HBO’s Insecure has always been a show about growth. The excellent Issa Rae vehicle, which she also created with Larry Wilmore, centers on Issa, a former nonprofit employee-turned-entrepreneur who is chasing fulfillment, both personally and professionally. In Season 1, Issa’s feelings of stasis at work and in her relationship led her to lash out and threaten the bedrocks of her life; the aftermath then put her on a rocky path to self-discovery, which is still ongoing.
Over the course of four seasons, Issa, her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), her on-again off-again boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis), and their circle of romantic interests, friends, and coworkers have evolved from lost and confused young adults to confident, successful people who have made inroads towards achieving their life goals. But as a show about Millennials, Insecure’s final season leans into this generation’s most incisive fear: why do I still feel so far from where I should be?
In the four episodes of Season 5 that were provided to critics, the show takes care to illuminate how far the crew has come: Issa is recognized on an entrepreneurship panel at her alma mater, Molly adopts an open attitude towards dating, and Lawrence steps up to fulfill his fatherly duties. All of their previous pitfalls—confidence, open-mindedness, responsibility—seem to have worked themselves out, and they’ve come full circle in their evolution into adulthood. But lurking underneath all of these glow-ups is a part of them that still wonders how they got here and why they feel so (to borrow a term) insecure about their decisions?
It’s not uncommon to suffer from imposter syndrome, the feeling of self-doubt that tells you that you’re somehow unworthy of your achievements. In the season premiere, Issa gets a taste of this feeling when she’s unable to answer questions about the future of her business on the panel she was hand-selected for. But she bounces back from that shaky public speaking moment in subsequent episodes and steps into the confidence that seemed to be lacking: where she had once seemed unsure, now Issa stands with poise ready to take on whatever comes next. But what begins unraveling at the end of the fourth episode is this poise, and what’s certain to come in the rest of the season is the regurgitation of Issa’s Millennial fears about her purpose, which may momentarily push her off balance.
As always, Insecure’s cinematography remains striking, especially when framing characters for intense and important conversations. For a show about friends who don’t always say exactly what’s on their minds, the filmmaking always steps in as a guide for the audiences. The last season ended with Issa and Molly on pseudo-good terms, but as their situation remains slightly precarious the camera is a great indicator of the current temperature: when they are at odds, they occupy opposite sides of the screen in their one-shots. The lighting and color-work represent characters’ inner thoughts, bringing unspoken feelings to the surface. Some of this may feel like Cinematography 101, but when these little flares are executed to perfection, it only elevates the entire project.
The great filmmaking is accompanied by fantastic performances from the entire cast. Rae and Orji still have excellent chemistry, and play their friendship’s ups and downs with grace. Ellis conveys so much emotion with just a facial expression, and is given interesting material to work with in the final stretch. Natasha Rothwell continues to be a scene-stealer as Kelli, who is also provided more depth as the series concludes.
Despite my preamble about fears and insecurities, the fun parts of Insecure are still there. The parties, the one-line zingers, the hookups and relationship drama, the mirror raps, and the humanistic portrayals of complicated friendships still fill the screen with so much heart. It’s what the show does best: it shines a light on real people living their lives and dealing with issues in authentic and believable ways. Only now, our favorite characters are committed to growing from their experiences.
Insecure Season 5 premieres Sunday, October 24th on HBO (streaming on HBO Max).
Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has appeared in NY Post’s Decider, Teen Vogue, and will be featured in Brown Girl Magazine‘s first ever print anthology. She is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.
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