This week I’m pinch-hitting for the great Hari Ziyad, and I consider it an honor to cover Insecure in their stead. And what a wild episode to cover: Single Issa attempts to make her big return, Molly reconnects with an old friend to the tune of one of the greatest romantic ballads of all time (I don’t believe in marriage or weddings, but when I hear Juvey’s “Slow Motion” it makes me think maybe I should start believing in marriage and weddings, if only to play this as the first dance song) and Lawrence recreates an iconic threesome scene from He Got Game.
“Hella LA” is ultimately a fun episode, with some bizarre threads, but I can’t help but notice that, for a show that centers on young, mostly single women in Los Angeles, Insecure sure seems hellbent (hella bent?) on convincing us that being single is just the absolute worst thing ever. Unfortunately, like many other series, single life is presented as that difficult phase in between the real thing: the committed relationships. The sophomore season has relied heavily on the “dating is so awful and awkward” trope, and if it weren’t for Kelli, played by the great Natasha Rothwell, I’d wonder if the writers on this show had ever met a woman who was legitimately content hooking up with guys and getting in her orgasms whenever and wherever (#DinerFingerFuckForTheWin) she can. This episode, I thought, would be different, especially coming on the tail of Issa’s recent hookup with neighbor bae, and her promise to her friends—as they entered a day party I now desperately want to attend, Kiss-And-Grind—that “Single Issa” was back. It would have been so refreshing to see her flirting and grinding her way through that party. But instead her past caught up with her, in the form of Daniel, and Cat Bae (did I mention I love Kelli? Kelli is everything.) immediately shut her down. We were told that there’s some version of Issa who would have ended up drunk and semi-nude in the pool by the end of the party, and I’d have given just about anything to see this version of her—or any version where she wasn’t struggling to be single and enjoy single life. But we mostly get another not-quite-turnt outing for the girls, where Issa and Molly both end up disappointed (though for very different reasons) and Kelli wins the night.
Molly’s narrative does offer up at least the potential for something interesting to happen. Although I’d be shocked to see her try out things with Dro, and see what it’s like to sleep with a guy who’s in an open marriage, it’d be a welcome change of pace for her. Plus, the chemistry between the two characters cannot be denied. Molly also reveals that she’s obsessed with this idea of replicating what her parents had, but the truth is that she doesn’t really know what her parents had—it wasn’t her relationship, and unless you’re in it, there’s no way to know for sure how people make their marriages work. And even if she ever did find true, monogamous, heterosexual love, there’s a strong chance that she’d look at her relationship and still feel that it wasn’t what she’d always dreamed of—that it didn’t hold up to the construct in her mind. She’s going to have to let go of some of those expectations, and I think Dro would be a great start.
Still, “Hella LA” is a tough episode to watch, especially after having just seen Girls Trip this weekend. There’s a tameness to the main characters that I just didn’t have a taste for this weekend, and it was highlighted not only by my experience watching Tiffany Haddish in the role of a lifetime, but also by the episode itself and the sex scene between Lawrence and the two white girls (I realize one was Asian, but she was, uh, culturally white in this episode). Now, I’m not in the business of defending the image of white girls on TV, but these characters were complete tropes that we’ve all seen before, and I have to assume their scenes were written to coincide (or conflict) with Lawrence’s DWB moment. The scene with the police officers actually felt completely authentic, as we saw Lawrence going through the motions of fear and compliance, after being pulled over for a minor traffic offense. The scene isn’t directly about police brutality or so-called bad police (sidenote: they’re all bad), but instead is about how a completely normal and appropriate interaction between an officer and a citizen is still and always terrifying for a black person. Lawrence might have been less surprised had the interaction ended in a ticket, his arrest, or even his death. He is shocked to have been treated like a human, and that is a powerful thing to relay in such a brief scene. That Lawrence goes on to sleep with a white woman who verbally celebrates his “big black cock” during the act could be understood as proof of the kind of whiteness and racism we find acceptable. Police brutality = bad. Two white girls who want to sleep with you because you’re black (and because of that great experience they had with LeMarcus) = totally fine. But isn’t there violence in both?
And yet, I found myself begrudgingly championing the two women in the moment when they promptly ended the night, after Lawrence failed to live up to their expectations. It’s true that their expectations were based on stereotypes they’d formed over a number of sexual experiences with black men, but without meaning to, perhaps, Insecure sent the message that there’s a sexual freedom that comes more easily to white women. They cared little for Lawrence, his needing to catch his breath or his promise of future orgasms for all. “Why did you come?” one sexually satisfied friend asked, in defense of the friend who hadn’t come yet. In truth, more women should be asking this question (on TV and in real life); it’s such a great line, and it’s disappointing that it had to come from two racist Beckys on Insecure. I’m sure it will be argued that I’m either reading too much into this, or misreading it entirely (after all, the white women are clearly presented as ridiculous jokes), but when I think about the ease with which these women went after what they wanted, and then left it behind when it proved to be less than they hoped for, I can’t help but also think about the messages we send and receive concerning white female sexuality and black female sexuality. (Where’s that Hortense Spillers quote about black women being the “beached whales” of the sexual universe when you need it?) It’s for this reason that I’m especially thankful for Kelli’s moment of glory.
Do not underestimate the power of a black woman getting fingered under a diner table on her diet cheat day while her friends sit through lame interactions with other guys. It’s a moment that reminds us that being single is hella fun, if only you’d embrace it. Kelli’s experience even sends Issa over to Daniel’s table, and I pray it inspires Molly to break a few of her rules and try to live a little. Some of you right in front of my salad types may have found yourselves concerned with the hygienic aspects of the whole thing, but this final scene gives me hope that Insecure will finally allow more of its characters to embrace all that can be freeing and glorious about single life with your girls.
Shannon M. Houston is a Staff Writer on Hulu’s upcoming series The Looming Tower. She is the former TV Editor of Paste Magazine, and her work has appeared in Salon, Indiewire’s Shadow and Act, and Heart&Soul. She currently has more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.