By the time you hit your late 20s, you hope you can shrug off your past sins and messy mistakes to become the person you always imagined yourself being. For the characters on Insecure, however, the mistakes of their 20s aren’t learning experiences but a way of life.
Over the course of this season, Issa Rae and her collaborators have pushed Insecure in bold new directions. The issues entertained — open relationships, work mistreatment, fetishization — are more fraught. The humor is sharper and even more vulgar. The emotional stakes even higher. But it hasn’t always worked. The season two finale, “Hella Perspective,” is formally the most audacious the series has ever been. It splits its run time among three chapters to depict a month in the lives of Lawrence, Molly, and finally, Issa. The result, written by Rae and directed by Melina Matsoukas, is an episode that feels wistful, bruising, and a bit unearned.
Lawrence’s chapter opens with him running a marathon with Aparna. He speeds up when he sees Molly and Issa on the sidelines; whenever they’re out of sight, he can go back to hiding the baggage he refuses to unpack. Lawrence’s arc over the next month is undergirded by his new relationship. I still don’t buy their chemistry, but it starts off amazing for them. He cooks for her at his place. He takes her advice when she suggests he join a co-workers’ app rather than start from scratch on his own. But when he sees Molly at the same restaurant or hears Aparna talk about Colin, the co-worker she slept with a few times, Lawrence is forced to own up to the pain he still has over Issa’s cheating on him.
Lawrence’s jealousy over Colin only deepens when he invites Derek and Chad over to help him install his TV and hang out. Derek always seemed a bit more levelheaded, but his advice here is actually pretty regressive, reflecting the gendered line the show and its fandom often fall upon. He mentions how Tiffany used to have a guy friend at work named Fred. “Fred is gone now. Why? Because I dealt with it,” he says. Chad’s advice is more curt: “Bitches don’t need another fuckin’ dude as a friend.”
Later, when they head to a movie, Lawrence recoils after he sees Aparna laughing while texting. He assumes she’s conversing with Colin. She isn’t. This sparks a nasty confrontation. “I don’t have shit. I just don’t like liars,” he says when she tries to convince him that there’s nothing to be suspicious about with her and Colin. But when Issa curiously calls Lawrence, it gives Aparna the opportunity to hop out of the car and storm off, leaving the status of their relationship in a gray area. Lawrence’s chapter ends with him going to Issa’s apartment, suggesting a multitude of avenues we only get answers to at the very end of the episode.
Watching each of these chapters play out, I marveled at how “Hella Perspective” transitions between the dramatic turns in each character’s life using visual and sonic cues: a gaze. A line of dialogue. The texture of carpet. It’s deft work. The structural experimentation is admirable, but it does lead to thorny issues. At first blush, it’s the most introspective the show has ever been. The humor is still there, but it is dialed down in order to interrogate these people and their various forms of emotional and professional wreckage. Still, this formal experimentation rests a bit too much on the big turns, getting the broad strokes right while sacrificing the specificity that would otherwise give these moments lasting weight. This comes into focus during Molly’s struggles with professional and personal woes.
Molly has finally decided to take her destiny into her own hands. Instead of waiting for the partners at her firm to recognize her worth, she’s interviewing around town — including at a black-run firm that actually gives her an offer. Along the way, her Chicago-based colleague Clinton provides invaluable support. Molly seems to be making great strides: She’s back with her black therapist and she’s looking for a better workplace, but even though Clinton’s caring attraction is undeniable, she isn’t really feeling him. She explains this to Issa by simply showing a picture of him to her. “Oh. He’s got a beard. That’s what’s up,” Issa insincerely replies. Harsh.
Molly ends up taking her therapist’s advice to heart — exploring what she can have rather than what she feels she should — and has sex with Clinton on his office couch while she’s in Chicago. If Molly isn’t attracted to Clinton, I don’t think she should force it, but she should question why. She admits to Kelli and Issa before they watch Due North that he makes her laugh and has been such great support. This support will be especially useful now that it’s clear her firm doesn’t value her. Instead of giving her a raise, the partners offer her a “rising star” award, which amounts to a pretty piece of paper and her picture on the website, but no material gain.
