overnights

Insecure Recap: Just Like Starting Over

Insecure

Fresh-Like
Season 3 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****

Insecure

Fresh-Like
Season 3 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

When depicted onscreen, the opening or closing of a door is an unsubtle broadcaster of narrative beginnings or endings. A door opens and tornado-swept Dorothy and Toto begin their traipse through the trippy, Technicolor dreamscape of Oz. A door closes and you know for certain that Henry Hill’s life amongst the Goodfellas is finis, the metal slam ringing with finality. On Insecure, which has the bones of a stylish romantic comedy in extenso, the door trope figures almost as prominently as mirror shots and naked men’s asses. In last season’s finale, Issa dawdled, fantasizing of merrier endings before closing the door on a weepy, turtlenecked Lawrence. Later, as a brand-new single, she knocked, and when the door swung, it was Daniel who appeared on the other side, the final shot of the season. Now, in this season’s fourth episode, “Fresh-Like,” the characters are again peering across thresholds, and in some instances, forcing themselves across.

Within the scope of Issa’s character arc over the past three seasons, “Fresh-Like” is propellant: Issa settles into her own spot, casts off Daniel before leaping onto another man, and leaves her ho-hum job, invigorated by her new lover. I decided to examine this week’s episode with an eye toward those major themes and encounters, the major scaffolding of the episode.

Home

The episode commences with Issa, finally in possession of a bathroom of her own, rapping to her reflection in the mirror. At moments, the show’s protagonist feels flimsily drawn; the performed verses, all braggadocio and id, are the deepest excoriation of a character whose internal workings and deeper desires often aren’t excoriated. Daniel’s knock interrupts, and when Issa answers, she attempts an apology for her previous rejection of him. A deflated Daniel waves it off, assuring Issa that no apology is necessary. As Daniel makes his exit, Molly enters, closing the door behind him; for now, Daniel’s chapter is done. Molly has come bearing gifts, in the form of some of Issa’s old storage-unit things and a few new purchases, an inflatable bed among them. “So you don’t have to sleep on the floor like a little slave,” she says. I bristled at the joke, which may have been the point. The affordability of Issa’s new place is an employment perk of her position as property manager, a realistic rendering of young, broke (not poor) people living in expensive coastal cities. That she has no prior experience, or even skill, as a property manager is irrelevant. A few of the funnier moments of this episode involve Issa’s run-ins with a persistent, addled tenant, who eventually resorts to sending her small son over to issue complaints as well.

Romance

While out for lunch, Issa runs into Nathan, the handsome Lyft customer from a few weeks back. Their happenstance meet-up is improbable, but cute nonetheless. Nathan is a Texan and thus remains unimpressed with Los Angeles, a stance which Issa commits to changing. The majority of the episode is spent following the two on a day-long excursion, with Issa as the informed native and Nathan happy to tag along. At Nathan’s encouragement, Issa calls into her job and informs them she’ll be out for the rest of the day, foreshadowing her future decision. That the push to shirk a company she’s hated and considered leaving for three seasons was made as a result of her time with a man was one I found interesting. The show dedicates far too much time to each of Issa’s lovers, and before she can ever fully recover from a breakup and spend significant time alone, another beau is slotted in. This could be an attempt at honestly portraying the scattershot, ill-advised dating patterns of younger women, but it often reads as trepidation to have the series carried by its protagonist alone.

While playing hooky from work, Issa takes Nathan to the Baldwin Village neighborhood, colloquially referred to as the Jungles. The film Training Day, starring Denzel Washington, was shot in the much-maligned neighborhood. Issa’s motivations for bringing Nathan to the neighborhood are supposedly noble: She wants to dispel the ugly myths about its dangers and working class constituents. It strikes a more dubious tenor, for me. Why is Issa ferrying a transplant through a neighborhood which she herself is also not a member of, a place she grew up close to, but not inside of? The visit has a faintly paternalistic tone, which may hint at her reasons for employment at the nonprofit, her wayward do-gooder tendencies. The intent is grand but the messaging a little off: “Poor people. They’re just like us.”

After the (thankfully) uneventful visit to the Jungles, Issa and Nathan head to her childhood home, a cozy place in, as I predicted, a comfortably upper-middle-class section of the city. When Nathan teases her about being rich, Issa reveals that her parents, now divorced, scrounged and saved for the beautiful home. I’ve always been curious about Issa’s parentage on the show; is she, like her creator and namesake, a child of Senegalese-American immigrants? So much about her background is kept mysterious, or isn’t considered.

The visit is a refreshing look into her upbringing, into what made her. She and Nathan play a game of Truth or Dare, which, as it was meant to do, gets them both naked in the pool. Issa reveals that she still wants to be involved in rap in some way, but the statement is too ambiguous to decipher. Is she saying she wants to be a rapper, or be involved with an organization like the one she encountered on career day, focused on uplifting and inspiring kids with an interest in the arts? Also the more explicit nod to Issa’s relative privilege casts an aspect of last season in an interesting light. Issa had been priced out of her old apartment, due to the rising rents wrought by gentrification. It seems likely now that she herself had also been a gentrifier, a young professional seeking cheap rent in a part of the city she was not native to. The phenomenon of first wave gentrifiers being priced out by a second wave of (usually white) gentrifiers is a complex one, again endemic in the country’s urban enclaves.

When Issa asks Nathan about his previous relationship, he responds that he’s never really had a relationship because the girls in Houston, which he fled following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, had a complacent mind-set compared to himself. Issa doesn’t seem to register this as a red flag. Not only that a man who is presumably thirty or near it has never had a relationship, but also that he seems to earnestly believe that an entire city full of women had a “mind-set” which was so different, and inferior, to his own.

Issa and Nathan wind up at her place, where the pesky neighbor has sent her precocious young son with maintenance requests, a welcome jolt of comedy. Nathan opens the door to leave, but the scene cuts before it can close on him, a hint that he may be a (semi-)permanent fixture.

Work

The day after her date with Nathan, Issa finally leaves We Got Y’all. A pan around the office reveals a sea of white faces. She has the job as a landlord plus her Lyft gig, so Issa has an income, but I suspect she’ll seek more fulfilling employment soon.

Meanwhile, Molly, employed at an all-black firm, is struggling to find her footing. This has mostly been due to her own abrasiveness and passive-aggressive tendencies, in my opinion. No one wants to hear about your old job and its alleged superiorities at every turn. This episode, however, seems to point at more complex explanations for the feudal distance of Molly’s co-workers. In a meeting, Molly attempts to provide insight, and is talked over by two male employees, both black. Recall that jibe last week, in which a character lightly teased Molly about her frequent mentions of her old job, was made by a man of color. (He was very fair-skinned and could be black, but I don’t know for certain. Is the firm staunchly all black, or are people of color welcome as well?) In this episode, after offering two black female colleagues her assistance, Molly miffs them and heads into the office with the men. The two women respond with stares of betrayal. The show’s attempt to navigate the nuances and perplexities of black men’s misogyny towards black women is a bold and necessary risk.

Insecure Recap: Just Like Starting Over