from her seat, Fleabag heads to the restaurant bathroom to find Claire.
What begins as a lighthearted, if also vulgar, inquiry suddenly shifts into a gut-wrenching moment of unexpected connection. “Claire? You’ve been ages. Are you pissed off, or are you doing a poo?” Fleabag asks as she approaches Claire’s stall. After Claire requests a sanitary napkin, Fleabag opens the stall door and lightly mocks her about her period—until Claire corrects her through tears and gritted teeth: “It’s not a period. It’s a fucking miscarriage, okay?”
In its second season, Fleabag deepens its portrayal of the sisters’ relationship not by glossing over their past transgressions, but by allowing them to coexist alongside surprising moments of fierce protectiveness. Describing the miscarriage scene, which took seven hours to film, Clifford recently told Vulture, “There’s no question that they are there for each other. It’s such a beautiful representation of sisterhood. It’s like, Forget everything else, I will be here to support you.”
The show, acerbic as ever, doesn’t present a vision of “support” that suddenly finds Fleabag assuming the role of caretaker extraordinaire. Viewers would find it jarring to see her seamlessly cast off her own insecurities or adopt a near-parental posturing. Instead, Fleabag’s willingness to shock—to defy expectations of ladylike, responsible behavior—enables her to protect Claire. When the sisters return to the dinner table and Claire feigns enjoyment instead of expressing a need to go to the hospital, Fleabag interrupts the party’s hollow chatter: “Oh, for fuck’s sake, stop it!” she screams, then later offers an unanticipated reason for her anger when goaded: “I j … I just had a little ... I just … I had a … a little m-miscarriage.”
Medical concerns aside, Fleabag’s deflection from her sister’s miscarriage serves as a startling balm. When Claire’s rotten husband, Martin (Brett Gelman), immediately begins to rattle off horrific commentary—“It’s like a ‘goldfish out of the bowl’ sort of thing. If it didn’t wanna be in there, it didn’t wanna be in there”—it’s Fleabag who bears the blows. Fleabag’s decision to disrupt the dinner party by claiming the miscarriage as her own offers Claire the one thing she most needed: freedom to address, or avoid, her own pain without the burden of simultaneously soothing everyone else around her.
Fleabag’s depiction of the sisters’ relationship is the true love story of its second season, and perhaps the whole series. Season 2’s attention to their shaky bond retroactively lends more gravity to the first season’s depiction of its splintering. That Fleabag would stand up for her sister, however awkwardly, in front of Martin lends new heartbreak to the fact that Martin’s attempt to kiss Fleabag in Season 1 is what catalyzed the sisters’ most recent falling-out. (The show is also careful to suggest that the siblings already felt a sense of separation from each other, and from their father, following their mother’s death.)
Thankfully, Fleabag and Claire do not immediately embrace each other after the dinner-party scene. Like all relationships, sisterhood can be hard. Years of discontent and resentment do not disappear after one grand gesture, after all. The rest of the season finds them engaged in a familiar, emotional tug-of-war: Fleabag constantly fears disappointing Claire; Claire constantly fears Fleabag disappointing her. The show captures the tangled vulnerability of sisterhood with an eye toward its tensions. In an entertainment landscape that rarely grants women characters the range to be challenging, Fleabag’s commitment to exploring the sisters’ anxieties about (and slow progress toward) each other is a breath of fresh air.
Not all of Claire and Fleabag’s journey toward tentative reconciliation is as tonally jarring as the miscarriage scene. Later in the season, Fleabag calms her sister down after Claire asks for—and receives—a truly horrific haircut. (“I look like a pencil!” Claire screams, pointing to the asymmetrical creation atop her head.) To the extent that dramatic haircuts can serve as a proxy for wanting a big life change, this decision signals Claire’s small shift toward addressing the unhappiness she feels in her life—and especially her marriage. But it’s the season’s final episode, in which Claire sports and then abandons an amusing false ponytail, that brings her most sudden and heartrending admission. When Fleabag and Claire debate the merits of the latter following a possible love interest to Finland, the elder sister assures Fleabag of a simple, unwavering truth: “The only person I’d run through an airport for is you.”
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