If the season premiere ended on an ellipsis, suggesting new complications for the forever messy dynamic between Issa and Lawrence, “Hella Questions” grants them some finality. Issa is forced to move on whether she’s ready or not. And with that big step, Insecure has truly come into its own.
What makes the series so engrossing is how it provides a very specific slice of life story that’s heightened enough by Issa’s daydreams and her friendship with Molly to feel singular. Melina Matsoukas once again provides amazing direction this week, giving the show a rhythm and approachability I don’t see anywhere else on TV. There are some truly hilarious and biting moments in this episode, particularly when it comes to Issa’s story line, but I’ll get to that later. What I kept coming back to after watching “Hella Questions” were the heavy racial dynamics Issa found herself mired in at work, which pushed Insecure into territory I didn’t expect to see it grapple with.
Issa still works at We Got Y’all, the nonprofit meant to aid black and brown kids in Los Angeles that just so happens to be riddled with clueless white people. She’s hit a snag at the latest school where she and her co-worker Frieda have been assigned. No matter what they try to do, the kids simply won’t give them the time of day. When Frieda and Issa turn to Vice-Principal Charles Gaines (A. Russell Andrews) in hopes of getting more support, Gaines becomes a valuable ally. The We Got Y’all program ends up filling up. But it’s not a complete win.
During their first conversation, Gaines jokes about the school’s overpopulation and how they might need “them” to build a wall. This isn’t the last time he makes a racist joke about Latinos that’s followed by his self-satisfied laughter. He bitterly tells students not to speak Spanish in school. He even complains to Issa about “Latinos starting to take over” and cackles at using the term “taco meat” insultingly. Issa is visibly uncomfortable by Gaines’s comments, but she believes the good they can do for the students outweighs his prejudice. Freida feels differently and considers writing up these issues in her report. The problem with Freida’s reaction is that it feels performative: Apparently, she was so affected by Gaines’s comments she “stressed watched” Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th and even tweeted at the director. (The way she beams when she mentions that DuVernay liked the comment says a lot about Freida.) This is fascinating territory for Insecure to step into. As an Afro-Latina, I’ve noticed that race relations in pop-culture rarely extend to exploring how various communities of color relate to one another. I’m curious to see how this story line plays out.
Now to the fun stuff: Issa finally finds out about Tasha. At an art-gallery opening that Tiffany is managing, Issa lets it slip that Lawrence came over. Molly, of course, already knew. The episode opens with Molly exclaiming, “Y’all fucked?!” after Issa’s confession. But revealing this to Tiffany and Kelli doesn’t seem like the best idea, right? Doing so leads Kelli to reveal Lawrence’s rebound, which Tiffany originally heard about from Derek. About five seconds after hearing her name, Molly is able to pull Tasha up on Instagram. Kelli and Tiffany proceed to judge Tasha pretty harshly. “That lacefront is doing the most,” Tiffany jokes. But Issa decides to take a page from Michelle Obama and go high … momentarily. “It’s petty to judge her,” she says. I typically find Kelli and Tiffany amusing, but they’re representative of the kind of friends it’s best to keep at arm’s length. Though I did scream, “Yes!” when Kelli suggested Issa needs to move on from Lawrence. “Don’t forget he was on your couch for two of those years,” she adds. Lawrence may have had a glow-up, but he’s still an asshole who has fooled himself into believing he’s a good guy. Just look at his dynamic with Tasha.
Tasha and Lawrence aren’t exclusive, but they’ve been dealing with each other long enough that things are getting complicated. Tasha invites Lawrence to a family function, which is a pretty big step for a not-quite couple who just have sex and rarely see each other outside of her apartment. His answer? He admits to sleeping with Issa. Tasha is made visibly hurt and asks Lawrence to leave. But when he rolls back the next night, she can’t help but forgive him and let him back into her life. Honestly, I feel bad for Tasha. Lawrence is not ready for another relationship and she’s fooling herself if she thinks that will change.
Tasha makes a perfect foil for Issa: She’s more conventional, she’s simpler, and she easily gasses up men for doing the bare minimum. (Remember when she praised a then-jobless Lawrence for simply having a savings account and looking for a job?) This makes it easy for Issa to descend into a depressive spiral by comparing herself to Tasha. The Michelle Obama route may be the more morally secure position, but how many people can really pull that off? After Issa finds out about Tasha, she has one of her signature bathroom mirror, fourth-wall-breaking rap moments and it gives us several great zingers. (“Call me Lifetime, bitch, because I’m bringing the drama,” is my favorite.)
Issa may be losing whatever hope remained that her and Lawrence could rekindle their relationship, but at least she still has Molly. Molly is with Issa every step of the way, even as she’s coping with last week’s upsetting discovery about Travis getting paid way more money than her. That loyalty is why it didn’t surprise me when Molly engineered a situation to get the answers from Lawrence that Issa desperately needs. Molly “accidentally” bumps into Lawrence at the courtyard near his job under the pretense that she was wrapping up something with a client. It’s awkward, but Molly gets what she came for. “Issa cheated, but she’s not a cheater,” she tells him. I agree with Molly. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that once someone cheats, it means they will always cheat. Life can be more complicated than that.
Afterward, Molly calls Issa while she’s huddled in her car outside of the bank Tasha where works, but she only has bad news. “Lawrence said that he’s done. I’m so sorry,” she says. I wish we got to see that moment because Lawrence’s words are just as important as his delivery. Or maybe I’m overanalyzing things, just like Issa has been doing with the scant text messages she’s been getting from him.
Just before Issa learns secondhand that Lawrence has no plans to get back with her, she goes to the bank where Tasha works. Issa easily puts it together that Tasha works at the bank Lawrence goes to, which is a stone’s throw from his old job at Best Buy. It’s easy to parse out the questions running through her mind. Did Lawrence know Tasha before they broke up? Issa walks straight into the bank and requests to make a deposit when she faces Tasha. Before Tasha can give any answer Issa suckerpunches her. “You got jalapeño popped, bitch!” she screams. Of course, this didn’t really happen. Issa never walked into the bank; when she sees Tasha in the parking lot, she pushes her seat back to hide.
Issa has always been nonconfrontational to a fault. That’s why she never broke up with Lawrence, even as their relationship frayed beyond repair and she blew it up by cheating on him. Hearing that Lawrence is done forces Issa to reconfigure her life and stop making space for someone who doesn’t want to be there. As the episode ends, she moves her lone pillow to the center of the bed. She puts her clothes in the closet that was once his. It’s a painful process, but a necessary one.
• How much do you want to bet that Molly quits therapy after her latest session? Her therapist astutely points out Molly’s obsession with life looking a particular way.
• Due North, the show within the show starring Regina Hall as a slave, was featured again. This time, Regina Hall’s character is making plans to meet up with her slave owner, played by Scandal’s own Scott Foley. Can this please become a web series or something?
• Tiffany letting it slip that Derek lived in a hotel last year and that he cheated is a really fascinating moment, considering how image-oriented she is.
• Molly fails to break into the boy’s club at work, even though she thought she created a rapport with one of the partners. Do y’all think she’ll really split time between Los Angeles and Chicago in order to follow in Hannah’s footsteps?
• At one point, Chad asks Lawrence, “She always look like that?” They’re talking about Issa’s surprise visit to Chad’s place, but also about how great she’s looking recently.