Sandwiched between the deliciously bleak Succession and Curb Your Enthusiam’s crusty cringe sits Insecure, which trades backbiting disillusionment for an honesty that can be just as thrilling and weighty as any show on HBO’s Sunday menu. Take this week’s fourth episode of Season 5, wherein Issa has to deal with the wreckage of figuring out what she wants to do about her relationship with Nathan (Kendrick Sampson) after literally crying into his mouth in last week’s episode. “I should ask him what my tears taste like,” Issa tells Molly (Yvonne Orji) and Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) at a beach party Nathan throws. “I know they salty.”
But sodium content notwithstanding, those tears were significant. They were the first dam to break in Issa’s acceptance of intimacy outside her friendship with Molly or her dysfunctional connection with Lawrence (Jay Ellis). Before then, we’ve seen how much the revival of their relationship has meant to each. They’re going on dates, buying gifts for one another, texting each other memes, jokes and advice—refilling each other’s cup following some really difficult breakups. They are, in Prentice Penny’s words, “recognizing that their relationship is fragile… it can be damaged if they don’t nurture it.” It seems that they’ve found a good groove but both still feel the pull to be loved by a romantic partner. Nathan, in his suave softness, might’ve been the one Issa had been waiting for all along.
It took a minute for her to get there, though. Throughout the episode’s runtime, Issa steadily doubts whether Nathan truly sees it for her. Does he want to be a friend at all, much less a lover? Was not staying with Issa after she cried a sign that sad-girl tragic is just too much for him? “I shouldn’t have kissed you,” Nathan says at a tiki club, eyes widened, eyebrows arched as if to say, but girl I would do it again. Issa tries to take ownership too, admitting that inviting him to sleep over before she was ready might’ve been a mistake. These are lines-slash-lies told in order to feel secure enough to continue a friendship that’s undermined by their glances, their demeanor, the way they lean into each other’s struggles and take up for one another. It’s the stuff romcom’s are built upon. In “Faulty, Okay?!” we learn a lot about Nathan through his cousin Thomas and his wife, Velma, who Nathan lived with during some particularly dark times in his life.
There are multiple tensions in play throughout the episode: between Issa and Nathan, between Molly and the two men who she might just give it up for, and between Nathan and his two former roommates. But it’s the latter one that unlocks the propulsive honesty of the episode.
Nathan can’t dodge the barbs darted his way as Velma introduces the idea that Nathan is someone who abandons difficult situations. “You never know what a night with Nate Dawg gon take you,” Thomas jokes, dapping up his cousin. “You might end up on the back of a milk carton,” Velma piggybacks. These prickly jokes continue up until Nathan and Thomas talk outside a club they can’t get into. It’s revealed that for years Nathan believed that the cause of their disrepair was Velma’s desire to kick him out the spot. “That wasn’t on Velma,” Thomas finally admits. “To be honest, I’m the one who didn’t feel comfortable having you around. You showed up with practically no warning then you’d be gone for days on end or come home in the middle of the night, you’d leave the door unlocked. I got kids, man.” These behaviors, we learned, were actually a manifestation of a kind of mania. We never knew Nathan to be neurodivergent, and, apparently, he didn’t know until much later in his life. “I just wanted them to see I got my life together,” he tells Issa in a starry bokeh.
It’s here that we finally see Nathan and Issa coming into a kind of relational equity. Both have finally done away with their inhibitions and gotten into the real, soft vulnerability that we’ve only seen between her and Lawrence. Issa was scared to hope—so terrified of having expectations for love that it seemed like she was “always waiting for the next shoe to drop.” But she’s done with the fear and decides to take a risk with him, one that is just as heart-pounding as a Succession “fuck off” is violently satisfying.
The #NathanHive might end up being a winner this season. Who knew the light-skinned squint and relaxed tonality would win him this much favor. Nonetheless, the heightened anticipation in getting here—from the easily-solvable lies of the early episode, to Issa’s detective work in finding that Nathan wasn’t fucking the buxom chick at the beach—up until that soft stand-off, is what makes Insecure unlike many shows with a similar conceit. There’s an investment in honesty, whether it leads to heartbreak or not—like last episode, which follows the events of Issa finally ending things with Lawrence “for good”—that provides the show with its sense of humanity. Issa and Nathan are both fragile; both have dealt with being discarded and dismissed, and have little time to do that to one another. No more wool over the eyes: if it’s gonna hurt, let it. But at the very least let’s be real: we wanted to kiss and maybe even kiss again.