Let’s Talk About Lawrence, Again

Last year, I took a stand and defended the complex and nuanced relationship Lawrence had with Issa, and himself, in HBO’s hit show – and the one program guaranteed to be the cause of several break ups – Insecure. It was long. But I think it provided a good lens on some important issues. Now, I’m back to talk Season 2.

Where S1 left us with what seemed like a clear direction (eroding relationships, tensions, black woman friendships, Best Buy shirts, Tiffany’s terrible wigs, Issa’s improbable ability to have a different hairstyle every day, Tasha’s yams, etc), S2 has been anything but clear or with any form of direction. Which isn’t bad. Like its subjects, this season is working to understand itself as much as it’s trying to move in *any direction.*

Last year’s essay really focused on Lawrence and his unfair demonization by watchers. This time around, I’d like to build things out a bit more here and speak about all the central players. So I present three essays focused on Lawrence, Molly and Issa. For, where S1 worked to build a lot of singular stories, S2 shows how messy things can get when these stories are interconnected in the aftermath of a breakup.

Jay Ellis as Lawrence greeting two women in a parking lot in a scene from the 2017 HBO dramedy, Insecure.

This season has been rough for the (in)famous #LawrenceHive. While Big L ended S1 righteously making sweet potato pie with Tasha, S2 showed us just how deep the hurt ran. In spite of all good paths in front of him, Lawrence pulled a peak soft-boy with Tasha, avoiding her family barbecue in favor of a (whiter) kickback with his techie coworkers. In that moment, Tasha rightfully called him a fuckboy and inadvertently brought many women back to her side. Before this particular moment, many were incensed that she would be so dumb as to fall for a man who was clearly unready and unwilling.

That hurt me as a watcher. Because it placed Tasha in a victim role that she never assumed. The amount of projection involved in the community around this show, between audience and plot and characters, has been exhausting. While Insecure does boast a fascinating – albeit bizarro – relationship with real life, it’s still fiction. And to that point, we must always separate ourselves when discussing things where we can. While we can relate and enjoy the fun of jumping to conclusions, we do ourselves – and the stories themselves – a disservice by not allowing ambiguity, nuance and diversity of experience to thrive in the same spaces as the traumas and anecdotal bullshit we bring to The Issa and Molly Show.

But I digress…

Tasha made her own decisions on her own time, and in her own way. Lawrence fucked that up. Nobody else. To argue that she was somehow dizzy or unfortunate feels like a put down reserved for a round-the-way-girl by people who have personal issues to work out. It reeks of a certain mixture of projection, classism and general craven feelings towards the larger, more complex nature of how situationships and the like work out often. (Author’s Note: Of course, some of this is to be expected when we’re talking about a show that not-so-quietly caters to the upwardly mobile, black ‘millennial’ who is as uncomfortable with their economic ascension as they are with their hood neighbors.) Who hurt you, though? Really?

That said, Tasha was quickly shuttled out of the narrative in this season and I hope she’s doing well, wherever she is in LA. She deserved so much better.

Which is something that can be said for nearly every person on the show. But, in Lawrence’s case, what one deserves is about on par with what one is getting. While I passionately defended the complexity and examined the complicity of his actions in S1, I’ve been facepalming myself throughout S2. Lawrence is very truly depressed. And, while Tasha was ultimately treated like a rebound, she didn’t have to be. Sadly, again, I think there’s a mixture of things going on with Lawrence that create these ridiculous mishaps, from grocery store cokehead threesomes to emotionless-but-highly-passionate-and-terse breakup sex to awkward dinners at Derek’s party.

Issa (Issa Rae) and Lawrence (Jay Ellis) married, on the couch, in a daydream sequence from the 2017 HBO dramedy, Insecure.

While Lawrence is no angel, he’s also not a demon. His mistakes and his decisions, in all their boundless passivity, are about as real as things can get for a man who’s both ambitious and emotionally ill-equipped. Which is why it bothered me that, at every turn, many found Lawrence as their whipping boy. So much so that Jay Ellis himself has commented on how people can’t separate the actor from the character. Even the NY Post took an unsubtle swipe at him. Point being, every action was a perceived slight against Issa’s happiness, every scene a chance to explain how men are trash and Lawrence was their hobosexual leader.

Granted, not all of this venom directed at Lawrence is unfounded.

As I said; Lawrence’s treatment of Tasha was unforgivable in both its lack of foresight and empathy (to be clear, I’m very much #TashaHive and #KelliHive.) And, I shed no tears for his dehumanization at the hands of the predatory mandingo dick hunters at the grocery store. And, one could argue that bringing Aparna to Derek’s dinner was as much a passive-aggressive move as it was a selfish move to have an ally in a room full of Issa’s ilk. Both of which are at best a mistake and at worst a deliberate decision to ruffle Issa’s tail feathers. Despite all this, I think there’s been a concerted, strange need to villainize Lawrence.

To paint him as some kind of dastardly wasteman who creeps in the night, waiting to destroy whatever happiness women have at a moment’s notice, is more about gaining unilateral ideological traction than speaking truth to the character and the situations at hand. Don’t get it twisted: Men, The Brand, are definitely trash. But the nuances of how many of us come to be trash are often overlooked in favor of the end results. Again, this isn’t without cause: Lawrence has definitely hurt a lot of feelings and wasted a lot of time and there’s no way around arguing that or any Lawrence-like men in real life. However, the complexity of his own hurt is just as profound as that which he inflicts upon others. The cause is just as much a thing to be understood and fixed as the effect.

Aparna (Jasmine Kaur) and Lawrence (Jay Ellis) in a scene from the 2017 HBO dramedy, Insecure.

That said, and conversely, let’s call a spade a spade. He’s exactly what Tasha told us he was mid-way through the season: a nice guy who doesn’t think he’s a fuckboy. Just because he “can’t be dirty like that” doesn’t mean he ain’t a bit filthy. His passive approach to any decision in his life and blindness to his own triggers and shortcomings are his greatest flaw. Sadly, because he’s attractive (see: tall, pitbull faced), and driven, his wounded nature is usually hidden enough from the women he attracts that by the time they figure it out, it’s too late.

This is supported by the show itself, which has made no qualms about pinpointing Lawrence’s trashness, even when it plays in the pools of ambiguity. Within Insecure’s world, Lawrence’s fuckboydom wounds those around him (and himself) by the lack of intention in his actions. His almost uncanny, and 4th quarter, directionlessness causes more damage than if he were actually plotting and scheming.

Is that a bad thing? Yes. But does that mean he should be propped up as a villain? No. Why? It robs him of his humanity, flattening him into a convenient archetype in the same way that folks have crucified Issa for cheating or hated Molly for not doing better.

Granted, Lawrence is a man. And as a man, he has the privilege to act and move in certain ways. But he’s also trapped in a space that – as I’ve said before – offers little to no emotional and moral support and even less space to grieve and mourn moments in a non-toxic way. It’s the barbed sword of traditional masculinity that harms everyone it comes into contact with. Thus even when he has legitimate traumas (see: his accusing Aparna of potentially cheating on him), he’s unable to communicate it respectfully or even realize that he triggered himself by fucking with the resident office jiggalo (jiggala? jiggalette? help me out here). 

It’s a vicious part of the depressive state he’s still in pre- and post- Issa. There’s more to this. Especially with how it connects to the finale. But I’ll return to that a bit later when we talk about Issa. 

these boots mine.Dap owns Timberland boots and is committed to loving black women, eating good food and diversifying media as he sees fit and while he can. He can be found yelling into the abyss and being snarky on the following:  IG | Twitter