After Fleabag scooped three awards at the 2019 Emmys on Sunday, a photo of creator and actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge relaxing after her win has inspired admiration on social media.
"I love you."
This line in Fleabag is many things, but what it's not is a description of my love for the above photo of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. That is not going to pass.
The creator, writer and lead actress scooped no less than three Emmys for the two-season masterpiece on Sunday, and secured her crown as a female millennial voice for the ages. And the cherry on top? This photo, taken by BBC Head of Comedy Josh Cole, of Waller-Bridge resplendent in an embellished Monique Lhuillier dress, surrounded by golden statues, contentedly smoking a cigarette on the patio of the Chateau Marmont.
While the surrounding may not be very relatable, a woman relaxing in the knowledge that her genius has been recognised is a sight for sore eyes.
And social media noticed. The photo has been posted, liked and retweeted thousands of times by adoring fans of Waller-Bridge (including myself), indulging in the glamourous sensuality of one of the best photos of the night.
We love Fleabag, we love Waller-Bridge and somehow, this singular photo is a pitch-perfect illustration of everything that love encompasses.
Let's talk about Fleabag
Twelve episodes total, of a half an hour each. Countless other TV programmes have tried and failed over hundreds of hours to emulate what Fleabag captures in just six.
The magic of good TV has never been more apparent to me than when I binge-watched Fleabag over a weekend earlier this year. The anti-heroine, of whom we never learn the name, leads the charge of uncomfortably loveable female protagonists, storming her way through life in a mess of compulsive sex, compulsive sarcasm and all-round compulsive poor decisions.
And yet. We all adore her. She's relatable, if not for her extreme behaviour, then for the motives behind that behaviour. Who among us hasn't felt unloved, unworthy, and has tried to cover that void with questionable actions? Who hasn't put on a good show of being the life of the party, using glitteringly sarcastic jokes as a way to deflect uncomfortable questions about what's really going on?
Fleabag may have gone further than many of our conscious' would have let us go, but we watched her with compassion all the way— the exact thing she struggled to come up with for herself.
Her perfect match
When she meets a man who seems to be her match — not only romantically, but in wits, in emotions, in life experiences — we internally cheer them on, thinking that finally, we will be given a happy ending.
The Hot Priest (not his given name, but his internet-christened one) sees Fleabag — really sees her, for what she is, not just what she shows to the world. Her excuses and deflections and asides to us, the waiting audience, don't fly with him, because he's done it all himself before. He knows what she's hiding, and he knows he can't resist her. Even though they may be wrong for each other in so many ways, their relationship is still the most profound that either has ever had.
"Do you want to fuck the priest, or do you want to fuck God?"
Fiona Shaw's fabulous appearance as the therapist was talking to Fleabag, but she just as easily could have asked the Hot Priest the same question. And in the end, he chooses God. He takes himself away from the temptation of love and satisfaction in a real human relationship with Fleabag, because he knows it can't last as happily as it is now. Fleabag is left devastated, but not broken — in fact, she's more whole than she has been in a long time. She knows now that she can move on from empty lust and the thrill of the chase, and be fulfilled on her own — she doesn't need the audience any more to make her feel seen.
We get the happy ending we wanted. Just not the one we expected. And in that lies the magic of Fleabag. Everywhere you look, expectations — of how women should act, of how relationships should look, about what love and self-love really are — are subverted and shown back to us with raw clarity. We see ourselves and our lives in a completely new, and often uncomfortable, way – but we can't look away, even if we tried.
I've been staring at this photo of Waller-Bridge for ages, just like I spent ages staring at the screen long after the credits rolled for Fleabag. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, you're a very worthy winner.