lowkey fightin'

A Breakdown of the Breakdown of Molly and Issa’s Insecure Friendship

Photo: Merie W. Wallace/HBO

Since the very beginning, Issa and Molly’s relationship has been the bedrock of HBO’s Insecure, a beautiful example of the joys and complexities of black female friendship rarely seen on television. That’s why when Issa kicked off season four by lying on her couch on the phone and saying, “Honestly, I don’t fuck with Molly anymore,” we were, in a word, shook.

“What happened? Who’s responsible? Did anyone see this coming? Could anyone have stopped it?” These questions are asked by Rose Cranberry, a reporter from this season’s show-within-the-show Looking for Latoya, but also apply to the disintegration of Issa and Molly’s friendship. Over the course of the first five episodes of season four, missed phone calls turn into mini-squabbles that ultimately blow up into a major fight between Molly (Yvonne Orji) and Issa (Issa Rae) in Sunday’s episode, “Lowkey Movin’ On.” As such, we’re taking a deep dive into these fights to decide who’s side we’re on: #Team Molly or #TeamIssa?

Episode 1: “Lowkey Feelin’ Myself”

After the Rashomon-style reveal that Molly and Issa are beefing in a major way, Insecure travels back in time to four months before the block party when everything is still good between Issa and Molly. They’re making time for each other via their patented Self-Care Sundays. They’re doing yoga in Issa’s apartment. They’re buying and returning clothes at Opening Ceremony to the dismay of the cashiers. Everything is as it should be. That is until …

Molly misses Issa’s phone call

Out of nowhere, Issa gets some pretty upsetting news: Her new friend and main collaborator for the block party, Condola (Christina Elmore), is now dating her ex, Lawrence (Jay Ellis). (Yes, #LawrenceHive, you finally got your day in the sun at Issa’s expense, are you happy?) Issa naturally goes to call Molly when she gets a moment alone, but Molly doesn’t pick up. While missing a phone call may seem like a pretty small infraction on Molly’s part, it’s the first in a series of dominoes to fall, spelling trouble between the two. Issa needed Molly in that moment and she wasn’t there for her.

“Sometimes you just love mess.”

After a successful fundraising event for the block party, Molly sticks around to help Issa clean up the event. At the function, Molly found out from Tiffany — [sigh] it’s always Tiffany — that Condola is dating Lawrence. Rather than approach Issa from a place of support and empathy, Molly, who’s dealing with her own relationship woes with Asian Bae, a.k.a. Andrew, expresses her opinion on the situation in a sideways and passive-aggressive way. “It’s just, you know your life don’t have to be this messy, right?” Molly says to Issa. “Sometimes I think you like that shit.” Ummm … ouch? Kudos to Issa Rae for telegraphing how hurtful that comment was from Molly. You can see the pain register without her having to say a word.

To be fair to Molly, she has a point: Issa has a history of making self-destructive choices — cheating on Lawrence with Daniel, breaking into that pool with Nathan, quitting her job, etc. — and from her vantage point, Issa working closely with Condola is unnecessary and potentially emotionally dangerous. Molly’s passive-aggressiveness comes from a place of true concern, but it’s still passive-aggressive as hell. For her part, Issa is actually trying to be mature. She realizes that her issues with Condola and Lawrence are personal and, as such, are smaller than the work she’s trying to do for her community. It’s clear that she can’t really pull off the block party without Condola, and she’s willing to put up with a little personal mess to make the event a success for the good of the community. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that she actually enjoys Condola’s company. While trying to help clean up, Molly effectively throws the first punch at Issa, who is showing signs of growth, and, as such, we end the episode firmly on Issa’s side.

The winner: #TeamIssa

Episode 2: “Lowkey Distant”

Things start off chill enough between Issa and Molly. They exchange friendly barbs with each other at Tiffany’s house on Halloween (Kelli wins best costume hands down for her orange, pleather BAPS lewk), but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Issa correctly identifies that Molly may be looking for problems in her relationship with Andrew, and the two make plans to catch up over dinner later that week. It feels like they can still right their friendship before it goes entirely off course, except for the fact that …

Condola crashes Issa and Molly’s dinner

This is practically unforgivable. One of my biggest pet peeves is making plans with someone and then having them show up with people who were not expressly included in those plans. I don’t care if you show up with Leonardo DiCaprio and Greta Thunberg. I asked to have dinner with you — not you, your roommate, and your second cousin Gerry who’s in town for the weekend. Unfortunately, Issa commits this cardinal sin. SMH.

After a truly cringeworthy three-person hug — Orji’s “What’s happening?” is truly [chef’s kiss] Issa invites Condola to join her and Molly’s two-person dinner. When Condola, rightly, demurs, saying she wouldn’t want to impose, Issa diminishes Molly by saying, “Impose on what? We just gonna be talking the same old shit. Just add your shit to our shit.” Not a cool thing for a best friend to do. Molly is then put in an uncomfortable spot, unable to voice that she doesn’t want to have dinner with Condola (someone she already distrusts due to the Lawrence of it all) and disappointed in Issa for changing their plans. She has no choice but to smile and go along with it as Issa unwittingly chooses to deepen her new friendship over prioritizing their own relationship. One-on-one friend time is sacred and when you throw in someone else you completely disrupt that dynamic, even if they are cool and have great skin.