By far the most nerve-racking and intense chapter of the finale belongs to Issa, who is mired in more problems than she can handle. At the marathon, we find out Kelli didn’t get to finish because her period hit with a fierceness. (“I got to mile nine and the red wedding hit!”) Tiffany, Derek, and Molly try to comfort her, but Issa just laughs at her predicament. What struck me about this scene were the dynamics between these friends. Tiffany is pregnant, which Kelli knew about, but it seem like Issa and Molly didn’t. Kelli explains this by admitting she’s closer to Tiffany. “We’re all doing great things. Look at you getting fit. Look at Kelli. Look at Molly taking interviews, taking names. Look at Issa … mmm,” Tiffany says, making a trademark low blow.
Tiffany isn’t just selfish; she’s actively cruel. She relishes calling out the class disparities between Issa and the rest of the group, among other things. Tiffany’s need to do this highlights the fact that her perfect life is obviously a lie. (What was up with Derek living in a hotel last year?) Meanwhile, Issa’s choice to remain in their friendship is a byproduct of her inability to value herself and her avoidance of confrontation. But Tiffany is due for a reckoning, which may come sooner than later, given how she weirdly bounces on the plan to watch Due North and other instances that crack her perfectly bougie façade. To be honest, though, Tiffany’s terrible friendship is the least of Issa’s problems. She doesn’t have a car. She has to move out of her apartment to live with her brother because of the rent hike. Even her job is threatened thanks to her boss’s finding out about Gaines’s bigotry and her role in covering it up.
The best scene of the finale is the reckoning between Issa and Lawrence. Earlier, she called him to offer the couch since she felt he deserved it. He doesn’t have to see her, of course: She let him know when she wouldn’t be at the apartment. And yet, when she comes in for a final walkthrough, it isn’t her landlord she finds but Lawrence. “This is going to make some young white couple really happy someday,” she mordantly jokes. There is something inherently wistful about an empty apartment. It looks bigger, more sterile. In every nick on the wall and stain on the floor, you can’t help but think of its history. Lawrence and Issa end up being mature for once, apologizing for their shared fault in the end of their relationship. Hurts are brought up. Tears are shed. A sincere hug and the words “I love you” are even exchanged.
Lawrence: “I’m sorry for not being who you expected me to be, who I expected me to be.”
Issa: “Lawrence, I wanted to be better for you, because of you. But somewhere along the way, I depended on you to be better for both of us. And when you were going through what you were going through, I didn’t know how to handle it. “
Once Lawrence says good-bye, the scene shifts tenor. Instead of leaving, he gets on one knee and proclaims his love, asking Issa to marry him. What follows is an all-too-perfect kind of life, including the broad strokes of what their marriage could be: the moments after their wedding, falling onto the couch, glowing with happiness. They have sex. She gets pregnant. They have a super-cute kid. It’s a fantasy, of course. The kind of fantasy fueled by the idea that love is enough. It’s the most poignant moment of the finale, and it grows even more powerful when the truth is revealed: Lawrence left tearfully. No proposal. No happily-ever-after.
But this moment would have been so much stronger if the episode focused on the smaller, quieter moments about their relationship, rather than the most dramatic ones. Throughout this season I’ve been wondering, how were Issa and Lawrence when they were happy? Not knowing how their relationship played out before his depression and her cheating undercuts so much potential. As Hannah Giorgis wrote at the Ringer, “While it is not rare for a TV show to serve as a mirror for its audience, it has often felt like Insecure has spent more time banking on its viewers’ reactions than it has fleshing out the characters’ stories.”
Insecure ends its sophomore season with its leads making the same old mistakes. Molly opens the door in stunning lingerie to Dro. Issa moves in not with her brother but with Daniel. The fantasy sequence and much of the season reveal that love often isn’t enough. It’s easier to wallow in your mistakes, to rest upon old habits, to screw up immensely rather than doing the hard work of growing up. Even though I wish there were more details in this episode to ground this theme, Insecure has touched on something that feels true.
• Honestly, my favorite new addition this season is Due North, the arch and soap-operatic slavery epic featuring Regina Hall and Scott Foley. I was happy to see so much of it post-credits. Michael Jai White exclaiming, “I hate slavery!” and asking Hall, “You let Massa swing low on your sweet chariot?!” were my favorite lines of the night.
• Issa takes the fall for the Gaines debacle, which clears the path for Frieda’s eventual promotion as director of student outreach. I’m not completely satisfied with how the story line chose to grapple with the divisions between black, Latino, and Afro-Latino communities.
• The new SZA song, which was made exclusively for the show, is dope.