On Fleabag and Fear | Connecting with Culture
‘I spent most of my adult life using sex to deflect from the screaming void inside my empty heart.’
So speaks the unnamed female protagonist in the hit BBC comedy-drama Fleabag. With the series two finale airing on Monday night, unresolved issues abound – not least the divided opinion surrounding the interactions between the main character and the Catholic priest. But whatever your thoughts on that particular relationship, Fleabag remains a cutting-edge piece of drama.
Interspersed between dark comedy, frank depictions of dysfunctional family life, and desperate sexual choices, there are moments of stark vulnerability. One such scene takes place in a confessional:
‘I’m frightened’, she says. ‘[…] I want someone to tell me how to live my life, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong […] and even though I don’t believe […] and I know that scientifically nothing I do makes any difference in the end anyway, I’m still scared! Why am I still scared?!’
It’s here that we realise ‘the screaming void inside [her] empty heart’ is made up mainly of fear. Fear that she’s getting it wrong. Fear that she’ll forget those who have died, or that she’ll be forgotten. Fear that no-one truly understands her, and that if anyone really knew what she’d done, they’d never accept her.
Because although she confesses plenty in that scene – from ‘a lot of sex outside of marriage… and once or twice inside someone else’s too’ to ‘endless blasphemy’ – there is one notable omission. One of those sexual encounters was with her best friend’s boyfriend, and it led to her best friend’s (accidental) suicide.
Whether intentional or not, she confesses only that which seems forgivable, that which is – up to a point – culturally acceptable. She’s scared that if anyone actually knew how badly she’d messed up, they wouldn’t want anything to do with her.
It’s the basic human fear, spelled out by a broken woman clutching a glass of whisky, sitting in a confessional. Grief and guilt and pain compounded by a deep-seated fear of rejection.
Fleabag draws us in with its humour but keeps us hooked with its astute observations, its emotional weight, and its perceptive reflections. By balancing the line between laughter and tears on a knife edge, it compels us to think not only about what fears and hurts lie hidden in the hearts of our friends and colleagues, but in our own as well.
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