Sunday, August 12, 2018

REVIEW: 'Insecure' - Issa and Molly Struggle to Express What They Want to the World in 'Better-Like'

HBO's Insecure - Episode 3.01 "Better-Like"

Issa crashes on Daniel's couch and tries to save up some extra cash. Molly returns from a beach vacation with renewed determination to maintain boundaries in her life.

This is such a confident premiere for Insecure. Neither Issa nor Molly are all that confident with the choices and actions they are doing and making right now. But the show has such confidence and conviction with the way that it is telling their stories of insecurity and uncertainty. Issa is crashing on Daniel's couch until she makes enough money as a Lyft driver to afford her own apartment again. She is determined to make her way back up to field work for We Got Y'all as well. Meanwhile, Molly is empowered to ask for everything that she deserves at a new law firm. She also wants to establish rules with Dro to ensure that their sexual relationship doesn't become any more complicated. They believe they have these convictions. And yet, it's also so difficult for them to be certain with what they want and actually express it to the people around them. The series is always at its most electric when Issa and Molly are together. They are able to call each other out for their bad decisions. There is the frustrating quality that both of them should be learning from their mistakes by now. But there is still the ability to relate to both of them as well. The two of them being insecure about what they want is what led to their current predicaments. And now, they are getting older but still don't have their lives completely figured out where they are satisfied with what they have. They are trying to obtain that happiness. But their actions only confuse those around them. Molly continues to allow Dro into her life as a friend dating her instead of just as a regular sexual partner. Meanwhile, Issa tells Daniel that she doesn't want to get back together again but then changes her mind about wanting someone like him who is reliable in her life. It's all so completely scattered and has the potential of being annoying to the audience. But it never is because the show has such a good hold on these characters and the struggles they are currently facing in their lives. The stories are such low stakes but are of so much importance to the main characters.

"Better-Like" opens with the tease that Daniel and Issa are having sex again. She made the choice to go to his place after being forced out of her apartment. This was a decision that she made. She didn't go to Molly. She couldn't make things work again with Lawrence. There was no way she could do right by him. So now, she is moving on with her life. There is some clarity to that. The show is highlighting that by moving away from Lawrence entirely. This is now the journey for Issa and Molly as they are figuring out their lives. Issa has moved on but that doesn't mean she has clarity on what she wants from Daniel. They have such a complicated history. He played such an important role in the destruction of Issa and Lawrence's relationship. It was because Issa felt insecure and yearning for more that she looked for that outside of the relationship. All she got because of that was a return to the single life. She is single once more. Something could start up with Daniel again. But that could also feel like a betrayal to her past because things have been so complicated with him. He is there and allowing her to sleep on his couch. But that's not stopping him from having sex with other women. It's not Issa in his bed at the start of the season. Instead, Issa is on the couch unable to sleep because of all the noises coming from the other room. She wants comfort and stability with Daniel. This is far from that. In fact, she is only feeling more uncomfortable and awkward. She doesn't belong in this place. As such, she continues to look to the outside world for an escape. She wants a place to belong but right now she has to put in the work to try to make that a reality for her.

Again, it would be so easy for Issa and Daniel to fall back into old patterns. Daniel does go in for the kiss at one point in time. They are having a nice moment together. They share some drinks with Issa proving that she may understand the impact he has on music better than anyone else he has been with. She can tell when he adds a live instrument to a recording. He too is feeling very stuck in his career. It's fascinating to spend some time in Daniel's personal world here. He is now stepping up as an important character. As such, the episode follows him around as he's at the studio and picking up a guitar. It shows that he has responsibilities in this world that extend far beyond Issa. He has other things to do than worry about whether or not she is into him. But he's so confused about what she wants and what he wants as well. Right now, he is juggling two women. He's fine with that because he lives in the uncertainty of what the future might hold. Issa wants to establish ground rules. She is only staying with him as a friend. She doesn't expect anything more than that right now. She just wants a heads up whenever he is bringing over a women to have sex. She wants to be out of the apartment then. She doesn't want to be kept up at night because of the noise. She wants to feel comfortable. But she can't in this new living situation. So instead, she tries to escape to her work. The non-profit world is becoming tough for her. She is trying to prove her value and her boss only yells at her. Meanwhile, working as a Lyft driver only proves just how crazy and chaotic that world can be with great passengers leaving no tips and fights actually breaking out in the backseat.

