The slice-of-life drama of ‘Insecure’ intensifies in its season finale

“Insecure”

“Insecure”
HBO

 

Sunday, December 4, 2016 - 11:51pm
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“Insecure”

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Season Finale

HBO

What makes “Insecure” so fantastic is its nuanced storytelling, characterized by the slice-of-life quality that has become so popular in this most recent television season. The season finale, “Broken as F*ck” is no exception, using this quotidian trend to assert some of its most dramatic and insightful narrative elements.

“Broken as F*ck” doesn’t attempt to hide or justify Issa’s culpability in her falling out with Molly (Yvonne Orji, “Love That Girl!”) or her painful breakup with Lawrence (Jay Ellis, “The Game”) after cheating on him with Daniel (Y’lan Noel, “The Hustle”). Rather, it explores these self-inflicted circumstances with depth and poignancy.

After the previous episode’s jarring wake-up call, Issa is more than ready to redeem herself with Lawrence, calling him multiple times and even showing up at his office to bring by a thoughtful gift. But she’s not getting off the hook that easily, and the episode strings us along on the precarious hope that he will forgive her and they’ll live happily ever after.

“Insecure” isn’t about that, however. It’s about telling things how they really are, even when it’s not pleasant. On a girls trip for Kelli’s (Natasha Rothwell, “The Characters”) birthday, the women — Issa, Kelli, Molly and Tiffany (Amanda Seales, “My Brother and Me”) get unpleasantly and hilariously real with one another. Kelli and Tiffany barely hold back fits of cackling while pointing out to Molly the hypocrisy in her “new Molly” attitude that allows her to do whatever she wants and own it, even if it’s having a one night stand with a much younger man from a nightclub.

Tiffany and Kelli aren’t safe from the group’s ridicule either, also getting the most glaring flaws in their lives thrown in their faces during the riotous hot tub scene. While it may not be pretty, it ties into the theme of facing reality that has bubbled throughout the season and broken to the surface in “Broken as F*ck.”   

As Issa faces her reality, Molly and Lawrence are similarly forced to take a hard look at themselves. The episode is structured around these parallels, smartly binding each character’s harrowing journey to come to terms with what’s happened and their own realizations with Issa’s own path to contrition.

In unintentionally hurting those she loves most, Issa is forced to finally take action, in contrast to her stagnation throughout the season, and assert herself to get her relationship back with Lawrence and Molly’s forgiveness. The clever organization of this episode is extremely understated. Without calling attention to the painstaking care taken in fulfilling the show’s themes, the finale provides a smooth transition into the next chapter of Issa’s life following this season.

While it’s agonizing to see Issa try to face Lawrence and Molly’s rejection and anger over and over again, the repetitive, slow pace of the episode lends itself to the emotional power of this agony and makes Issa and Molly’s reconciliation all the more rewarding. It’s not a sappy moment either, but rather the quick and unexpected kind where the emotional reverse plays out as a slight, emotive gesture and a gratifying return to normalcy.

The simmering drama throughout the episode finds its comedic relief in Kelli, the hilarious, outspoken birthday girl who prompts the group of friends to break out of their comfort zones. By setting Issa and Molly’s conflict in the intimate setting of Kelly’s birthday trip, the finale intensifies the tension between the two characters while also cutting through it with moments of forthright comedy. But the humor isn’t enough to distract from Issa’s inescapable issues.

Meanwhile, Lawrence attempts to escape his misery at a strip club with his friends, a jarring setting in contrast to Issa’s (mostly) peaceful girls weekend. When Lawrence finally calls Issa, it’s the moment of relief we’ve all been waiting for — their reunion is imminent and the long, drawn-out anticipation will finally find a satisfying end. However, we’re in for a rude awakening when Lawrence’s unexpected vengeance on Issa reveals that he’s not the man neither we nor Issa believed he was.

Maybe “Insecure” doesn’t aim to tell us who its characters are, but who they can be. From its genesis, the series follows Issa through the ups and downs of transformative decisions and challenges in her relationship, career and friendships. The show has shaped a complex and acute character in Issa in just eight episodes. And while Issa is the protagonist around which the entire series is molded, the supporting characters serve an incredibly important role in exploring themes of love, life and identity in the series — most notably in “Broken as F*ck,” in which the highly conceptual structure thoughtfully indicates the robust development of the series’ characters.

In doing so, “Insecure” resolves many of the storylines it has carefully nurtured throughout the eight-episode season with incredible subtlety, tying its assertive ending back to the very beginning of the season by demonstrating how far its characters have come. The season finale succeeds not only because it does this so well, but also because it leaves room for uncertainty. Though we see an enormous change in Issa and in the course of her relationship, we’re left wondering what comes next for her following the pivotal season finale.  

The series strives to challenge Issa in the people she’s surrounded with. And it challenges us to think about what Issa’s development really means and what changes will come of it. If this season and its finale have shown us anything, it’s that we can look forward to watching Issa grow in engaging ways.