Pat Stacey: Fleabag finale was a sublime sign-off
There’s an old showbusiness saying, usually attributed to PT Barnum: “Always leave them wanting more.” As a viewer, I’m not a great fan of being left wanting more.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR FLEABAG FINALE
I’d much prefer if a television series left me feeling satisfied, rather than empty and yearning for another helping — or, and this is every bit as bad, feeling like I’ve consumed too much, that I’ve wasted precious time watching a season or two of something that should really have ended much sooner than it did.
Series which became victims of their own popularity and ended up outstaying their welcome are too numerous to mention.
Ones that realised when enough was enough, on the other hand, and that anything that came after would be inferior and unnecessary, are a lot harder to find. The trick is knowing when to stop.
John Cleese and Connie Booth wrapped Fawlty Towers up after 12 episodes. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant called time on The Office after 12 regular episodes and a two-part Christmas special that acted as a final farewell.
Extras and Derek also called it quits after two seasons, suggesting two is Gervais’s magic number. And now it’s Fleabag writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s as well.
Last night’s episode was the last ever. We’d kind of known this already, since Waller-Bridge hinted months ago that there might not be a third season.
But this was only definitively confirmed last Friday by one of the series’ stars, Sian Clifford, who plays Fleabag’s sister Claire.
“This is it,” Clifford told breakfast television, promising that the series would go out with a “beautiful, perfect ending”. She wasn’t lying.
A straightforward “happy ever after” was never really on the cards for Fleabag and the Priest (Andrew Scott), who, having fallen properly in love, finally fell properly into bed at the end of last week’s episode.
“It’s God, isn’t it?” she said as they sat at a bus stop together. Yep. The Priest’s love of God had won out over his love of Fleabag. But before we got to that point, we had to get through the event that the previous five episodes had been leading up to: the wedding of Fleabag’s father (Bill Paterson) the monstrous Godmother (Olivia Colman, brilliantly dripping poison with every wounding word and phoney smile).
The Priest gave an impassioned homily about how terrible love is. There was more talk of love in a fantastic, touching scene in an attic between Fleabag and her father, when he tells her that those who love the most always find it the hardest.
For a fleeting moment, it seemed like he was about to walk out on his bride-to-be. “Get me out,” he pleaded, pathetically. Turns out he’d just got his foot stuck in a hole and needed help freeing it.
There was a deeply satisfying, punch-the-air moment when the long-suffering Claire finally told her creep of a husband (Brett Gelman) that she was done with him. She also told him the miscarriage that was supposed to be Fleabag’s was really hers.
During the ceremony, Claire slipped away to find the true love of her life, Finnish co-worker Klare, who was on his way to the airport.
Fleabag has frequently been outrageously, filthily, laugh-out-loud hilarious. But the for the most part the tone of the finale was melancholy and bittersweet.
It didn’t suggest she’d found closure, exactly, but there was a sense of some kind of acceptance, some kind of peace with herself.
Throughout the series, there’s been speculation about who Fleabag is talking to when she breaks the fourth wall. Is it us? Is it her dead friend Boo? Is it a manifestation of her mental health issues? Who can say?
In the closing moments, alone at the bus stop, she turns to the camera, but for once doesn’t say anything. She just smiles and shakes her head, as if to suggest she doesn’t need to do this anymore.
Then she walks away from us, turning back briefly to give a little goodbye wave before carrying on. It was a sublime sign-off.