Issa Rae’s brilliant comedy-drama, Insecure, made a return in April earlier this year, coinciding with the start of lockdown around the world, providing audiences with a weekly reminder of a world we once knew. From Molly (Yvonne Orji) and Issa’s (Issa Rae) shopping trips, to the successful block party; this timely reconciliation with Issa’s LA living provided it’s global audience with a much needed escape from the grievances of the real world.
There is a lot to be said of this season, particularly because it’s Insecure’s most relatable and emotionally-honest season to date. It’s central themes of growth, relationships and truly ‘maturing’ into adulthood are framed in the comedic drama form, beautifully capturing the multifaceted dualities of real life. In many ways, life is an ongoing balancing act of aspiration against an often sobering reality. Insecure captures this to perfection. It doesn’t conform to the idealistic tropes of television, it doesn’t sugar-coat the uncomfortable experiences in life and it definitely doesn’t give us what we want; but neither does life. It’s so refreshing to see television that is raw and unfiltered by Hollywood conventions, and this is why it resonates so deeply with its audience.
Molly and Issa’s friendship has always been a central component of Insecure. Yet in season 4, their friendship is put to the test and examined in a way many television shows wouldn’t dare to do. Their relationship has been far from perfect; from Issa’s unprovoked “Broken Pussy” performance (season 1), to Molly’s unwarranted intervention in Nathan’s attempt at making amends (season 3). They have pushed the boundaries of friendship for a while now, and the cracks are beginning to show.
There’s no denying that individually they have grown across this season. Issa, professionally in her career ambitions and Molly, emotionally, in her willingness to finally commit to a relationship with Asian-bae, Andrew (Alexander Hodge). Ultimately, the personal and circumstantial change that accompanies growth threw the equilibrium of their relationship off balance. Perhaps Molly saw Issa’s growth and newfound independence as a threat to the function of their relationship. Molly had always been the ‘successful’ one, so seeing Issa’s success may have triggered Molly’s perception of herself.
But as the season draws to an end, we come to learn that Molly is the least of Issa’s worries. The season opens with the blossoming of Issa’s friendship with Condola (Christina Elmore), as known as canola oil, condolences, condola virus, thanks to Twitter. In many ways, Condola initially fills the space that Molly left in Issa’s life. They form a friendship, which Molly is initially threatened by, until the revelation of Lawrence’s (Jay Ellis) romance with Condola is revealed. Condola’s character acts as a cyclical plot point throughout season 4. The same way Condola triggers the breakdown of Issa’s friendship with Molly at the beginning, she triggers the potential breakdown between Issa’s and Lawrence’s relationship at the end. Though, Issa and Lawrence’s reconciliation was sealed from the moment we heard Mya’s Case Of The Ex at the end of episode 3. We all knew what was happening next…
The final poignant moment of the season finale sees Molly and Issa reunited under common ground: the same notorious Ethiopian restaurant that has always been a landmark of their relationship. This uncertain conclusion is bittersweet in many ways. Of course, there’s potential for their reconciliation to mark a turning point in their relationship. But equally, their growth across the season includes their growing apart, could this signify that they are both back to square one? Is this simply a moment of trauma bonding that ultimately will delay the inevitable fate of their fractured friendship? Whatever happens, this final moment says a lot about the foundation of their relationship. Old habits die hard.
It would be an injustice to this season, to not discuss the incredible cinematographic work of Ava Berkofsky. Insecure has always captured Black skin incredibly in the scenic and iconic backdrop of LA. It’s vibrant aesthetic and striking imagery is just as characteristic to the show as it’s very own characters. The shots of Nipsey Hussle’s and Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s murals in LA ensure to pay tribute to the late icons of the city. As the show blossoms into a league of its own, the calibre of cinematography closely follows. And in season 4, the quality of storytelling paired up with the quality of cinematography. However, television and film has historically only accounted for the lighting of white skin. In the 1940s, Kodak would test the colour accuracy of their film against images of white women, and white women only . It wasn’t till the 70s, when Kodak began improving the appearance of brown tones on camera.
Berkofsky’s lens captures Black bodies beautifully, as they should be. One of the staples of her direction, is the iconic stand off-esque shots whereby two characters face each other either side of the frame. These shots have been familiar to the show since its infancy, and they serve almost as a way of both foregrounding the trajectory of the relationship. In many ways, the shot of Issa and Lawrence stood against the neon lights in episode 4 foreshadowed their fate. Lawrence being illuminated by the red iridescent glow, almost symbolic of danger; whilst Issa is surrounded with this almost angelic soft blue glow, gazing up at Lawrence, unbeknownst to what awaits her.
The few moments that may have let this season down is the soap operatic bombshell of Condola’s pregnancy, a moment that was almost predictable. I suspected Lawrence had cheated – but the actuality was a lot worse. It reminded me of the heart breaking montage in the season 2 finale, when Issa imagines her future with Lawrence. Engagement, marriage and having their first child, together. Now that that’s been taken away from her, her perceived future with Lawrence is deeply fragmented. Leaving Issa well and truly lost. Equally, the narrative of Tiffany’s post-partum depression was almost thrown into the final episode to add elevated tension to the final episode. Subtle hints were dropped to Tiffany’s struggles in previous episodes – but this narrative twist felt out of place.
Insecure’s season 4 was an real journey; an emotional journey into the constraints and rewards in the pursuit of desire. Contrary to the endings of previous seasons, season 4 is the first where we see the characters regress against progress made. The reason we invest so deeply in characters we admire is because we want to see them grow, or at least on the cusp of growth. It’s an uncomfortable viewing experience when we don’t see this. But perhaps this is exactly why Insecure is so brilliant, it’s unapologetically real. The main characters are written to be incredibly multifaceted, so much so that you have to remind yourself they’re not real people. The penultimate scene of Issa smoking a spliff as the sun sets behind her gives us a glimpse of hope for her future. Maybe season 5 will see Issa grow into her own as an independent woman, or maybe she’ll resume her old habits. Either way, time will tell.