Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Jay Ellis
Jay Ellis
Photo: Merie W. Wallace (HBO)
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Prior to tonight’s episode, Issa Rae and a number of folks involved with Insecure hit social media with something like a disclaimer:

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Of course, Insecure couldn’t account for the current state of the country when it filmed and wrote these episodes months ago. Some saw this as the show defending itself for airing tonight without directly addressing protests and unrest across the country. That’s an absolutely unfair expectation to place on a show and one it doesn’t need to defend itself against. Yes, Insecure is a black show, but it doesn’t have an additional responsibility to change its schedule or alter its season. It’s unlikely anyone was begging the cast and crew of I Know This Much Is True or 90 Day Fiancé to make a statement on what exactly their episode can provide during this time of political unrest.

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After watching “Lowkey Happy,” I don’t see the statement as defensive, but as an affirmation: “Lowkey Happy” is a well-timed gift. Somehow, the show’s most intimate episode doubles as a dreamy romantic comedy that’s only made surreal by how removed the episode’s events are from reality. It’s rare that people get the chance to have these types of conversations with their exes. It’s even more rare to see two black characters have honest, difficult and romantic conversations on a medium that still too often expects them to play to stereotypes. Oh, also there’s currently a global pandemic that makes just the idea of going to an art walk even more dreamy.

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“Lowkey Happy” plays to Lawrence and Issa’s humanity. This is entirely thanks to Natasha Rothwell’s script. Rothwell’s writing is so sharp, the episode feels almost like a short film. Of course, viewers know Issa and Lawrence’s history, but somehow, Rothwell convinces us to see them in a new light. Do you know how good a script has to be to make me go, “Wow, maybe Lawrence and Issa...should get back together-” even for a moment before I gather my senses? Rothwell sets an entirely different tone for Insecure with “Lowkey Happy.” Without seeing any other episodes of the show, you’d know that what exists between these two characters is too good to be true. Doom is on the horizon, but this moment isn’t about that. Condola can wait. San Francisco can wait.

“Lowkey Happy” is about what Issa and Lawrence want right now. They’re given this one perfect night to admit their flaws, feelings and desires. They’re allowed to realize they’ve made mistakes. They’re allowed to say they’d like to fix those mistakes. They’re allowed to say they’re happy. They’ve moved beyond petty bickering and are finally able to take accountability for their actions. It took four seasons, but Issa and Lawrence finally see each other for who they really are and they still like what they see...well, at least for the night.

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Still, Lawrence’s back-up text to Condola and her subsequent call ground the viewer and Issa in reality. Maybe Lawrence can afford to order black cars now, but he’s still an idiot who would promise to come over to a woman’s house after inviting another woman into his apartment. If Lawrence and Condola had broken up and stopped talking, I’d believe his feelings for Issa. Instead, he’s keeping Condola on the back burner and stringing her along because he’s not entirely over his ex. It’s basically what he accused Condola of doing to him.

If growth could be measured in portraits purchased at art walk festivals, Lawrence would be something like an adult. Sadly, that’s not the case. When it comes to these two women, Lawrence is still making mistakes. On the other hand, Issa’s growth feels more convincing. She doesn’t use this moment with Lawrence to complain about Molly or to say anything bad about her. She doesn’t freak out when she runs into an embarrassing ex and handles it gracefully (for Issa). She tells Lawrence what she wants. While the episode’s opening has Issa fall flat on her face, that seems to be the only attribute of Old Issa that remains.

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Issa’s decision to leave and walk home was also great. It’s as though she understood the previous night was a dream and now it was time to face reality rather than linger. She decides to walk home. She thinks about things. She smiles. While I hope she’s just happy for the one night she shared with Lawrence, it sets up an interesting challenge for the remaining two episodes of the season. Will Issa revert back to her old ways and try to maintain something with Lawrence? Is it possible that could be...a good thing? Issa’s allowed to take her time and figure all of that out. If anything, it feels like a gift to see a world where black characters are afforded time.


Stray observations

  • Ava Berkofsky’s direction was amazing. The shot of Issa and Lawrence walking through those clouds was my favorite.
  • I had to double check the credits because I thought their Lyft driver was Marla Gibbs.
  • This episode just felt so soft and dreamy! Both characters actually managed to lower their guard and have an honest conversation. Still, THEY BOTH NEED TO MOVE ON! Let Lawrence go to San Francisco! They’ve grown. They’ve proven to each other that they’ve grown. Let them end on a high note.
  • I really wish Condola wasn’t bothering with Lawrence. This man gets a bed frame and some better sheets and now these ladies can’t get over him?
  • I think Issa realizes she’s happy, but I don’t think she realizes the root of that happiness yet. She’s happy without Molly and Lawrence. I don’t think she’s ready to exist within their confines again.
  • Honestly, Natasha Rothwell’s script felt perfectly timed. There was even a Kirk Franklin reference right after his big Verzuz battle on Instagram.
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Ashley Ray-Harris is a stand-up comic and writer.

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