Fleabag – An Ode to Sisterhood

Fleabag (from Phoebe Waller Bridge’s show of the same name) is a modern age, liberated yet shackled heroine who navigates through her struggles and sex-cravings and issues with her family and want for love, with absolutely zero poise. Which is precisely what makes her so relatable. There is no glamour in her pain, no graceful acceptance in her defeats and no place for no tears.

Fleabag calls a spade a spade and doesn’t mind throwing a fit when shit hits the fan. She questions her own feminism time and again, befriends a sexual harasser who sincerely regrets his actions and desperately wants to turn over a new leaf and believes in second chances.

Introspectively, though, she has a hard time forgiving herself for the mistakes she has made in her life, even though she does believe what her now-dead best friend had once told her: they put a rubber on top of a pencil because people make mistakes. It is safe to believe that she knows deep down that her best friend Boo would have wanted her to forgive herself – even though it was Boo who she had wronged oh so deeply.

The show gets a lot right about an urban woman’s life in a modern setting, and the fact that season two of Fleabag deals with the ethical dilemma and the taboo temptations that Colleen McCollough tried in to explore in Thornbirds in 1977 makes it rather ageless despite its setting.

One of the most consequential aspects, however, that the show does absolute justice to is Fleabag’s relationship with her sister.

“Is that my top?” Claire asks her, the first time we see them together. It is easy to assume that the protagonist steals her sister’s clothes – don’t we all? But there is more awkwardness between them than one that comes from stealing clothes. They’re obviously very different people. While Fleabag is loose, fluid, funny and an utter mess; Claire (by Fleabag’s admission) is a “super high-powered, perfect, anorexic, rich super sister”.

But the show soon reveals that Claire’s super-success is a sham. Her marriage is falling apart, she has a creepy stepson, she is trapped behind self created boundaries, her big office and fine job cannot compensate for her vacuous domestic existence, and how she wishes she was as fun as Fleabag.

Also read: Musings on Chittu’s Mother From the Film ‘M.S. Dhoni – The Untold Story’

Viewers can assume that both sisters envy each other; one for how she seems to have it all together, and the other for her fun element. They also hurt each other and don’t always see eye to eye. But at the end of the day, they always fall back together, have each other’s back and try to protect each other. Regardless of whether it is in demanding compensation for a bad haircut, replacing stolen artwork, finding love or finding the self.

Claire brings up her sister’s dead best friend and how she had wronged her as an excuse for refusing to believe that it was actually Claire’s selfish, alcoholic husband who had tried to come on to her and not the other way round. But on other days, she also worries sincerely about her sister’s well being, and doesn’t want to go to much-desired Finland because she feels her sister’s unspoken need for her.

Fleabag, on the other hand, tells her sister what a lech her husband is in order to convince her to follow her dreams, go to Finland and start a new life. While in the first season of Fleabag, we see the two sisters mumbling, fumbling, floundering around each other, in the second, we see them actually hold on to each other more snugly, albeit not without protest.

Claire is both a foil to Fleabag and a source of her strength. They aren’t best friends: “I’m not your friend! I’m your sister. Find your own friends,” Claire angrily tells her; but they are each other’s backbone. When Claire’s husband asks Fleabag to leave during a crucial discussion marking the end of their marriage, Claire demands her sister stays. This is after Claire has ignored her sister, time and again, in order to salvage her marriage.

Fleabag and Claire, perched at opposite ends of the spectrum, are often at odds. Claire is openly critical of Fleabag’s life choices but secretly wants to make some of them too; and Fleabag is entirely incapable of projecting her sister’s perfectly poised demeanour, fierce sincerity and making the same sacrifices as she does in her day-to-day life. Hence the mutual judgement, the long periods of distance, the quibbles and the squabbles. Faced with a confused farther, an evil godmother, intricacies of modern-day London, a strict silent retreat and a miscarriage, however, they find themselves hurled on to the same side.

“It is a beautiful depiction of the messiness of sisterhood,” Sian Clifford told LA Times, a little after she received an Emmy nomination for her stunning performance as Claire on the show. She couldn’t have been more right.

Sisterhood isn’t easy. Sisters are hardly ever entirely alike, sisters fight, sisters hate each other and sisters may not always speak to each other. But what they have goes tremendously deep and is hard to cut through. No husbands, no lovers and no life choices can break the bond of sisterhood.

Move over “bros before a deeply problematic way in which we refer to female lovers” and easily broken “bro-codes”. Sisterhood is the new cool, and to be honest, it has always been. We don’t need sexist tropes to rub that point in, and a show as fantastic as Fleabag stands testimony to the same.

Mekhala Saran is a law student, a poet and a freelance journalist. Tweet to her @mekhala_saran.