“Real As F*ck” potently demonstrates one of life’s most durable and frustrating lessons: There’s always a fire to put out. If the pillars of a fulfilled and worry-free life are career, money, friendships, family bonds, and romantic relationships, to be satisfied with two of the five at any given moment would be an achievement. Three out of five is showing off. Four out of five technically counts as self-actualization. No one ever has or ever will yell out “Bingo!” on them all. So while anybody with basic human empathy will feel for Issa’s plight, let’s be honest: It’s what she gets for trying hard at work.
I’m kidding, of course, but Issa is probably having those kinds of thoughts. At the very least, she’s learning that there’s a sacrifice that comes with transforming from Miss Give No Fucks to Miss Give All the Fucks. Caring means possibly getting hurt, and trying means possibly failing, but Issa isn’t thinking that far ahead. The episode begins with her auditioning freakum dresses for a major fundraiser for We Got Y’all, and telling Molly about how she plans to spice up her life with ingredients she already has in the cupboard. Issa is brimming with optimism, which is the natural side effect of any “trying on fancy clothes” montage, but she clearly doesn’t understand what she’s committing to. She’s like the kid who was always told to apply herself in school, then does so and is shocked to fail the test anyway.
Issa doesn’t fumble the ball in every respect. The fundraiser is a massive success, and she personally talks a few donors into making considerable donations. All her friends are there to support her, as is Lawrence, who’s in good spirits after accepting a new, non-retail tech job. Everything is going so smoothly, I even forgot about Lawrence intercepting the suspicious text from Daniel. But just as the fundraiser appears to be shaping up as Issa’s first unqualified win, the cracks start appearing.
First, Issa half-fights with Molly about the idea of going to therapy, an idea on Molly’s mind after running into a reformed good-time girl they knew from college. I honestly wasn’t crazy about how that story line was introduced, although there are plenty of Crystals in the world, people who can shoehorn a mention of their therapist into any conversation regardless of length. I also tend to struggle with any story that suggests black people are unable to grasp mental-health issues or why it’s important to treat them. I don’t completely buy that Molly would be so principally opposed to someone seeing a therapist to tune up her life. (Then again, it did take a hell of a long time for her to make her first visit to the beach.)
Of course, Issa and Molly’s tiff isn’t really about therapy. Molly’s no dummy, and she has to know on some level that given her recent streak of bad luck with the opposite sex, maybe she’s the one doing something wrong. It’s a fear Molly has been struggling with since the pilot episode. Many people would have laughed off the “Broken Pussy” song as a hilarious callback to an earlier conversation, but Molly saw it as a personal indictment. She felt humiliated even though no one in the room could have possibly known the joke stemmed from a discussion of her bumpy love life. When Molly acts incredulous about Crystal’s decision to go to therapy, more than anything she’s shocked that anyone is willing and able to admit they have problems worth seeking out therapy for. She says she doesn’t want to “go broke paying for a fake friend,” even though her hourly billable rate probably far exceeds most therapists. Molly wants Issa to affirm that she doesn’t need therapy, but she doesn’t get the response she was hoping for, another reminder that the title of the show doesn’t only apply to its main character.
After the fundraiser hits its stride, Daniel pops up out of the blue. His move initially seems uncool at best and legally actionable at worst. But once he finally corners Issa for a conversation, Daniel comes off far more sympathetic, and Issa turns out to be the asshole. It can be hard to gauge how much time has passed from episode to episode, but Prentice Penny’s script wisely gets us up to speed. It’s been three weeks since Issa and Daniel’s studio tryst, and she hasn’t responded to a single one of his texts. That’s cold as hell, even as I totally understand Issa’s motivations. Daniel isn’t a random Tinder hookup. He’s known Issa since childhood and naturally assumes she would see him as more than an “itch” she needed to scratch.
Both situations roll downhill as Molly’s mean drunk emerges and Lawrence gets increasingly suspicious about Issa’s behavior. First, Issa and Molly finally have it out over the therapy suggestion, leading them to say the things they’ve been dying to say to each other for months, if not longer. It’s cathartic as hell to see Issa step up as the audience proxy and explain to Molly that finding a partner isn’t a trip through the salad bar. Sometimes he’ll have a gay hookup in his past, or forget to text when he gets home, or make corny jokes about getting her a drink. (Shutting Justin down is the latest and greatest of Molly’s terrible dating judgments. There’s no faster way to my heart than with an ill-conceived pun.) Their fight is harsh, but it’s not tough to watch. I hope the scene isn’t meant to be read as a possible game-changing moment for their friendship, because it didn’t feel that way to me. Joan and Toni had fights like that all the time on Girlfriends. And yeah, Toni left so maybe that’s not the best example, but still.
The fight with Lawrence is the consequential one, and the one that’s hardest to watch. The emotions are so raw, and I’ve never been more afraid while watching this show. When Issa stood in front of the door, refusing to move so Lawrence would stay and hash things out, I feared their confrontation would turn physical. Physical in a much different way than her nightmare scenario after she slept with Daniel, but disturbing all the same. It’s both relieving and somehow worse that their fight ends with a whimper, and with Issa sobbing on the floor.