Issa Dee has given herself a unique challenge: Be more like the woman in the mirror. She’s a big Michael Jackson fan, based on the Thriller shirt she’s rocking at the beginning of “Messy As F**k,” but she seems to have misapplied one of his most famous lyrics. Instead of challenging the woman in the mirror to change her ways, the woman in the mirror is challenging her. When she’s alone at the bathroom sink, Mirror Issa is a confident, profane rap goddess who knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t apologize for taking it. Meanwhile, the real Issa is treading water in a job she doesn’t care about and going home to a boyfriend who has become the embodiment of her complacency.
At least she’s supposed to be going home to her boyfriend. Issa hopes her moment in the spotlight at the spoken word has given her the self-confidence to take charge in other areas of her life. But freestyling about a broken pussy isn’t nearly as difficult as figuring out if and how to end a long-term relationship that’s stuck in the mud. Rather than head home to confront Lawrence about their argument, she crashes with Molly to delay the inevitable and run through some new verses in the mirror. The mirror raps are a really clever device, allowing Issa to communicate her inner-monologue without the distracting presence of a voice-over. (It also helps that Issa Rae has the voice and the presence of a legendary female emcee in the making.) Mirror Issa would have rolled up on Lawrence and let him have it for missing her birthday and for looking like he’s been “about to take a shower and get dressed” for the past seven months.
Instead, Issa crashes the mani-pedi portion of Molly’s “Treat Yo’ Self” day. To her credit, Molly understands the whole “broken pussy” joke might be funny because it’s true, so she resolves to treat herself right in preparation for another (probably terrible) first date. Insecure is becoming a classic meditation on the grass and how it always looks greener on the other side. “What am I doing wrong?” Issa asked in the pilot episode, as she introduced the gorgeous, charming, and gainfully employed Molly. Sure, maybe Issa is doing some things wrong in her career and her romantic relationship, but nothing she could fundamentally change her life by fixing. Molly’s doing all the things Issa thinks she should be doing, too, but it hasn’t insulated Molly from the parade of losers everyone has to wade through to find a suitable partner.
Molly lands a date with an incredibly handsome guy who swears he gets no attention from black women online, a claim of which she is rightfully dubious. But she quickly finds out that her potential prince is yet another hit-and-run artist born of the age of swipe-right dating. It’s bad enough that he whispers a crude come-on into her ear, only to reveal himself as a proud wine snob. “Actually Malbec is Argentinian,” he says, after Molly tries to tell him his advanced knowledge of Spanish wines won’t be a ticket into her bed. But all is not lost. On her way back from that bust of a date, Molly runs into the cutie from the spoken word, the one she thought was lost to her forever because of Issa’s dumb rap. Hope springs eternal, no matter how many Tinder jerks try to prove otherwise.
There’s also hope for Issa and Lawrence, even though it probably didn’t seem that way to the Rite Aid customers who witnessed their awkward public confrontation. Issa refuses to be the “black couple arguing in the Rite Aid,” which is totally fair, but so is Lawrence’s concern over her extended absence. After only two episodes, Lawrence is already proving himself to be Insecure’s secret weapon, or at least evidence of Rae’s willingness to explore the inner lives of all the characters. As easy as it would have been to make Lawrence an unrepentant deadbeat, the show portrays him as a well-intentioned guy stuck in a negative feedback loop. He’s looking for a job and has had a terrible run of bad luck since his business failed. (Issa seems to think it never really got off the ground, so that point of disagreement is likely to present itself again.) But at least he knows how badly he botched her birthday and tries to make amends with a Drake-themed birthday card that, unfortunately, doesn’t exist in the real world.
Lawrence gets some advice from Thug Yoda (Tristen Winger, who played Baby Voice Darius on Awkward Black Girl), a die-hard Blood with surprisingly shrewd insights into the human condition. Or in Thug Yoda parlance, the human “bondition,” owed to his refusal to acknowledge the letter associated with his gang’s archenemies. It’s the kind of quirk that comes about when a writer is plugged into the culture they’re replicating, as are Rae and showrunner Prentice Penny, who both grew up in Los Angeles and surely know plenty of brazy brothas like Thug Yoda. The mark of a solid auteurish sitcom is cultural specificity, and Insecure’s Los Angeles has plenty of that to spare. All it needs is a few more employed, classy, eligible black men.