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Insecure Season 4 Puts Its Female Friendships First

The HBO comedy returns with Issa and Molly's "messy" friendship front and center.
  • Yvonne Orji and Issa Rae in Insecure. (HBO)
    Yvonne Orji and Issa Rae in Insecure. (HBO)

    Spoiler alert: This post reveals minor plot details from Season 4 of Insecure.

    For three seasons, HBO's Insecure — starring and co-created by Issa Rae — has chronicled the life of Issa Dee (Rae) as she works in a non-profit, dates, and eats her way around L.A.. Through it all, she's been abetted, side-eyed, roasted, and largely supported by her best friend, Molly (Yvonne Orji). But while previous seasons have devoted more narrative attention to Issa's romantic travails, Season 4 settles on the love story that has always been at the heart of Insecure: Molly and Issa's friendship.

    The two characters have been on quite the journey since we first met them in Season 1. Back then, Issa was years into her relationship with her live-in boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis), and frustrated by his long-term unemployment and general lack of drive. Molly, successful in her career as an attorney and financially independent, is ready to be married but dismayed that the men she meets don't want to get serious. Despite the differences in their professional and personal circumstances, Molly and Issa are still so connected that they can have whole conversations without saying more than a word at a time on either side, speaking volumes with their eyebrows alone. At the same time, that first episode also showed viewers that Issa and Molly's relationship was not without discord: out at an open-mic night, after Issa runs into her old boyfriend Daniel (Y'lan Noel), she gets up on stage and does a rap inspired by Molly's troubled love life: "Broken Pussy."

    Even if Molly knows Issa probably doesn't really think Molly has yet to meet her Mr. Right because her genitals are "dry as hell," it's a clarifying moment for their friendship: Issa will trade on her private knowledge of Molly to advance her own interests.

    Issa has her own gripes with Molly: she wearies of being the audience for Molly's complaints about her various boyfriends, each of whom she rejects for reasons Issa thinks are ridiculous; and because Molly so envies Issa and Lawrence's long relationship (irrespective of Lawrence's untreated and apparently undiagnosed depression causing issues for them). These fault lines in their friendship lead Issa and Molly to have periodic blow-ups, much as real friends do. They then tend to blow straight past them, rather than take advantage of the less heated moments to discuss the issues that have arisen... also much as real friends do. But then in the Season 3 finale, Molly made the unilateral decision to tell Nathan (Kendrick Sampson), Issa's on-again/off-again hookup-with-potential, to leave Issa's birthday celebration before Issa even knew he was there, the better to keep the occasion free of "drama"; when Molly proudly tells Issa, hours later, that she'd done so, the two battle yet again over Molly thinking she knows better than Issa whom she should date, and the season ends without a reconciliation.

    As Season 4 opens, it seems the two friends may still be at odds, as the first thing we see is Issa on the phone telling someone, “Honestly? I don’t fuck with Molly anymore.” Whaaaaaaat?!

    We then travel back in time, to four months before the block party Issa decided she was going to try to organize in the Season 3 finale. Molly comes over for "Self-Care Sunday," apparently a standing date that takes a different form each week. (This time, it's yoga and weed.) So this means they've worked out their issues offscreen, right? Nope. Other than that first Sunday hang, Molly and Issa can't get together in the season's first several episodes without sniping at each other about what have come to be their biggest annoyances with one another: Molly thinks Issa likes to be messy; Issa thinks Molly needlessly sabotages her relationships. Eventually, they both acknowledge their recent tendency to clash and agree to block off some time to talk about the root causes, but are just as happy to let other drama pre-empt the difficult conversation.

    Central as Issa and Molly may be, we can't have a discussion about Insecure's female friendships without mentioning the other two members of the show's quartet: Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) and Tiffany (Amanda Seales). Tiffany is the smug married member of the group: hilariously, because barely over a year in show time has passed over three seasons, she's been knocked up for more episodes than not, giving the viewer the same sense of her character they may have had with real-life friends who luxuriated a little too much in their pregnancies. A Season 3 episode revolving around her obliviously narcissistic baby shower was a high point for her. At the same time, the writers have layered vulnerability into Tiffany, allowing her to express her fears about how motherhood will affect her friendship with her three very single besties (and, indeed, we learned last season that they all have a secret group text without her). The arrival of her blessed baby in Season 4 gives Seales more to explore, and may require her friends to take her more seriously in order to supply what she needs to cope with an infant.

    Then there's Kelli. A capable financial advisor by day and pure freak by night, Kelli is both a reliable one-liner delivery machine and a game practitioner of physical comedy, as anyone who saw last season's Coachella episode can attest. Producers on a lesser show might have been tempted to plug more gaps in the action with Kelli's delightful foolishness. Perhaps because Natasha Rothwell is also a writer on the show, she's ensured Kelli is deployed for more surgical strikes than Kramer-esque episode filler. (That said, the fact that I could not find one supercut of Kelli's best moments on all of YouTube tells me not enough people are watching this show. Sort yourselves out!)

    Issa and Molly's love lives have provided plenty of comedic and dramatic fodder for Insecure stories thus far, and longtime fans will not be disappointed by where "TSA Bae" and "Asian Bae" take them this season. But, while winnowing down a world's worth of potential partners to find the one you want to settle down with forever can be a defining experience for people in their twenties and thirties, it can be even more crucial to spend those years winnowing down a lifetime of friends to the ones who will still be around when those partners are gone. Are Molly and Issa destined to be each other's platonic soulmates? This season of Insecure seems a lot more interested in answering that question than it is in the dudes who may just be passing through, and I'm here for it.

    Insecure returns for its fourth season on HBO this Sunday April 12th at 10:00PM ET.

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    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Insecure, HBO, Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji