Insecure Recap: Karmic Justice


Thirsty As F**k
Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Issa Rae as Issa Dee, Jay Ellis as Lawrence. Photo: HBO

Imagine if every time you used Google Maps and Waze for turn-by-turn directions, they spit out the most circuitous, nonsensical, time-consuming, and cruelly random route. That sounds a little bit like karma, the universal balancing force that gets name-checked whenever someone wants to wish an enemy harm while sounding spiritual instead of spiteful. Karma takes its sweet time getting where it needs to go, as if it relies on a beta version of Google Maps developed and designed by drunken houseflies. It shows up when people least expect it and rights things they didn’t know were wrong, which is why the last few seconds of “Thirsty As F**k” are a gut-punch.

Who knew that Insecure was the kind of story in which seemingly innocuous choices yield severe consequences? In the pilot episode, Issa’s decision to jump onstage at the spoken word and become her generation’s answer to Millie Jackson had the immediate consequence of Molly chiding her for being self-centered and insensitive. When they put the incident behind them, the only residual effect, it seemed, was Issa’s newfound confidence and renewed boldness. Instead, the incident rears its ugly head when Issa’s We Got Y’all kids track down a video and memorize the lyrics. (In fairness, “Broken Pussy” is an earworm.) The second Issa hears the familiar lyrics, she knows all the progress she’s made at work has been erased.

The knife twist is the fact that none of this would be happening if Issa had spent her birthday on the old couch with Lawrence. Granted, the obvious and compelling counterargument to that plan is “Eww, no,” and Lawrence tripped up big time by throwing himself a pity party on Issa’s birthday. But the facts are tough to ignore. Had Issa not gone to the spoken word to run into Daniel, she wouldn’t have ended up onstage trying to impress him, and there would be no video of her performance. That kind of hindsight decision-tree can be built out of any terrible outcome, but it’s not just about Issa’s past choices — it’s also about her present ones. The kids wouldn’t have known to look for the video in the first place had Issa not invited Daniel, a successful hip-hop producer, to talk to the kids for Career Day. Whenever Issa’s hand gets close to touching Daniel, the universe burns the hell out of it.

What sucks most about Issa’s situation is that the decision to draft Daniel for Career Day sounds totally reasonable on paper. A person can make up all sorts of crazy excuses when they’re trying to justify spending time with someone best avoided, and it doesn’t matter that the story is held together with tape and glue. But Issa’s argument for inviting Daniel to Career Day is totally compelling. It isn’t even initially her idea, for one thing. Frieda suggests inviting Daniel to fill their empty slot for a creative type, and Issa puts up a decent fight before relenting. Besides, after being a dick to her on the night of her birthday, Daniel owes Issa a favor anyway. Issa can be forgiven for convincing herself that reaching out to Daniel was the right choice. But in reality, she could have invited Lawrence. Best Buy may not be the sexiest gig in the world, but it’s a fun, honest job, not just the information-technology sector’s island of misfit toys.

All that said, who among us can blame Issa for inviting the hot and dangerous music producer over her well-intentioned, sad-sack boyfriend? The decision seems to pay off when Daniel is a hit at Career Day. He reminisces about his past with Issa and makes moon-eyes while the kids warn them of the very real dangers of cootie transmission. Before she’s even off the premises, though, the kids are singing along to “Broken Pussy.” Issa isn’t the sort of person who learns the right lesson from something like this — then again, who is? — and she’ll fixate her anger on some external source instead of absorbing the underlying message that bad things happen when she’s around Daniel. Molly couldn’t have been any clearer when she referred to Daniel as Issa’s “Achilles’ dick.”

Speaking of Molly, she’s left with her own bitter karmic aftertaste when her budding relationship with Doctor Bae, her first connection through a new elite dating service, derails after the third date. With only four episodes under my belt, I can already tell exactly what Molly is doing wrong. She’s that girl who thinks acting like you’re already in a relationship results in a relationship. And it makes sense for someone as successful and ambitious as Molly to act that way. If you work at a burger joint and you want to go from cashier to crew chief, you do crew-chief stuff until someone notices and gives you the title. But in a dating situation, nobody wants to be “managed up.” Molly has to lead the man of her dreams where she wants him to go by convincing him he’s holding the reins. (Then again, Doctor Bae is super into Color Me Badd, so …)

The irony is that Molly is quite skilled at massaging her professional interactions. Molly has resolved to leave the Rasheeda situation alone after having her subtle advice rebuffed in last week’s episode. But the senior partners decide they aren’t charmed by her tendency to act like she’s auditioning to play Kim in a touring musical adaptation of The Parkers. Of course, Molly gets drafted to have the conversation about “corporate culture” with Rasheeda. It’s not that Molly has an issue telling Rasheeda to turn it down a bit. She already did it once. But it’s different when her bosses act like it’s her responsibility to keep Rasheeda in line. Molly shrewdly dodges the request by insisting she’s not senior enough to deliver a message like that with the appropriate gravitas. (Which is also a reasonable explanation for why Rasheeda didn’t take the hint the first time.) When Molly sees the guillotine dropping, it’s bittersweet.

One great thing about Insecure is that the show seemingly doesn’t want to take sides between Issa and Lawrence. Issa is tempting fate by dealing with Daniel, but Lawrence is doing the same thing in his lunch court dates with Tasha. It seems like the backhand of karma is going to reach Lawrence’s face soon enough. When the day of reckoning comes, I hope he’s the one who found that Nicki Minaj throw pillow. That’s a “get out of jail free” throw pillow.

Insecure Recap: Karmic Justice