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The first season of HBO comedy Insecure is a painfully real look at what it means to be selfish

The show’s best episode yet hinges on two painful but inevitable collisions.

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Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for November 19 through 26 is “Real as Fuck,” the seventh episode of the first season of HBO’s Insecure.

Insecure — HBO’s new comedy from dynamic talent Issa Rae — explores what it means be on the cusp of 30 and unsure of where your life is or where it should be going. This is one of the most familiar premises … well, maybe ever, really. TV, movies, books — any and all media loves itself some 20-something angst.

There’s a reason for that. This moment — the swinging door between leaving your 20s behind and forging ahead into whatever comes next — is one of the best and most meaningful moments to delve into onscreen because this is when (most) people start assuming more responsibility in their own lives. It’s when we look hard at ourselves, our relationships, our passions, and evaluate what’s there — and what should be there.

It’s when, as Issa’s self-named character proclaims in the seventh episode of Insecure, when we stop giving “no fucks, and start giving all the fucks.”

This episode (“Real as Fuck”) brings about several collisions that the show has been building to since the beginning. It lets Issa hit her highest high and her lowest low within the same five minutes. It sets up an inevitably explosive finale — airing November 27 — and makes clear that when it comes to creating believable, wrenching, even hilarious character stories, Insecure truly gives all the fucks.

In its first season, Insecure keeps finding new ways to tell this old story of trying to become who you want to be

If there was going to be another show about a 29-year-old grappling with what it means to be 29, I’m just so glad it’s Insecure.

The show immediately looked different from anything else on HBO, or much of television at all. It stars an almost entirely black cast. It takes place in South LA — in other words, not the glitzy entertainment industry halls of Beverly Hills or determinedly cool Eastside. It uses producer and director Melina Matsoukas’s eye to frame and light every shot deliberately, the better to convey what the characters onscreen are feeling without them having to say a word.

Insecure also portrays a painfully realistic friendship between Issa and Molly (Yvonne Orji), whose bond is as deep as it is precarious; they speak so candidly with each other that they sometimes even surprise themselves. The show also doesn’t shy away from the sometimes grueling banalities of being in a steady relationship, as Issa struggles to decide whether Lawrence (Jay Ellis) makes her happy anymore.

And, yes, this show is also super funny.

In “Real as Fuck” — written by showrunner Prentice Penny — all these storylines come crashing together at Issa’s fancy work function, a combination that TV and film dearly loves. But the meltdowns that ooze out of these clashes don’t happen in front of a crowd of strangers.

Molly and Issa have the long-gestating fight about each other’s refusals to accept their failures as their own while standing off to the side in the event’s staging area, cradling drinks and avoiding eye contact with people passing by in formalwear. When Lawrence finally confronts Issa about whether or not she cheated on him (she did), it’s back home in their darkened living room, claustrophobic and miserable.

Neither conflict needs the extra humiliation of public scrutiny to make it sting; the season had been building up to both since the beginning. Watching Issa, Molly, and Lawrence rip each other’s guts out for the sake of having them out in the open is brutal but necessary — and Insecure handles every instance with wit and grace.

“Real as Fuck” delivers on the promise of its title, and then some

As I wrote in my initial review of the show, Insecure walks the incredibly thin line between portraying people doing selfish things and portraying them as irredeemably selfish people. That became more and more true as the season went on, with Issa burrowing deeper into her own insecurities (hey, just like the title says!) and Molly’s dating life consistently cratering.

Then, halfway through the season, the subtext of why Issa and Molly keep complaining about the same things became clear, painful text.

Issa cheated on Lawrence with high school crush Daniel (Y’lan Noel) to — as she says in “Real as Fuck” — scratch an itch. But she quickly realizes that abandoning her more hesitant instincts to embrace the “what if?” of sleeping with Daniel was entirely selfish — a fact Daniel himself calls out when she says that “scratch an itch” justification to his face after three weeks of ignoring him in the hopes that he’d just go away.

The calling out keeps going and going in “Real as Fuck.” While Lawrence making Issa admit that she cheated is the more obviously dramatic — there are flipped tables and everything! — the fight that’s most representative of how Insecure has approached its relationships is the searing one between Issa and Molly.

Molly, knee-jerk hurt by Issa’s suggestion that maybe going to therapy wouldn’t be such a terrible idea, lashes out at her best friend for waffling about what she wants for so long. Issa in turn asks her friend to really look at why all her recent romances have stalled out, and consider the idea that the common denominator is Molly’s own inability to forgive flaws — whether real or perceived — in other people.

By the end of the argument, both women have physically reeled back, as though smacked by each other’s words. Molly finally cuts it off with a curt, “Fuck you, Issa,” because there’s nothing more to say.

The truth is both Issa and Molly were telling the truth, and neither wanted to hear it. This is exactly the kind of fight that makes transitioning from giving no fucks to giving all the fucks so hard, but also so important. If these kind of bone-deep problems don’t get any air, they’re just going to keep festering beneath the surface, rotting at the core.

Insecure knows that, and it also knows that the journey to accept that fact is going to be a hard one. If Issa, Molly, and Lawrence are going to find their way from here on out, it’s a good thing they’re in Insecure’s capable hands.

The first season finale of Insecure airs November 27 at 10:30 pm on HBO. Previous episodes are currently available to stream on HBO Go.

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