The Fleabag Debate: Is The Sexy Priest Actually Sexy?

courtesy of bbc.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for Fleabag season two
I fear I may be about to burst the bubble. Five episodes in and, ugh, is that a pair of rose-tinted glasses slipping down my face? "I can’t have sex with you because I’ll fall in love with you." "We’re not having sex." "Kneel." "We’re going to have sex aren’t we?" Christ. Eyes up, glasses down. We need to talk about Fleabag’s sexy priest.
Actualising a taboo sexual fantasy with a priest is something that only Phoebe Waller-Bridge could pull off. We had no idea what we were in for when the sexy priest – to whom, like our beloved protagonist, no real name has been given – turned to Fleabag at that dreadful family dinner to ask what she did for a living. I was the last to assume that my insides would melt when sexy priest came outside for a fag and smiled up at us as we walked away. An arm touch here, a gin in a tin there. Not one of us could’ve predicted the wave of untamed emotion that hit when sexy priest uttered that word from the other side of the confession booth.
The last we saw, she’d finally done it. Well, she was in the middle of doing it. Fleabag shielded our eyes as she and SP writhed around in bed at long last. But was it a sense of release we felt when Fleabag finally bit into the forbidden fruit, or was it guilt? Is it still hot knowing that she’d de-robed the man of the very expensive cloth? I do have to ask the question. Is the sexy priest even sexy?
A quick poll among team R29 and the consensus is split, albeit leaning more towards "yes, I am sexually attracted to this priest man" than "no, there is something very wrong about this". But what is it about him that's so attractive? Well, actor Andrew Scott is an attractive man and a damn sight more charismatic as the nameless, flirty priest we shouldn't want to shag than Sherlock's Jim Moriarty, so that helps. Then there's the fact that he's a bit of a bad boy. A wolf in priest's clothing, if you will. He's as much of a rule breaker as Fleabag and revels in the naughtiness of each inappropriate joke, 11am gin tin and machine gun rattle of ungodly swear words. His lovely neck. He's in on the joke we're all having about the ridiculousness of it all. He loves it as much as he's tormented by it, and nothing gets a girl going like a fuck boy's inner turmoil, amirite?
courtesy of bbc.
SP gets us. He's on our side but then also has a foot in a world that we lowly heathens mightn't buy into. He sees Fleabag in a way that no one else does – tick. He sees us, or at least senses our presence on the other side of the telly screen – double tick. He knows we want him and kind of wants us too but knows that he really, really shouldn't – gold star. And then this bad boy with a direct line to the man upstairs nimbly dances around our unrealised sexual desires with expertly executed foreplay until we're so hot, confused and vulnerable that we'll slip down onto our knees at his command. Unsettling, isn't it?
That's the point. This fabulously written TV series is all about a buried discomfort that none of us – audience, Fleabag, priest – necessarily knows what to do with. That niggling feeling of being lost and yearning for things we're not entirely sure we need. At this very point in time, this confusion manifests in a handsome priest who, despite having the expectations of the world (and God, I suppose) on his shoulders, has finally been revealed as just another human being muddling through the same shit as the rest of us.
Of course, there's a lot of talk about the priest being a bad guy. The abuse of power, the manipulation, the knowing what Fleabag wants and dangling it right in front of her because he can. He pokes and nags and finally whittles her down to the most emotionally exposed she has ever been and chooses that moment to pounce because she won't have it in her to challenge. He gets what he wants – sexy tear-sodden kisses – until they're interrupted by God causing a racket at the other end of the church (love it when he does that) and so he scuttles away again, having been caught out.
The inner conflict is widespread. Even in the sexy priest camp, are we really sure what to do with all the X-rated emotion we feel towards this man? Comedian London Hughes tweeted that her "vagina exploded in a way a man has never quite been able to achieve" when the priest said "kneel" – a sentiment shared by many, I'm sure. Another user expressed her confusion around the mindset that the priest is outright bad: "The whole point of Fleabag is damaged people trying to live. If you're looking for morals, this show ain't it."
We've got one episode left for it to be resolved. One more episode before we're left in a Fleabag-less abyss trying to make sense of the sexual fantasy that's involuntarily been playing on everyone's minds. I think the rose tint is going to fade. When the lights come up and sexy priest is just a naked man on the other side of Fleabag's bed, we'll see who he really is. Whether it'll still be hot or just even more uncomfortable is yet to be decided but either way, when Fleabag turns to us one more time we're going to have to attempt to answer a couple of difficult questions with her – is it okay that I just fucked a priest and where on earth do we go from here?
The final episode of Fleabag airs on BBC One on Monday 8th April

More from TV

R29 Original Series