Insecure - Season 3
“While other shows may cast black supporting characters, seldom do we see our unique life experiences centered.”
Episodes Reviewed: Season 3
Creators: Issa Rae 👩🏾🇺🇸 and Larry Wilmore 👨🏾🇺🇸
Writers: Issa Rae 👩🏾🇺🇸 (2 eps), Amy Aniobi 👩🏾🇺🇸 (1 ep), Ben Dougan 👨🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), Dayna Lynne North 👩🏾🇺🇸 (1 ep), Regina Y. Hicks 👩🏾🇺🇸 (1 ep), Laura Kittrell 👩🏼🇺🇸 (1 ep), Prentice Penny 👨🏾🇺🇸 (1 ep), and Natasha Rothwell 👩🏾🇺🇸 (1 ep)
Reviewed by Dominique S. Johnson 👩🏾🇺🇸
When Insecure first premiered in 2016, I was glued to the show week after week as I got to know the playfully eclectic character of Issa (Issa Rae) and her ambitious friend Molly (Yvonne Orji). Whether watching their romantic shenanigans or office-related drama, the show felt so relatable for anyone in their mid- to late- 20s. Season 2 came with more incisive episodes, tracking Issa through her hoe phase after she cheated on her boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis). Meanwhile, Molly dealt with internal politics at her law firm as the only person of color, all while juggling her own love life.
These first two seasons established the deep connections between Issa and her friends, allowing for Season 3 to take a step back and examine where boundaries need to put in place to ensure that those connections last. This theme is tackled right out of the gate—within the first thirty seconds of the season premiere, an explicit sex scene takes place between Issa’s old friend Daniel (Y’Lan Noel) and a random girl while Issa awkwardly tries to fall asleep on the couch, just a few feet away. Later in the season, Issa and Daniel come close to hooking up themselves, and it forces them to realize that they’re better off keeping the firm boundary of friendship between them. Among friends, Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) and Tiffany (Amanda Seales) experience some drift due to Tiffany’s pregnancy. We watch as the ongoing march of adulthood can force people to shift and reestablish their boundaries with loved ones.
The theme is an interesting one, but momentum does dip halfway through Season 3. Luckily the Coachella episode “High-Like” (Season 3, Episode 5) ramps it right back up with the kind of writing and cinematography that’s earned Insecure its critical acclaim. The episode is funny from start to finish, and I’m still mesmerized by the Ferris wheel scene with its visual mastery, of seeing Issa and Nathan’s (Kendrick Sampson) illuminated skin against the darkness of the night.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Insecure has always been about the empowerment of black women. That mantra continues in its third season by maintaining the core dynamic between four black women who are close friends despite their varying backgrounds and careers. Even among minor characters, writers focus primarily on women.
We watch Issa, Molly, Kelli, and Tiffany wade through the murky waters of their late 20s as they transition into the next phase of their adult lives. Better yet, we’re seeing it from a fresh angle: by following black women, Insecure is one of the few shows to tackle the intersectional struggles of not just gender discrimination, but the way anti-blackness dovetails into it. For example, in “Better-Like” (Season 3, Episode 1), viewers see Molly at her new job at a black-owned law firm. On paper, this should be a relief from her last office where she was the sole attorney of color, yet she still finds herself hesitant to speak up lest she fall into the stereotype of an “angry black woman.” Paralleling this self-consciousness, Issa also struggles to speak up during a meeting at We Got Y’all, the non-profit organization she’s been at for over 10 years.
By examining gender relations with this unique perspective, Insecure establishes itself as a crucial voice in feminist stories on TV right now.
While other shows may cast black supporting characters, seldom do we see our unique life experiences centered and reflected back at us. Beyond featuring black men and women in primary roles, Season 3 also includes other ethnicities to show a holistic picture of how cultural backgrounds ebb and flow against each other.
Career-building remains a major theme of the show and it’s refreshing to see it from the perspective of black women as they navigate majority-white spaces. In Season 3, Issa finally does something about her discontent at the liberal, but almost entirely white organization of We Got Y’all. The difficult decision to quit a stable but unfulfilling job reflects a multilayered experience of not only how a long-held role can feel stagnant, but also how black employees must keep their mouths closed and their opinions to themselves to avoid coming off as angry in a society that is primed to expect such behavior.
Other shows may buckle under the weight of such complex messaging, but thanks to authentically hired, all-black talent behind the camera, none of it feels contrived. The unity between showrunners Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore demonstrates that when black men and women work together and create opportunities for one another, something magical can be built for the culture.
Unfortunately, these deeply-rendered portraits of black men and women don’t extend to LGBTQ inclusiveness. Insecure rarely tackles non-straight storylines and has only depicted two queer characters in minor roles across its first three seasons. In Season 1, Molly got involved Jared (Langston Kerman), who confessed to having had a sexual experience with a man before. It promptly weirded her out, to the point where she dishes to her friends that she “wants her man to be a MAN.” Luckily, the writers took it as an opportunity to call Molly out on being “homophobic AF,” but then the show undercut its own messaging by relegating Jared to mere device. Instead of fleshing out his character, viewers pivot to Molly and her friends as they contemplate queerness from a straight lens—what do you do about romantic partners who might not be 100% heterosexual? After this short plot point, we don’t see Jared again until the Season 3 finale and even then, Molly still acts anxious and weird around him.
Besides Jared, the only other LGBTQ character on the show is Issa’s brother Ahmal (Jean Elie), who is gay. He only makes it to 6 episodes of the 24 that have aired, and it isn’t clear whether or not he’ll still be in Season 4.
Overall, I don’t think Rae is necessarily afraid of bringing in more LGBTQ storylines or characters. She told Essence last year that “it’s just figuring out the right way to do that. I think so many other shows are doing a great job without feeling like it’s shoehorned and it fits in naturally. For us, it’s just about finding the most natural way.” But Rae said this going into Season 3, and now that we’re on the other side of that, I’m still left wondering—where the LGBTQ characters at?
Mediaversity Grade: B- 3.88/5
Insecure accurately evokes and affirms the life experiences of so many black Millennials—a demographic that seldom sees their particular struggles reflected in a major way. It makes Rae’s voice one of the more important ones on TV today, and luckily, HBO seems to recognize that as Season 4 has already been green-lit and is slated for 2019.
With its next run of episodes, I hope to see writers shake up their usual topics and recapture some of the show’s early vigor. But even with its hiccups, and its continued hesitation to give LGBTQ characters more depth, Insecure remains one of the strongest representations of Black Girl Magic on TV right now.