“Sometimes I’m like, do you want to be happy?”

Molly and Issa finally get their solo friend time during a Self-Care Sunday hike, but the hike only widens the gap between them. After #DinnerGate, the duo had a lot of ground to cover, but rather than truly connect and talk to each other, Issa uses their Sunday hike to throw jabs at Molly and talk about herself. When Molly tries to open up and tell Issa about an awkward date with Andrew, Issa, almost reflexively says, “It seems like you always finding a problem. Sometimes I’m like, do you want to be happy?” Oof.

While there is truth to Issa’s criticism of Molly, her timing and her delivery were way off; it’s a mirror to the interaction Molly and Issa had in the previous episode. When Molly gets a phone call from Andrew apologizing for his behavior, she doesn’t feel comfortable sharing that information with Issa. Why would Molly feel comfortable opening up after Issa messed up their dinner plans, ignored her call, and insulted her on the hike? Instead, Molly says it was a call from work, and Issa continues talking about her own life (RIP TSA Bae), not noticing that Molly has entirely checked out of the conversation. From #DinnerGate to the hike, Issa’s self-centeredness is beginning to show, and it’s, frankly, not a good look.

The winner, by a mile: #TeamMolly

Episode 3: “Lowkey Thankful”

This episode sees Issa and Molly mostly separate, attending (or not attending) their respective family Thanksgiving celebrations. Even though they weren’t physically together for much of the episode, they still, unfortunately, found new ways to grow apart.

The supermarket spat

When Issa and Molly go shopping for Thanksgiving groceries, things go south faster than you can say, “Pass me the cranberry sauce.” Issa, tense because she knows things with Molly aren’t great, resorts to cornier jokes than usual. Let’s “avocadon’t” and say we didn’t. Soon, they’re at each other’s throats, with Issa taking a jab at Molly about her relationship with Dro and Molly responding with a dig about Daniel. While it’s not cute on either side, the hurtful comments lead to a moment where Issa and Molly are able to acknowledge that their friendship is in disrepair and in major need of fixing. Molly suggests that they talk it out over Thanksgiving pie, which sounds both healing and delicious, and Issa agrees. A time and place are set for them to address the issues in their relationship and hopefully move on to a brighter tomorrow. Their pie date could have solved everything, except …

Issa bails on the pie date

Issa has been acting increasingly self-centered this season. It makes sense: She’s attempting to put the pieces back together from the wreckage of her past relationships and career and trying to start fresh with the block party, and that type of major rebirth takes a lot of energy. However, not all of that self-centered energy is positive. Aided and abetted by her brother, Ahmal (Jean Elie), Issa ditches her family Thanksgiving, choosing to go to a Mexican restaurant instead. Of course, drinking margaritas and listening to a mariachi band is more fun than having an awkwardly early dinner with your mom’s boyfriend’s twin daughters, but on Thanksgiving we make sacrifices for the good of our family.

Issa and her brother, however, did not follow that train of thought, setting off a chain reaction that led to delaying and then bailing on pie with Molly altogether. “I’m done changing myself for people,” Ahmal says at dinner with Issa. “I’m just gonna be me.” While that is solid advice, Issa takes it a little too much to heart and uses it as justification for ditching Molly at the last minute. Issa is exhibiting signs of Narcissism Onset Disorder (NOD), and Molly is beginning to notice a pattern. So, when Issa sends a text saying she can’t make pie, Molly’s response is a resigned “you do you, girl.” She’s over it and can’t be bothered to deal with her flaky friend anymore. Molly is content to take a break from the Issa drama and play every black family’s favorite Thanksgiving game, Taboo.

The winner: #TeamMolly

Episode 4: “Lowkey Losin’ It”:

Who knew not eating pie could have such detrimental effects on a relationship? Fighting over a parking spot outside Tiffany’s house, Issa and Molly’s inability to communicate has reached new heights. Each of them thinks she’s being clear and yet neither of them is being heard, and the argument almost results in a collision.

The demise of Self-Care Sunday

Walking into Tiffany’s house, Issa and Molly acknowledge that they’ve missed the last few Self-Care Sundays because of work, and make half-hearted plans to set aside a new day of the week to spend quality time with each other. The fact that both of their voices jump up two octaves when maintaining their devotion to staying friends belies their true feelings about the state of their friendship, but instead of addressing it, they both turn to other friends to vent. Issa feels like Molly can only see the pattern of her behavior instead of the person she’s striving to become, telling Kelli that she thinks Molly “sees me how she sees me.” Molly feels like Issa’s being hypocritical, telling Tiffany that Issa views her as the “old Molly” when she’s making the same messy mistakes with Lawrence. Surprisingly, Kelli and Tiffany give sound advice: Kelli tells Issa that Molly isn’t trying to be hurtful and might be just “taking shit out on [Issa],” while Tiffany correctly notes that there has been “a communication breakdown” between the pair. Kelli and Tiffany have enough space from the situation to see what’s actually going down, but Issa and Molly continue to see what they want to see. When Issa has to bounce early because of a work emergency, that’s another example of her being selfish to Molly, and when Molly compares her relationship to Tiffany and Derek’s, that’s an example of Molly being delusional to Issa. Their resentment for each other grows, silently, until …

