overnights

Insecure Recap: Going in Circles

Insecure

Familiar-Like
Season 3 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****

Insecure

Familiar-Like
Season 3 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

Each of Insecure’s familiar tableaus are on display in “Familiar-Like,” the second episode of the season. There is We Got Y’all, Issa’s workplace, where she is browbeaten, silenced, and maltreated; subjected to frequent racialized humiliations. Her domestic sphere — shifted to Daniel’s place this season — is where the majority of the partially clothed sexual and romantic frissons take place. Then there are the frequent club and party scenes, where Issa’s lack of social graces or even a basic regard for others are often at their most pungent.

The episode opens with Issa fielding a torrent of rejections: Daniel, her housemate and infrequent lover, responds to Issa’s half-assed congeniality with curt iciness. Her ongoing apartment search is, similarly, fruitless. Later, when her boss presents a tone-deaf reimagining of the company logo, the employees verbalize their critiques. Issa daydreams, bitterly musing on the company’s late arrival to “wokeness.” (The daydream has supplanted the mirror rap/monologue as a means of communicating the rumblings of Issa’s subconscious.) The dream sequence is interrupted and Issa, when presented with the opportunity to voice her convictions, mumbles a tepid agreement, highlighting her co-worker’s points instead of voicing her own.

From the get, Insecure presented itself as a sort of verité of the working black milllenial woman; our bumbling protagonist was intended as a more canny mirror than the landscape had otherwise provided. She isn’t the staunch careerist Olivia Pope, wielding professional exceptionalism as a virtue. Nor does she hew to, as Issa Rae stated in her memoir The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, “the trashy, raunchy depictions of women of color we see in shows today, like Basketball Wives and Love & Hip-Hop.”

The show deftly side-steps the most noxious, tired stereotypes of black womanhood. But is Insecure’s commitment to countering boilerplate renderings proof of a preoccupation with the very archetypes it intends to flout? At lunch, Issa’s co-workers, none of whom are black, question her lack of vigor in the meeting. She responds: “Really? I have to speak up about every issue? Do you know how awkward that is? Hi, I’m Issa and I’m black and angry.” Issa’s inability to conceive of a middle ground between mute passivity and theatrical anger has been demonstrated before. It’s unclear whether the preoccupation with the stereotype — that of the Angry Black Woman — is native to the character, or to her creators. Is it commentary on the inescapability of the ugliest tropes of black womanhood, since the character remains in service to them? Also, the show has dedicatedly highlighted the paternalism and sketchy benevolence bolstering many of the white employees at We Got Y’all, but there is less intense examination of Issa’s motives. What are her motivations for remaining with the nonprofit? Noblesse oblige? Hopefully her motives are excoriated this season.

Later in the episode, Issa visits Kelli, a financial advisor who informs her that her credit and income are not conducive with solo living. The show has always treated Kelli, their lone plus-sized female character, as a gag; she is crass and brash, with a gutter-bucket humor that is a welcome contrast to Issa and Molly’s more prim natures. But often it feels like she isn’t treated as a viable sexual presence. Issa and Molly are dating, Tiffany is married, but it feels like Kelli has been relegated to being an undesirable, her obscenities delivered for comedic effect, while her lone sexual encounter last season was a public masturbation while the majority of her body was covered.

After speaking with Kelli, Issa calls her brother to ask if she can crash with him. It is revealed that her brother is dating another man, and will not be able to house Issa because they’ve decided to grow weed in their spare room. A huge frustration with Insecure is the show creator’s mindfulness of social media. When there were criticisms of the show’s lack of condoms, season two was careful to include them. When everyone wondered whether Alejandro was indeed polyamorous, or just creeping with Molly, the show made sure to include a phone call with his wife while Molly was present, for clarification. Similarly, I don’t recall Issa’s brother’s sexuality being mentioned last season, but I did notice several tweets noting the show’s lack of a queer representation. It feels like the show is inextricable from the online community that consumes it, which makes for a lively viewing experience. But the fact that the creators and writers are so influenced by the protean, volatile seas of Twitter is off-putting.

Daniel has essentially replaced Lawrence this season, as Issa’s domestic partner and unnecessary male presence on the show. This should be a show primarily about the four girls and their friendship. In lieu of subbing in a new male romantic lead for Issa, I would prefer more time dedicated to Kelli. Daniel is, as Lawrence was previously, flailing professionally. He is a music producer, and ostensibly successful, as he has a sizable apartment (for L.A.) and an endless stream of snazzy sweaters and button-ups. He’s at a standstill as a producer, though. He also has at least one girlfriend, which casts last episode’s attempt at kissing Issa in a sketchy light. Prodded by Kelli, Issa asks to stay with Daniel for “a couple more weeks.” He informs Issa that she can stay for one additional week, which sets her off on a mission to change his mind. She cleans the apartment in an attempt to woo him and barter more time.

After Daniel expresses frustration at his work predicament and a desire to meet a music artist performing at a club, Issa gamely takes him out. They wind up at the club together. Daniel reveals that what he would like to do is add more “complex instrumentation” to Spider, the rapper’s, musical backing. When he meets Spider, Daniel freezes up for a moment, and Issa steps in to help him get some one-on-one time with the rapper. Again, Daniel mentions the “orchestral” superiority of his beats, and the young rap star is hilariously unimpressed. Issa’s role as motivator to her male partners in their professional pursuits is again, familiar from her relationship with Daniel.

A popular clip of Chris Brown, which has become a meme, features the singer atop a stage, giddy in the moments post-performance. Brown, misreading the ruckus of the crowd, assumes a spontaneous dance battle has erupted. He says into the microphone, “Oh them niggas getting it in over there,” bobs his shoulders, and beams. Moments later, gunshots ring out, accompanied by less elated screams, and Brown ducks and cowers, and is herded off the stage. The humor of the seven-second clip is largely fostered by knowledge of who Chris Brown is as a cultural figure: Of course Brown, no stranger to legal troubles, and possessed of a noted lack of discernment, would mistake criminal activity for the melee of a spontaneous dance-off. Insecure recreates the meme with Spider acting as Brown. After speaking with Daniel about his beats, and expressing no notable interest, Spider gazes into the distance and repeats Brown’s lines. Gunfire erupts, Issa and Daniel seek cover, and, eventually head home. The Vine clip of Brown is one of my faves, but seeing it recreated by professional actors felt stale. It felt like further proof of the show’s mad reliance upon social media, not only as an echo chamber but as a source of content.

Back at home, Daniel offers Issa his bed, a proposition which we know will end messily. She reveals that she isn’t sleepy. Issa stays up while Daniel works on his beats, smiling and bobbing her head along to the tracks.

Insecure Recap: Going in Circles