Insecure is the perfect summer show. It’s alluring, approachable, and fun, and the joy it provides is hard to shake off. It crackles with energy, seduces like great mezcal on a lazy summer night, and glitters much like the Los Angeles cityscape that appears in the first shots of the season two premiere.
In “Hella Great,” Insecure remains heated yet leisurely, in no rush to grant tidy answers to the increasingly tangled lives of Issa, Molly, and Lawrence. Perhaps that makes it all the more apt that the episode begins with a fantasy: Issa sits across from Lawrence at an upscale restaurant. The lighting is hushed, romantic. Cocktails sit between them. She’s quiet as he stumbles almost robotically over his words. “You know I get why you did what you did now,” he says. Just as she processes his tender declaration that he wants to get back together, the scene cuts to reveal that it was all just a daydream Issa was having on her actual date. Moments such as this, which punctuate “Hella Great,” prove that Insecure is much more than a slice-of-life rendering of upwardly mobile, city-dwelling black women. It’s a wistful, surprisingly astute portrait of the interior lives and fantasies of those women, and it enchants as much as it cuts deeply at the interpersonal problems they face.
Last season ended with a cliffhanger that hit like a sucker punch: After Issa’s fling with Daniel was revealed, she came home to find Lawrence had moved out, leaving his Best Buy shirt as a marker that, like that old job, Issa was a part of his past. His having sex with Tasha made the revelation hit even harder. The premiere episode, written by star Issa Rae and directed by the indispensable Melina Matsoukas, wastes no time fleshing out the current mental states of its characters. After Issa’s date with Lawrence is revealed to be a fantasy, she runs a gauntlet of first dates with a variety of men (including internet personalities Dustin Ross and Philip Hudson, once again proving how well the creatives behind Insecure are tapped into the various grooves of black culture).
This date montage soon takes on the rhythm of the perfect summer hip-hop song, as Issa grows more disinterested by the second. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I say, because this isn’t going anywhere,” she tells one man. This response isn’t really what she’s saying, but what she imagines herself saying if she was a bit bolder and a bit more honest. Then one of the men asks, “How are you still single?” This launches the episode into its best sequence, in which Issa looks directly at the camera and raps about her current mental state, while using her utensils to create a beat. Issa’s words grow dour even as she speaks in an upbeat tone. “I’m so dead inside, nigga, I cry every day,” she says with a beaming smile. This montage sequence is buoyant, hilarious, and more than a little cutting. Matsoukas, along with DP Ava Berkofsky and editor Mark Sadlek, excels at creating a rhythm and mood in “Hella Great” that builds on the excellence of the first season. Let’s focus on the question that precipitated Issa’s reaction, though: “How are you still single?” Men need to stop asking women why they’re single. It’s a question every woman loathes, because what presents itself as a compliment has the shadings of an insult.
Now, you’re probably wondering how Lawrence is doing. He’s single, is in better shape, and has a new job. Does he miss Issa like she yearns for him? Of course not. The first time Lawrence is on-screen, he’s at the tail end of a sexual escapade with Tasha. While actor Jay Ellis is undeniably attractive, I could go my entire life without ever needing to hear a female character exclaim, “Zaddy! Zaddy!” when having sex. Yes, you read that right. “You said ‘Daddy’ with a ‘z’?” he chuckles. “You hate it?” she asks, worried. Her eagerness and his casualness make an uneasy mix. In the months since Lawrence cut things off with Issa, he has a system in place: He’s still crashing on an air mattress at Chad’s place, and, more important, he has a routine on lock with Tasha. He rolls in on Friday, has endless sex over the weekend while never taking her out, and bounces by Sunday, in time for work. Chad calls him out on this, but it remains to be seen what Tasha really thinks about their situation.
Meanwhile, “Hella Great” course-corrects for Molly, honing in on her work life more than her romantic foibles. Molly seems uninterested in dating, a definite change from last season, in which her exacting standards and desperation were sometimes cringeworthy. She’s also trying therapy now, but isn’t quite honest in the sessions. Anytime her therapist tries to get to the root of the matter, Molly spreads a practiced smile across her face and assures her everything is fine. “She’s trying to get all deep — she’s trying to get all in my business,” Molly later jokes to Issa about her therapist. What I find more intriguing is what Molly is dealing with at work: She is accidentally given the paycheck of a white co-worker, Travis, who lacks her brilliance but somehow makes way more than her. This lands with particular heft because of the ongoing conversation about the pay gap for women of color and our worth in the workforce. But looking at the culture of Molly’s office, it isn’t surprising that this would have occurred.
“Do you think the cold has anything to do with how violent it is out there?” a white lawyer asks a black lawyer (played by Lil Rel Howery from Get Out) when they talk about moving to the Chicago office. It’s a hilarious moment, but it shows the tone-deaf qualities of the white people in Molly’s office. Molly eventually sidles up to Travis at the bar during a work function, trying to get a read on whether he got a recent raise or if he’s been paid more than her for a while — and it’s the latter. They wind up in a somewhat tense exchange when Travis insults Hannah, a co-worker moving to the Chicago office, by saying that her move is a step down. He thinks she should have complained if she felt undervalued enough to leave the L.A. office. “Because everyone automatically listens to a woman when she opens her mouth,” Molly counters.
Molly may not be able to see a solution to her own issues, but she does give Issa important advice about her Lawrence problem: “Real talk though, guys always want you back when they know you’re doing good without them.” When Issa receives a jury summons for Lawrence in the mail, it sparks an idea. She engineers a “wine-down” party in which friends bring plus-ones for a low-key get-together … and she invites Lawrence so he can see her living her best life, even though that’s far from the truth. The party soon derails into an outright mess. Some of Issa’s neighbors show up, turning the shindig into a raucous party that leads to her apartment being trashed, another neighbor coming to complain, and a fire in her trash can. To make matters worse, Lawrence doesn’t show up: He’s busy proving Chad wrong by taking Tasha out on a proper date. All of Issa’s efforts ended up being pointless. However, her outfit-planning scene — in which every look coordinates to a different personality she could display to Lawrence (casual, pious, complete horndog with zero game) — displays the mix of sincerity and intimacy that Insecure continues to ace. “Do you remember when you still actually loved me?” Issa says looking right at the camera.
Lawrence eventually does come over the next night, while Issa is cleaning up and nowhere near as polished as she’d want to be for their reunion. It’s tense and awkward as Lawrence picks up the last of his things. Things take a hard left turn, though, when Lawrence passionately kisses Issa. I nearly jumped out of my seat when I watched this scene for the first time. The sex they have on the couch is rushed and lacks the effort he’s put in with Tasha. There is something desperate about this action, and what’s most glaring is the lack of intimacy. Issa smiles when he leaves, but nothing about this sex is a signal of them renewing their bond. It seems like Lawrence’s way of putting finality on their breakup — a way of getting her out of his system. The sooner Issa realizes this, the better off she’ll be.
• Best line of the night comes from Molly: “One day I looked over, and my dick meter was all the way on E.”
• The glow up for Issa Rae is real. Her improbably expensive wardrobe, new hairstyle, and weight loss make her look more Hollywood than ever. I don’t mean that as a knock — she looks utterly resplendent. But I wonder if the show will actually address it.
• The show within the show, featuring the great comedian Regina Hall playing a slave in a series straight out of the Shonda Rhimes playbook, is ridiculous in the best way.