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‘Insecure’ praises gratitude and growth – Daily Trojan

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A group of five people walking on a college campus.
Issa Rae is back with season 5 of “Insecure,” returning with “Reunited, Okay?!” on Sunday, Oct. 24. The premiere picks up where the season four finale’s cliffhanger left off and returns our protagonists to their alma mater. (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Insecure’s” final season kicked off Sunday night with the same brand of unfeigned, gorgeously shot comedy that earned the show nearly a dozen Emmy nominations.

The HBO comedy-drama series follows Issa (Issa Rae), a Black woman living in Los Angeles in her early 30s who struggles to overcome relationship drama, social issues and her own inner anxieties alongside her best friend and fellow protagonist Molly (Yvonne Orji). Critics have praised “Insecure” for its heartfelt portrayal of Black characters’ personal strifes, which creators Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore intended to “convey that people of color are relatable … This is about regular people living life.”

Sixteen months after the season four finale, Issa is back and her writing is as insightful as ever: Rather than exceptional drama or absurd comedy, “Insecure” captures the hilarity and heartbreak of ordinary life.

Seasons one through four present the entwined lives of Issa, her long-term boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis), Molly, their uptight friend Tiffany (Amanda Seales) and the riotously outspoken Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) as they go through awkward moments, recognize their own insecurities and humanize each other.

Season four left fans on a suspenseful note last June. After breaking up with Issa in the third season, Lawrence begins dating her co-worker Condola. They eventually break up and Lawrence professes his love for Issa, even asking her to move with him to San Francisco, but a twist is dropped in her lap — Condola is pregnant. Condola doesn’t want Lawrence involved, and he still loves Issa, but the situation is too much for her to bear.

Meanwhile, Issa’s friendship with Molly has deteriorated over the course of the season. Small annoyances turn to huge transgressions until, at Issa’s first important “Block Party” event, their heated confrontation sends the crowd into a panic. Now, after Andrew, Molly’s boyfriend, broke things off with her, she reached out to her former friend for help.

Picking back up from the break, “Reunited, Okay?!” finds the girls going to their 10-year college reunion. To the tune of “Choker” by Master P, a breathtaking shot of the hills cuts to Kelli, in the car with Tiffany and her boyfriend Derek, making fun of Molly’s melodramatic Instagram posts — or the “Groundhog’s Day of fuckshit” they’ve made of her timeline. It’s harsh, but they obviously care for their friend, who apparently hasn’t recovered since her breakup two months ago.

At the reunion, Kelli’s character discovers the reunion’s operators accidentally believe she died. While a hilarious recurring joke, this mistake also sets up one of the episode’s main themes: appreciation for those in your life. She stares in horror at her memoriam, which reads “she had the best stanky leg,” as the DJ plays “Stanky Leg” by GS Boyz in her memory. Kelli laughs off each joke, but it’s clear the obvious carelessness with which others treat her supposed death is hurtful.

Issa, Molly and Kelli begin to bond over running into Cheyenne (Taja V. Simpson), a former friend (who was “too crazy” for the formerly pretentious Tiffany), who encourages them to let down their more mature guards. The episode is very interested in how the characters’ behavior changed now that they’ve grown into adulthood, and this glimpse into their youthful mannerisms is a great example of that development.

An incredibly creative motif I love from this series is the use of mirrors to perform Issa’s inner monologue. Typically, this is between two versions of herself, one on each side of the mirror. In this episode, we find Issa talking to the college version of herself and ultimately finding she hasn’t accomplished as much as her younger self expected. There is some positive reflection — she confidently tells herself she “never really wanted to be a lawyer,” a very empowered decision — but also some biting self-deprecation as she snaps “Shut up, look at you.”

At the panel Issa is speaking at, it seems like the audience is against her. They clap at every word the other speakers utter, even hypnotically chanting Biggie lyrics in unison with the speaker preceding her. In contrast, they are dead silent during her portion of the discussion. Yet, I felt much more affected by Issa’s authenticity, especially her confession that she “doesn’t know that she’s on the right path.” Such uncertainty has daunted Issa for the past four seasons, but after that growth, it seems the focus is on acceptance rather than anxiety. 

Another major theme of the episode is reconciliation. Just as the panel ends, Molly — perhaps inspired by Issa’s bravery — breaks the ice by taking Issa to get a drink. This gives the pair the opportunity to talk about their relationships and past, ultimately reconciling as friends. Issa, too, brings up the powerlessness she feels in life, lamenting her lack of control. “Even with Lyft!” she exclaims. “I don’t control where I go. Bitch, no, I don’t wanna take you and your friends to Palm Springs. It’s Tuesday!”

Though some awkwardness still lingers between the two, one can feel their friendship as though they were back in college together. It was a very welcome sight to see — the portrayal of Issa and Molly’s friendship is one of the oldest and most perfect aspects of the show, what critics pointed out as a “beautiful example of the joys and complexities of black female friendship rarely seen on television.” Through all five seasons, this warm and intricate relationship is the base of the show.

Now transported back to college, the girls accept an invitation from Cheyenne to go out to a club. But, while making a stop at a liquor store, Issa, Molly and Cheyenne are robbed. They panic, and the tension skyrockets, before the masked gunman accidentally lets Cheyenne’s name slip. She had snuck into the reunion, set them up and stolen Molly’s shoes — though hilariously declined to steal Issa’s shoes.

The experience had the pair afraid for their lives, but, as soon as they get back to the car to tell Tiffany and Kelli, the tension is washed away in a torrent of laughter. The squad, newly appreciative of their health and company, adjourn to a diner and give Kelli a properly heartfelt faux funeral. The experience, and the episode as a whole, remind the characters and viewers to live life in the present and appreciate the life and company they have.

As we head into the final season, countless questions about relationships, jobs and friendships remain unaddressed — just as Issa makes clear on the panel, neither she nor the audience can be sure where the path may lead.

“Insecure” has always inspired in its audience an appreciation for the silliness and spectacle of everyday life, and “Reunited, Okay?!,” the first episode of the final season, perfectly continues that trademark sincerity for the episodes to come.

It isn’t every day that one has the chance to pick up a new show, but, if you haven’t seen it and want some laughter in your life, “Insecure” is an incredible series with 35 episodes to binge so you can catch up heading into the final season.

“Insecure” airs on HBO every Sunday at 10 p.m.

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