Brow Beat

Insecure Flourished When It Got Rid of Lawrence. Now He’s Back.

Jay Ellis and Issa Rae in Insecure.
Jay Ellis and Issa Rae in Insecure. HBO

When it was revealed that Season 3 of Insecure would not feature Lawrence, I was both elated and concerned. Part of what made the show appointment viewing and a social media phenomenon was the #TeamLawrence-vs.-#TeamIssa dynamic. Each Sunday night, Americans from all walks of life tuned in to HBO to watch Issa and Lawrence make poor decisions; yet despite these misadventures, viewers took to social media to defend the indefensible. #TeamIssa rationalized their namesake’s cheating while #TeamLawrence tried to explain his boneheadedness by arguing that we must view his actions as a response to his girlfriend’s breach of trust. Learning that Jay Ellis’ character would not be returning made me wonder if the show would be able to continue to build momentum without him. So I was concerned—but, truth be told, I was also elated.

While my friends call me Law, I am very protective of my name because, well, as Marlo said on The Wire, my name is my name. Season 2 of Insecure had folks out here thinking that my given name was synonymous with selfishness, passive-aggressive communication, and poor decision making. So while I was concerned about what Lawrence’s departure meant for the popularity of the show (especially when it came to the Team Lawrence crowd), I was happy that my name would no longer be associated with a character I found to be objectively terrible. Turns out there was no reason to be concerned. The show spent the first four episodes of Season 3 proving that it did not need Lawrence to have a compelling narrative, and now it appears that he may be back (along with Chad’s endlessly memeable straw sipping).

At its best, Insecure is a show about young black women in an increasingly gentrified Inglewood, California, whose lives are sometimes a mess but who make it livable because they love and support one another. However, last year, the show began to center Lawrence’s character in a way that made for excellent social media fodder but often left Issa and her crew on the periphery. This season has been a course correction. Thus far, the episodes have been about reacquainting us with the two characters who make the show work: Issa and Molly.

We’ve seen Issa slowly find an apartment, no small feat in Los Angeles, and she has finally come to terms with the ubiquitous white supremacy of We Got Y’all, her place of employment since Season 1. A highlight of this season thus far was watching Issa walk away from the nonprofit—even if her departure was ill-advised given her financial situation. In a similar vein, breakout star Yvonne Orji’s Molly is a wonderful character who spent too much of Season 2 clutching her teddy bear wondering what was going on with Sarunas J. Jackson’s Dro. This season, she sent him packing and, as a result, we spend time seeing both Issa and Molly doing things that are not centered around the men in their lives.

Insecure’s willingness to follow the narrative arc of a beloved character and allow them to fade into the background is a move that many shows do not have the confidence to make. Power, Starz’s urban soap opera staring Omari Hardwick, 50 Cent, and Naturi Naughton, is as addictive as it is terrible, and an example of a show that, at least in the past, has refused to kill off characters. As a result, the narrative is frustratingly stagnant while characters’ motivations are increasingly nonsensical. Prentice Penny, showrunner for Insecure, and Issa Rae understand that new characters keep the story fresh, but on a show that runs for 30 minutes with only eight episodes a season, old favorites must fade away to make room for those who are new.

This week’s return of Lawrence will test my theory. We saw him in the Season 2 finale parting ways with Issa and moving into an uncertain future with a sense of closure. It was the perfect ending for the Jay Ellis character. Now he is back and the next episode appears to feature him prominently. This could be a step backward; however, it could also work since the show was intentional about showing us that Issa was far more emotionally stable without my namesake in the picture.

I’ll tune in this week to see what they have in mind with Lawrence. If he has not learned anything from the first two seasons, I may have to legally change my name to Law. My given name would have an irreparably negative connotation in these pop culture streets.