Molly refuses to help Issa

The universe just doesn’t seem to be on Issa’s side in this episode. Condola goes AWOL (so much for new friends), and the block-party headliner, Schoolboy Q, drops out with weeks to go until the event. None of this is Issa’s fault, yet she takes it personally because she’s put all of her time, energy, and most importantly, her self-worth into making this block party a success. As she said earlier in the season, she has no man, no job, and nothing else in her life other than this block party. She is singularly focused on making it a success because if the block party is a success, then she must be as well. As such, it makes sense that she would turn to her best friend Molly, even though they are clearly going through a rough patch, and ask for a favor.

From Molly’s tainted perspective, Issa’s messiness is coming to fruition yet again and she wants no part of it. She tells Issa no, she won’t ask Andrew (who works at Live Nation) to help her book a replacement for Schoolboy Q. It’s a harsh move, but a fair one — it’s her prerogative to not want to mix her love life in with Issa’s business venture. “It means that this relationship is really important to me and … I want to protect that,” Molly says to a shocked Issa. While it’s fair of Molly to exercise passive resistance, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do. When your best friend asks for help, you’d think you’d be able to put shit aside and help them out, but Molly is unable or, more likely, unwilling to do so. It doesn’t help that the episode highlights how Issa really is all alone out here trying to put this block party together. It would have been great to see Molly be the bigger person and help Issa, even if she’s been acting crazy these last few weeks.

The winner, by a hair: #TeamIssa

Episode 5: “Lowkey Movin’ On”

Y’all, it’s the day of the block party and we’ve finally reached the line that kicked off the season: “Honestly, I don’t really fuck with Molly anymore.” Damn. Molly is also aware of where they stand and threatens to not go, telling Andrew, “I love her, but I don’t really like her right now.” Nevertheless, Molly shows up and greets Issa with an awkward hug. When Issa says she’s surprised to see Molly there, Molly says tightly, “Of course I came. I’m your best friend.” Tensions are clearly high, but surely they won’t boil over into a big, public fight that ruins Issa’s big day, right?

The Wobble

For a moment during the block party, it looks like the power of the Wobble might be enough to heal Issa and Molly’s critically wounded friendship. Earlier in the episode, Molly brings Issa some food, they almost have a chance to talk, and there’s a tenderness to the interaction that has been missing all season. Once “The Wobble” plays and they’re dancing alongside each other, the best parts of old Molly and old Issa shine through. They’re laughing. They’re dancing. They’re having a blast. The foundation of their friendship is still intact, somewhere underneath the rubble of the past few months. They are genuinely enjoying each other’s company for the first time since the first scene in the season premiere. Now that Andrew and Molly are official and Issa’s block party is a certified success, it almost seems as though they are able to put the past behind them, bury the hatchet, and let bygones be bygones, until …

The big blowup

At the 11th hour, Molly finds out that Issa went behind her back and contacted Andrew to book Vince Staples, the new headliner for the block party. This may not sound like a big deal on its face, but given the fact that Molly told Issa that she didn’t want to involve Andrew in the block party, she sees this as a complete betrayal. For Molly, it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. When Molly confronts Issa about this, all hell breaks loose. Issa calls Molly “miserable” and claims that all Molly wants is to “see her fail.” Molly says Issa’s “the same selfish bitch” she’s always been. They almost throw hands toward the end, but luckily (?) someone at the block party pulls a gun out and everyone disperses, leading to Molly crying into Andrew’s arms and Issa standing alone in the rain.

One of the beauties of Insecure is how often two things can be true at once. Yes, Issa shadily went behind Molly’s back, but that decision was also vital to the success of her block party. Yes, Molly overreacted to Issa’s betrayal, but the source of her pain is justified given the status of her and Issa’s relationship. While there are legitimately hurt feelings on both sides, this final fight isn’t really about anything that went down at the block party. Issa and Molly are fighting about every slight, every jab about “messiness” and “happiness” that paved the way to their disconnect. Yes, they almost come to blows, but every unspoken thought and every stifled rebuttal is louder in that moment than anything Issa and Molly are shouting at each other. The beauty of this season is that, like actual humans, they are ultimately both right and wrong, simultaneously. Molly judges Issa too harshly, while Issa hasn’t truly been there for Molly the entire season. Their dysfunction has reached the point of no return, unless one of them is willing to take responsibility for their role in the demise of their friendship. While it may not have rained on Issa’s parade, it’s all showers on the forecast for Issa and Molly’s relationship.

The winner: #TeamNoOne

Who’s at Fault for Molly and Issa’s Insecure Fight?