Tortoise Tuesday: Methodology in Fleabag

At the end of the add/drop period, what else is more pertinent to write about than the TV shows I spent watching over break? More than once, I’ve watched all twelve episodes of Fleabag in a row, as if it was an absurdly long movie. The show was created and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who stars as the title character. Fleabag is a witty, self-destructive woman, who runs a guinea pig themed café in London. Her life contains normal fodder for comedy-dramas—uncomfortable family dinners, prolonged break-ups, and wins and losses at the café. But she folds the audience into the drama with her. Throughout each episode, Fleabag makes asides to the camera, cracking jokes or arching her eyebrows, constantly breaking the fourth wall.

(Warning: The following paragraphs contain some spoilers for Fleabag. Luckily, it’s bingeable enough that you can watch the entire series and finish reading this post in very same day.)

In the show’s first season, Fleabag’s asides to the camera offer commentary, context, or confession. When her sister asks if their dad has reached out recently, Fleabag informs the camera that her dad’s way of coping with her mother’s death was to buy the sisters tickets to feminist lectures, “and eventually stop calling.” At one of these lectures, Fleabag looks at her sister and then quickly buttons her jacket, informing the camera that she’s wearing a sweater her sister “lost” years ago.

In the second season, Fleabag’s relationship with the camera becomes inextricable from the plot. She gains a new love interest, who internet fans have dubbed “Hot Priest.” The priest, who remains unnamed, is the first character to notice Fleabag’s asides. When Fleabag turns to the camera, he asks where she’s gone, looking in the same direction.

How does this methodology, of creating a relationship between Fleabag and the camera, affect the viewer? Fleabag creates a sense of intimacy with the audience and exposes her pattern of avoiding rough spots. Instead of confronting moments of discomfort, she often turns them into jokes to entertain the audience. The asides offer a more whole portrayal of the show’s title character, part of what makes the show so dangerously consumable.

A paper’s methodology is the strategies it uses to make an argument or investigate a topic. As in Fleabag, many humanistic scholars do not explicitly discuss their methodology, yet it plays a crucial role in moving forward the thesis of any paper. Although you may not be able to offer your reader witty digressions in the margins, I think we can all learn from methodology as creative and compelling as Fleabag’s.

–Alice McGuinness, ’24