The HBO comedy ended its second season with a structural shake-up and a devastating conclusion.
Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for September 9 through 16 is “Hella Perspective,” the second season finale of HBO’s Insecure.
Two seasons into Insecure, everyone on the show has changed just enough to know that they should probably stop making the same mistakes over and over again — but not quite enough to know how to avoid making those mistakes in the first place.
The second season of Insecure was at least in theory about how Issa (co-creator Issa Rae), Molly (Yvonne Orji), and Lawrence (Jay Ellis) were trying to pull themselves together after the tumultuous first season left them unsure of their places in the world. But over the course of eight episodes, each character put a lot of stock into selling the appearance of moving forward while indulging their time-honored bullshit on the side.
Yet if the characters have been stuck in a rut, Insecure itself is anything but. Despite a couple of bumps along the way — namely this season’s “Hella Disrespectful,” a confusing series low note — the second season was more ambitious and self-assured than the first. It settled into a steady groove in terms of both its voice and its lush filming style, established by Rae and director Melina Matsoukas, respectively, finding a way to balance Issa, Molly, and Lawrence’s stories even when they barely intersected.
Written by Rae, “Hella Perspective” is about as fitting a coda to the season as Insecure could have pulled off. Clocking in at a longer-than-usual 48 minutes, the episode tells three stories covering the same month, but from Issa, Molly, and Lawrence’s vastly differing perspectives. (Also: a bonus post-credits montage of clips from Due North, the fictional slavery soap opera all the Insecure characters are not-so-secretly obsessed with.)
This season finale shows how Insecure’s core cast has grown enough to acknowledge their mistakes while still being tempted enough by their old patterns to keep running back into their familiar arms. Maybe most significantly, it closes a crucial chapter that will make it easier for the show to move on, even if its characters have trouble doing the same.
The episode’s format is a smart, incisive way to cover more ground
“Hella Perspective” takes a structural gamble that pays off. It covers a full month of each of the three main characters’ lives, and even as they inevitably overlap, each section is distinctive enough that we get a real sense of what it was like to live this month as Lawrence, Molly, and Issa (in that order).
Lawrence’s chapter is a series of tentatively promising developments, like a blossoming relationship with his co-worker Aparna, or the slow and steady setup for his new apartment. Still, Lawrence has always been a character guided by hesitation, excited about the possibilities of the future while standing frozen on the edge of diving into it. As the month wears on, the promise of its beginning fades, leaving Lawrence jealous and frustrated, mired in the paranoia he inherited once Issa revealed she had cheated on him. But the ultimate failure of Lawrence’s month isn’t a surprise, because every time his section jumps forward in time, it does so off his thousand-yard stare. Yet when it finally ends, the camera switches positions, tracking his slow, dread-filled walk to Issa’s front door. (Matsoukas, as always, films these transitions and moments of truth with a keen eye for detail, making every shot count.)
Molly’s month looks at first glance like the most productive. Fed up after realizing her law firm is paying a white male lawyer at her level more than her — and that they’re unlikely to do much of anything about it — she starts taking meetings with other firms. She goes back to therapy, and takes it seriously. She decides to try dating a kind colleague, who might not be her type but makes her laugh. But shortly after her month comes to its end, the show reveals that she’s still been sleeping with her friend Dro, whose open marriage technically allows them to be together, but probably not nearly enough for the level of intimacy they’re both indulging.
Issa’s month comes last, and following her overall fraught arc this season, it’s a mess through and through. Gentrification in Inglewood — or “Iwood,” as a chipper white cold brew enthusiast calls it to Issa’s horrified face — prices her out of her apartment. Her mishandling of a work crisis ends with her supervisor questioning her ability to do the job at all. Her love life, which briefly thrived midseason, is dead on the vine. So it’s not exactly a surprise that her month ends with her standing in an empty apartment, calling Lawrence for what she figures is one last time, asking him to come get his remaining things as she tries to make a clean break with her old life.
Spending as much as a month with each person in such a condensed amount of airtime means the show can burn through a greater amount of story. With only eight episodes this season to cover significant stories — namely Molly angling for a better position at work and the aftermath of Issa and Lawrence’s harrowing breakup — “Hella Perspective” solves the logistical problem of moving the plot along enough to get everyone to where they need to be in order to set up the third season.
It also moves Issa and Lawrence to the place where they need to be for what’s likely the season’s finest scene overall, in which they finally come back together to make peace — or something like it, anyway.
Lawrence and Issa’s breakup fueled most of season two. Putting it to rest is a big step forward for them — and a bigger one for Insecure.
As smart as the “one month in the life of [x character] conceit” is, the moment when “Hella Perspective” goes from good to great is the moment it drops that structure entirely. After seeing Lawrence trudge up the stairs to his old apartment, Issa’s month merges with that moment when she, too, does the final climb upstairs for a final walkthrough — and comes in to see her ex-partner, leaning against a wall and staring into the distance. At this moment, both the episode and the broken couple — who ripped into each other in the previous episode — drop their pretenses to have the most honest talk Insecure has ever seen.
“I’m sorry for not being who you expected me to be,” Lawrence tells Issa with unprecedented sincerity, before adding with more than a little bitterness, “who I expected me to be.”
“I wanted to be better for you, because of you,” Issa counters. “But somewhere along the way, I depended on you to be better for both of us. And when you were going through what you were going through, I didn’t know how to handle it.”
Rae and Ellis, both of whom leveled up their acting this season as they grew more comfortable with the rhythms of their characters, are gut-wrenching in this scene. Issa and Lawrence blink back tears before letting them fall, admitting their faults and laying their regrets bare. When Issa allows herself a brief series of fantasies of the happy life they could have had together — complete with a giddy wedding, passionate sex, and growing a warm family — it’s an obvious fallacy that is no less heartbreaking for its transparency.
Finally, they say how much they love each other. Finally, they say goodbye.
It’s a beautiful scene — and one the show needed to have in order to move on.
Many of the best moments this season have come out of Issa and Lawrence trying, and failing, to reconcile the expectations they had for their lives versus the messes they eventually had to sift through for some kernel of comfort. But as Hannah Giorgis points out in a great piece at the Ringer, “Insecure has given us a breakup without a relationship.” Having met Lawrence and Issa at their lowest when the show began, we’ve never known what it’s like for these two to be happy together. We know their breakup is sad, but we don’t know exactly what they’ve lost besides some semblance of stability.
Shutting the door on their relationship, wrenching though it is, opens up a whole world of possibilities for Insecure. Even if season three finds them all stumbling in ways we’ve seen before, they’ll at least be stumbling in different directions.
The first two seasons of Insecure are currently streaming on HBO Go and available on demand.
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Author: Caroline Framke
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