The problem with love songs is that the vast majority of them focus on ecstatic beginnings and agonizing endings rather than the long, erratic stretches in between. There are exceptions, my most favorite being “Cry Together” by the O’Jays. The narrator describes how it seems like his relationship is hitting the skids, and in a moment of shared frustration, he and his lady cry together and then make love. Whether they wound up staying together for the long haul is anybody’s guess. Ultimately, who even cares? By choosing to cry together and talk openly about their feelings, they decide to share the moment despite its discomfort.
Insecure is shaping up to be the “Cry Together” of contemporary sitcoms, although that revolutionary aspect of the show hasn’t been discussed much. Sitcom relationships are mostly wonderful or mostly terrible, but Issa and Lawrence’s relationship lives in the awkward middle of the spectrum. They’re not stuck in a loveless marriage that would take just as much energy to end as it would take to continue. Their relationship is familiar to many unmarried couples in their late 20s and early 30s; they could make equally compelling arguments for maintaining or abandoning it. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show about a youthful, foundational romantic couple that starts at this tipping point. The closest equivalent is Marnie and Charlie at the beginning of Girls, but Issa and Lawrence’s relationship feels much more solid and salvageable.
“Racist as F**k” finds Issa and Lawrence choosing each other yet again, even as they’re aware of other options. Issa balked in last week’s episode when Daniel tried to reopen the lines of communication after their botched hook-up. In this episode, it’s Lawrence who shuts down an attempt to interfere with his relationship. Okay, “shut down” isn’t quite accurate: When Lawrence makes small talk with Tasha, an old friend who works as a teller at Decolletage Federal Savings and Loan, he doesn’t recognize the opening she’s giving him. But something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Tasha, who doesn’t know Lawrence well enough to expect as much of him as Issa does. After years of Issa’s tough love, Tasha’s blanket affirmation must feel pretty good.
But for now, Issa and Lawrence are “in this,” and it’s an amazing feat for Insecure to already earn such a moving and lovely moment. The episode, directed beautifully by Melina Matsoukas, has two stylized sequences as bookends, one representing the rocky current state of their relationship and the other representing their salad days. When the episode begins, they’re still uncomfortable in each other’s space, and they spend their first night back together tossing and turning in a frantic time-lapse. By the end, Lawrence is trying to clean a stain off the couch after Issa spills his conciliatory lamb, and the couch’s life flashes before her eyes. The gorgeous montage, which chronicles their relationship from the perspective of the couch, is not the most original idea in the world, but the execution is terrific. Even without getting into the nitty-gritty of what brought the two together in the first place, the sequence makes clear why Issa and Lawrence both think their relationship is worth saving.
Daniel may be tempting, but he doesn’t offer the boyfriend benefits that come with Lawrence, such as his willingness to listen to Issa vent about the white people she works with. Another pleasantly surprising quality of Insecure is how well it captures the way black people talk about white people in private. (Hint: We don’t use the word “cracker” unless it’s sarcastic. Perhaps watching this show will help racist, moronic false flaggers avoid another “blacks rule” incident.) The other Issa story in “Racist As F**k” revisits her struggles at work, which come to a head when she realizes her co-workers have been exchanging emails about her beach-day initiative without her. Choosing a nonprofit organization as Issa’s job makes sense for the character, but it’s a tricky choice because nobody knows what such an amorphously defined nonprofit looks like or what all it entails. Although the silhouette of Issa’s professional life remains unclear, what matters is that Issa is treading water in a gig she feels she should be able to excel at just by virtue of her personal background. It’s insulting for her to discover that not only is she not excelling, her co-workers don’t even respect her enough to copy her in on conversations about her own initiative.
Issa almost ruins the beach day before it even starts when her anxieties drive her to a tantrum on par with Richard Pryor’s misadventures in Bustin’ Loose. Fortunately, the outing is a success, and she gets to do some outreach with one of her white colleagues. “Why don’t more of them swim?” he asks. “Slavery,” says Issa, matter-of-factly. Issa also has plans to have drinks with Frieda (Lisa Joyce), the only one of Insecure’s regulars who has stepped to the fore so far.
Meanwhile, Molly’s effort to bond with a co-worker doesn’t go quite as smoothly. She introduces herself to a new first-year associate named Rasheeda (Gail Bean), who’s giving a little too much sistah-gurl in the office for Molly’s liking. Molly tries to give Rasheeda the code-switching talk, delivered with all the delicacy and compassion you’d use in a birds-and-bees rundown with an awkward tween. But Rasheeda is quick to put her in her place. She doesn’t believe in “switching it up,” a perspective that must be alien to Molly, who prides herself on her ability to blend into any social situation.
That’s the fascinating contrast between Issa and Molly: Issa needs to care more about what people think of her, while Molly needs to care far less. There’s clearly some potential between Molly and the spoken-word cutie who wasn’t put off by the rumors about her broken pussy. Unfortunately, she can’t see past the fact that he works at Enterprise — which earns him the nickname “Rental Boo” — and puts him on ice in favor of exploring an elite dating service populated with guys who are more “on her level,” as I’m sure she’d put it. Wisely, Insecure avoids taking a position on whether Issa or Molly are doing this thing right. What matters is that they’ve both managed to keep a shred of hope intact, whether it’s Issa’s resolution to make things work with Lawrence, or Molly’s belief that her prince could still be just a few swipes away.