This week in the research log, we’re starting a new series! The Storyclock Notebook isn’t just great for movies, it works for entire seasons of television as well. When it comes to near-perfect seasons of television, look no further than Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Emmy-sweeping season 2 of Fleabag. The first season is great, but the second is unmissable– it’s hilarious, heartbreaking, and has some truly groundbreaking creative strokes of genius. Starting this week and continuing every week after, we will be breaking down every episode of season 2. We watched episode 1 and of course used the Storyclock Notebook to clock out story beats and analyze the structure. Looks at camera and smirks flirtatiously... Let’s get started, shall we?
Let's Break It Down
When you make a second season of anything, you’ve got a tough job. In that opening episode you have to catch the viewers up with what happened in the previous season, you have to naturally continue character arcs that have been established, and you have to set up a new story for the current season. With episode #2.1, Phoebe Waller-Bridge does all of that to perfection.
We join Fleabag 371 days, 19 hours, and 26 minutes after she walked down the street with tears and makeup streaming down her face at the end of season 1. She’s in a public bathroom with blood flowing from her nose. She looks into the lens and with her trademark smile delivers a line that sums up the entire season: This is a love story. From there we flashback to an hour before– Fleabag attends a family dinner to “celebrate” the engagement of Dad and Godmother. Relationships are immediately established: Claire and Martin are still together. Fleabag and Claire aren’t on speaking terms. Dad cares about Godmother. Godmother cares about herself. And there’s a new character here– a cursing, tequila-drinking priest that Fleabag is immediately curious about.
Setting this episode in one location during a tension-filled family dinner is a genius way to set up the season. All of the core players from the show are in one place at one time, and we as an audience get to see how old relationships have evolved in between seasons, and how new relationships will form. In an interview with IndieWire, Phoebe Waller-Bridge talked about why she set the episode during a family dinner:
“There’s something quite theatrical about it all being in one location, and I find that quite inspiring, quite exciting, because it’s all about the flow of the dialogue then. You don’t have to think so much about telling a story over a longer period of time. It was just in the moment. The thing that excites me most about writing is the moments between people actually saying things to each other. And so this actually was joyful for me, because I got to stretch it out over the whole episode.”
Stuff That Stood Out To Me
- I love the way that Phoebe (we’re on a first-name basis now, just go with it) structured this episode. Fleabag is very point-of-view driven, in that we go where she goes. We see what she sees. Dropping us into a family dinner creates a tension that she as a character just cannot take. So we get to go on smoke breaks! Phoebe places these three smoke breaks throughout the dinner so that Fleabag can have these private moments, both by herself and with others. Her relationship with her dad is established in one, and the final smoke break acts as sort of a “meet-cute” with her and Hot Priest.
- Hot Priest is the opposite of Fleabag’s family: he’s bold (where dad is inarticulate), he’s caring (where Godmother and Martin are cruel) and he’s honest and frank (where Claire tends to never mean what she says). Being a man of the cloth, he’s also not able to have sex– so he’s the opposite of Fleabag, a woman who has a history of building her relationships around that very thing.
- At Plot Devices we like to call that time in the story where our protagonist is called to their adventure the “herald”. Near the end of this episode, the herald of this story is presented in the form of Hot Priest’s phone number on a napkin. It’s a trope, but it’s a trope for a reason– it works. It clearly shows the decision Fleabag has to make to set the story in motion: to call, or not to call? By the end of the episode, when Fleabag and Claire discuss how Hot Priest is “quite hot”, we know the answer to that question.
If we look at the entire second season of Fleabag as a Storyclock, I would guess that we’re about to depart on Act 2. You’re just gonna have to stick around to see if that guess is correct! Join us next week as we analyze Season 2 Episode 2. And don’t forget to buy a Storyclock Notebook to do some Research Logs of your own!