The Indigo Canon: ‘Fleabag’ and the power of forgiveness

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*Contains spoilers*

“I was taught that if we’re born with love, then life is about choosing the right place to put it.” – Priest (Andrew Scott) Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag follows a complex protagonist (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who viewers simply know as ‘Fleabag’, as she navigates her world of grief, guilt, love, and forgiveness – finding them to be inexorably linked. In the first series, viewers see Fleabag blunder through life as she steals from her godmother (Olivia Colman), pursues multiple sexual partners, and reflects on her role in the death of her best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford).

Series two depicts Fleabag protecting her sister Claire (Sian Clifford), and exploring the Christian faith whilst falling in love with a priest (Andrew Scott). These events are portrayed through emotional highs and lows as viewers grow tentatively fond of Fleabag’s deeply flawed character.

There are many brilliant aspects of Fleabag that could be invoked in the discussion of what makes the series a ‘classic’. The perverse tragicomedy is filled with intense, witty humour; brilliantly constructed, compelling characters; and an ingenious script which has been published under the name Fleabag: The Scriptures, reflecting the accomplished writing held within. However, I find the most important aspect of Fleabag to be its exploration of forgiveness, and the resulting demonstration of the diverse ways in which it can be given and received. This message, woven into each narrative thread, is what I believe makes Fleabag truly deserving of the ‘classic’ label.

Forgiveness in Fleabag is primarily explored through three of Fleabag’s most central relationships: her relationship with the Priest, with her sister Claire, and with herself.

Fleabag’s Priest represents a theological understanding of guilt and forgiveness. Given his commitment to the Catholic faith, the Priest suggests that the matter of forgiveness is unambiguous: confess and God will forgive you. However, throughout her encounters with the Priest, Fleabag begs the question: where does forgiveness come from in a world without God? This question is especially pertinent given that Fleabag confesses her dark secrets to the audience in series one, to no relief. It appears that Fleabag is drawn to the Priest and his understanding of guilt in her search for forgiveness, urging herself to understand the Priest’s Christian convictions. However, she and the Priest cannot reconcile their ways of life, and Fleabag cannot find forgiveness in his world.

Throughout the series, Fleabag thinks very little of herself, valuing her worth according to her sex appeal

Fleabag’s relationship with her sister Claire represents a form of forgiveness that, if less straightforward than the Priest’s attitude, has a far more tangible effect on her life. The sisters are estranged at the end of series one, following Fleabag’s revelation that Claire’s chauvinistic husband Martin (Brett Gelman) tried to kiss her. Claire chooses to belief Martin, who denies such an act, stating that Fleabag is untrustworthy given her role in Boo’s death. At the start of series two, the sisters have not spoken for a year. However, as the first episode develops it becomes clear that the sisters have forgiven each other. This forgiveness is not represented conventionally, through an emotional apology, or a grand speech. Instead, the forgiveness is implicit, reflected in their actions throughout the episode: after months of no contact, when the sisters need each other for support and protection, they step up in an instant. Wordlessly communicating, as siblings do, they put aside their differences without a hint of resentment and break their year’s silence, looking out for each other above anything else. Forgiveness comes easily to the sisters, reflecting their unbreakable alliance as they stand united against the world.

Despite these sources of forgiveness that surround Fleabag, her grief and guilt do not begin to diminish until she moves towards forgiving herself. Throughout the series, Fleabag thinks very little of herself, valuing her worth according to her sex appeal. She pushes away those who look to connect with her, believing that she is not worthy of a meaningful relationship, given how she destroyed her friendship with Boo. However, following her encounters with the Priest who, given his celibacy, helps her understand that she is valuable beyond the world of sex. She begins to look upon herself in a kinder light. It is through mending her relationship with herself that Fleabag is able to mend her relationship with others and create connections that endure. Fleabag moves towards forgiveness by acknowledging her worth, letting herself stand up for those she cares about and accepting the inevitability of mistakes and the permissibility of moving past them: “People make mistakes. That’s why they put rubbers on the ends of pencils,”. Given this portrayal of introspective forgiveness, Fleabag delivers a powerful story about personal growth and self-love.

Waller-Bridge delivers a masterclass in beautiful, concise writing. Fleabag will not waste a second of your time as it encourages you to appreciate how you should love yourself and others. Like the Priest said, “We must choose the right place to put our love.”

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