All of this is what makes it so surprising when Issa chooses to leave even when she does feel comfortable in this environment. She confesses to Daniel that the true reason she is staying with him is because she likes him and wants to depend on their friendship. He is so confused by all of the different messages that she is sending out. He doesn't know how to interpret anything she is saying. She could easily contradict herself at a later point in time. She is searching for what she wants as well. Until she figures it out, it may not be important for Daniel to try to understand her and her intentions. He could just go back to his room instead of dealing with her confession. And yet, they do have a sweet and innocent moment on the couch together. Issa is just watching television when Daniel comes out ready to go out on the town for the night. He is living his own life and hanging out with his friends. For a moment, he just sits and watches the comedy with her. It's an interaction that doesn't have a whole lot of dialogue to it. But it also has the perception of two friends just being supportive of each other right before they go live their separate lives. It's what Issa was seemingly asking for earlier in the episode. She just wants to feel safe and secure while crashing in this environment. Even when she gets it though, she still feels uncomfortable. Immediately afterwards, she has to turn off the television and go back to being a Lyft driver. She keeps saying that she is going to quit that job because it isn't worth it. But she keeps being pulled back to it because of the urgency she still feels to get a place of her own. Right now, she wants to be focusing solely on the money she's making. But that could also be seen as a nice distraction for her instead of figuring out her life and what she wants.

Elsewhere, Molly starts the season on a vacation. She's on a beach with a sexy man tending to her every needs. She believes she returns home with the clarity she seeks regarding her life. She had the opportunity to take this vacation. She had the vacation to pamper herself after working so hard and stressing out about many things in her life. She believes she has the confidence to tell people exactly what she wants. She makes her demands clear to her new employers. She tells her vacation boyfriend that she is going to keep their relationship contained to this brief moment on the beach. She doesn't want to do a long-distance thing with him. She wants Dro to just be a sexual partner instead of someone who stays the night and makes pancakes for her the next morning in between phone calls with his wife. She says all of these things out loud. But she still encourages people into believing that she wants more as well. She still tells Dro all about her plans for landing this new job on her own terms. She informs him that this contract negotiation turned out great for her. She caves and is willing to celebrate with him through an actual date. Not even driving around with Issa as a Lyft driver is enough to distract her from what's going to happen later on. She is there to support her best friend while also having a good time with Dro. But she's also incredibly thrown by him using his key to get into her apartment. She gave that to him as a message that he is more than happy to come over whenever. She shouldn't be surprised to see him. But she wants to establish these boundaries and does so in a way that only destroys the relationship for good. That may ultimately be for the best because of how awkward she was trying to navigate things with him and his wife. But again, she lacks the perception to know that she is wavering in her new convictions already even though she believes she got some major victories right away.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Better-Like" was written by Issa Rae and directed by Prentice Penny.
  • It appears this season is truly digging into the problems that come from Issa being the only person of color working for this non-profit. This organization is selling themselves as a program that can help the underprivileged children of the city. They are working with schools to help students remain engaged with the process. And yet, it's not always encouraging to have well-meaning white people be the face of that message because they can only understand things to a certain extent.
  • All of this also means that Issa's future with the non-profit might be up-in-the-air. She has already been demoted to desk duty. She's not allowed back in the field because of what occurred at the end of last season. That again highlights the lack of diversity in this program. It still took Issa and Frieda too long to realize that the principal was discriminating against certain students. And now, Issa doesn't feel confident to speak up and voice these concerns.
  • Frieda continues to want to present herself as a friend to Issa without also standing up for her at work. She knows that Issa does incredible work in the field. She connects well with the kids in the program. She has solid ideas for how to improve things. But right now, Frieda has been promoted and doesn't want to rock the boat out of fear that it could all be taken away from her quickly as well.
  • It's so important for the show to also explain why Issa simply isn't staying with Molly until she lands on her feet again. It's a silly reason but it's good enough to justify the current situation. Apparently, Issa stayed with Molly for an extended time before and it led to a huge fight over a broken vase. Molly says her best friend broke it while Issa insists that it was already broken when she came home.
  • The show-within-the-show this season is a fictional reboot of a black sitcom. That's biting commentary right off the bat with the overall trend of reboots as well as the lack of any diversity with any of the returning shows. The networks have typically only brought back shows with white leads. And now, it's a way for the show to highlight the important of black sitcoms in being able to say important things while also being broadly funny.