Insecure is a show perfectly situated to this moment in black culture. In each episode, Issa Rae and her collaborators interrogate terrain that modern black folk travel — questions about equal pay as a black professional, racial fetishization in casual sex, the thorny pursuit of perfection that black women face — while making a litany of hyperspecific references, like Cardi B on the soundtrack and disses that reference Fashion Nova clothing. The way Molly and Issa operate isn’t personally relatable, but they don’t have to be. In their foibles and hotheaded reactions, I see faint traces of people I know. But for the first time, Insecure feels out of step with the culture it depicts. At its worse, “Hella Blows” is regressive in its sexual politics in a way that left me angry. I was also left wondering: What slice of black life do Issa and Molly really represent?
The issues with “Hella Blows” aren’t just narrative. Insecure has always had a breezy tempo that mirrors its expertly curated soundtrack, but there is a slowness to this episode that feels unnatural. Instead of slowing down to measure the depth of Issa and Molly’s emotional dilemmas, “Hella Blows” feels like filler, which is pretty odd for a season that is only eight episodes long.
As for the narrative itself, we can all agree Molly needs to get back into therapy, right? In her scenes with Issa, Molly laments how having sex with Dro has changed their friendship. When he calls her as she’s working late, she misses his jokes and takes everything literally. You can practically see her overanalyzing the meaning of his words. I half expected a thought bubble to pop up over her head making her confusion even more evident.
When Molly and Dro meet up at a sports bar to watch the game and chill, she struggles to find the words to explain her decision to chalk up their sex to a one-time mistake, but their conversation quickly turns flirtatious. Cut to their clothes strewn on the floor while they’re enthusiastically having sex. “How would this even work?” Molly asks afterwards. Dro mentions that it was actually Candice’s idea to have an open relationship. Dro may very well be telling the truth, but even open relationships have boundaries. Is Candice really comfortable with Dro having sex with a longtime friend? That’s a different level of intimacy than someone whose place in your life is primarily sexual.
After Molly decides to dive into the deep end of this relationship with Dro, she momentarily fools herself into believing it would be enough. Later in the episode, they even plan a whole night together, ordering food in what looks like a hotel room. But just as things turn sexual, Dro gets a text from Candice that she locked herself out and he runs off to attend to his wife. What did Molly expect? If she’s really about this life, she needs to understand she will always come second to Candice.
Molly’s blinkered perspective on the dynamics of her new relationship with Dro was definitely maddening, but it was Issa’s story line that made me angry. One of the pleasures of Insecure has always been Issa’s messiness. She comes off as a refutation to the idea that black women have to be hypercompetent and perfect to deserve respect. But the mistakes she’s making lately are a bit pathetic and frustrating to watch. First, she needs Molly to drive her around or take the bus thanks to her messed-up front bumper. Things only get worse when she finds out that the accident is more expensive than she hoped. Her car needs a few weeks of work and it will cost $5,500. No dick pic is worth that sort of financial hit. Again, don’t sext and drive, kids! “I was just getting everything under control,” Issa complains. But was she?
Issa’s quest to have a rotation and robust casual-sex life has always felt a bit inauthentic. She seems to think she should have a ho phase because she hasn’t been dating for so long. But which does she really enjoy: the image of a carefree, sexually open woman, or her sex life itself? There is an edge of desperation in Issa’s quest to have sex whenever she wants. At one point, Issa hits up her neighbor, Eddie. Does she text or call him? Nope. She just shows up at his door. Unfortunately, there’s a woman already there. “I’m over here serving you my finest and you going to send my shit back?” Issa raps in a fourth-wall-breaking fantasy scene when Eddie rebuffs her. Issa complains to Molly that she should set the rules and that whenever she’s down to have sex, the men she hits up should be too. Here’s the thing: Just because you’re casual doesn’t mean you get to disrespect people. Showing up unannounced is always a bad idea. I feel like Issa needs a Casual Sex 101 guide.
Issa also decides to meetup with Nico, a.k.a. the best Tinder date ever. She invites him over wearing a short skirt, a top pulled low enough that her bra is an unavoidable focal point, and an air of desperation that’s so thick I felt uncomfortable. Issa’s need for sex leads her to miss every cue Nico is throwing her way. She cuts off his earnest questions about the art in her apartment to push wine on him in hopes of shifting the mood. She starts making out with him, but makes it difficult for him to say a word. “Sweetie, slow down,” he finally says. Nico actually wants to get to know Issa. He isn’t interested in a fling. He even wants to do dinner after the palpable awkwardness of that exchange! Instead of just being upfront and saying kindly she’s looking for something casual, Issa angrily rebuffs Nico and doesn’t even look at him when he leaves. Poor guy.
From there, Issa and the episode wade into sexually regressive territory at a “Sexplosion” female-oriented seminar Tiffany invites everyone to. Insecure has always been a bawdy series when it comes to sex — its creators are unafraid of showing male nudity and women going after their own desires — so it was weird to witness the conversation Tiffany, Kelli, Molly, and Issa had at the seminar about blow jobs. “I love it,” Tiffany says with enough gusto that it seems performative. Kelli admits she doesn’t give blow jobs. Molly isn’t into them, but will reciprocate if a man goes down on her. But Issa is adamantly against them. She admits she’s not good at them and finds it “too intimate.” Coupled with the way Issa earlier describes her sexual prowess, I think we can assume her sex game is mediocre at best. But it’s this exchange that sent me over the edge:
Tiffany: “I just don’t understand black women and their hangups about oral sex.”
Molly: “Girl, shut your light-skinned ass up.”
Issa then accuses Tiffany of being brainwashed by going to an all-white private school, and even calls her “Becky.” “Why do you think black men are out here chasing after white women?” Tiffany responds. Wait, what?! Hold on. Did the show accidentally travel to 1992? Is this an outtake from that Jamie Foxx movie Booty Call? The fact that Tiffany’s interest in blow jobs is equated to whiteness is hilariously tone deaf. Blow jobs are a very basic component of having sex. The idea that black women are against them seems ripped from bad stereotypes about a previous generation. Sexual tastes vary, of course, but this scene makes broad-stroke pronouncements about black women that I found downright regressive. When Issa later gives Daniel a blow job and angrily leaves his apartment when he cums on her face, I had to wonder: What kind of sex is Issa used to having? Why is her reaction so over the top? How old are the people in this writers room? That blow-job class they took obviously wasn’t good enough if she doesn’t understand basic etiquette.
Issa and Molly are part of different tax brackets, but watching their issues heighten over the course of this season puts in stark relief how they represent a brand of black life I am not a part of: upwardly mobile professionals with respectability politics that warp their way of life. It’s evident when Issa mentions how she’s always felt that black women are looked at as sexual deviants by the world at large, and how blow jobs would just brand black women in a way she’s uncomfortable with. For the first time since Insecure began, I am left wondering what generation of black culture they’re actually speaking to.
• How much longer until Lawrence hooks up with his co-worker Aparna?
• Where will Issa and Daniel go from here?
• Lawrence’s work situation is not interesting enough to be a subplot.