'Deliberate, thoughtful love-making': Inside 'Insecure's' most romantic episode yet

·7 min read
Issa Rae in "Insecure."
Issa Rae in "Insecure." (Merle W. Wallace/HBO)

The following story contains spoilers from the eighth episode of “Insecure” Season 4, “Lowkey Happy.”

At first, Lawrence doesn't know what to say. He looks away for a moment, tilting his head slightly and raising his eyebrows in surprise. "Tonight made me happy," he admits to Issa — and himself.

Issa, looking straight into Lawrence's eyes, replies with clarity and resolve: "You make me happy."

These lean yet loaded lines became romantic comedy canon on Sunday night, when "Insecure" reunited its central exes — played by Jay Ellis and series creator Issa Rae — for a game-changing capsule episode. "Lowkey Happy" covers a lot of shaky ground: his depression, her infidelity, how much they've grown while apart and what they want for the future.

Yet their honest conversations never feel hurried, since they're what fans have been waiting to hear for years. At a fraught moment in the world of "Insecure" — because of Issa and Molly's fractured friendship — and a traumatic one for many in the real world, amid fury and unrest in response to the systemic dehumanization of black people, the HBO comedy offered a brief, beautiful reprieve by celebrating black love and humanity.

"It's so nice to finally talk to someone outside the writers room about this episode, which has been under lock and key," said the episode's writer and "Insecure" producer Natasha Rothwell, who also plays Kelli in the series. Ahead of Sunday's airing, The Times got granular with Rothwell about writing the sparse but strong dialogue, embarrassing Issa with a former flame and setting the stage for a potential endgame.

Natasha Rothwell as Kelli in "Insecure." Rothwell, also a writer and supervising producer on the series, penned the episode "Lowkey Happy."
Natasha Rothwell as Kelli in "Insecure." Rothwell, also a writer and supervising producer on the series, penned the episode "Lowkey Happy." (Merle W. Wallace/HBO)

This episode is years in the making. Did you feel pressure to get it right?



It's daunting because you're touching these conversations that are so tricky to have in your own life, let alone on screen. How do you craft it in a way where you can touch on the sincerity and really utilize the opportunity to show two people coming back to each other and trying to understand each other?

Why write this as a capsule episode?



Not even one minute in and Issa is face-planted on the floor...





Their honest conversation about what went wrong in their relationship is a big one, but it's still one scene in a half-hour episode. How did you ensure everything they needed to say was said, in only so many words?



Jay Ellis (wearing an Oliver Spencer jacket) and Issa Rae (wearing a Thebe Magugu top) have high-stakes conversations in the episode.
Jay Ellis (wearing an Oliver Spencer jacket) and Issa Rae (wearing a Thebe Magugu top) have high-stakes conversations in the episode. (HBO)

Also, when you have two people who know each other as intimately as Issa and Lawrence do, a few words can say so much. I mean, over the past few seasons, we've seen them have whole conversations with just a look.

After that meal, we get quite the treat: TSA Bae!





When strolling through the Downtown L.A. Art Walk, Issa and Lawrence spot a "silly but also frightening" piece and shout-out to your character, Kelli. Was that a clue for viewers that you wrote the episode?



That entire Art Walk was amazing. Our production designer Kay Lee and her team completely transformed an empty lot in downtown L.A. We had actual artists contribute their work to the set, and this gorgeous cloud tunnel that they walk through meant to evoke this beautiful, romantic moment that we really don't get to see people of color have.

The art also jumpstarts a conversation about what makes each of them happy — again, with an incredible economy of language.



Over the course of the series, we're always playing with the idea of Lawrence and Issa: Are they better apart or together? If they matured into these beautiful characters who understand themselves and know what their happiness is, can they continue that together?

When invited into Lawrence's apartment for a few minutes, Issa points out the couch they bought in an attempt to refresh their relationship in Season 1. Why was it important for her to do that?



Couches are a big symbol in our show

"I love gravity and levity and how they speak to each other and make each other better," said Natasha Rothwell (pictured with Jay Ellis).
"I love gravity and levity and how they speak to each other and make each other better," said Natasha Rothwell (pictured with Jay Ellis). (HBO)

How did you come up with those two lines?



I put those two lines in my first outline — which is always very detailed and specific — and they stayed all the way through [revisions and edits]. Jay and Issa are such incredible actors that they understood what those meant, not just in the context of the scene but in the context of the series. These words have to address everything they've been through from the beginning and then come back to the present, you know? And they made those two lines mean everything they needed to mean in that moment.

How did you feel when you first heard them on set?



We tried different deliveries and played with, more than anything, their proximity to each other. Ava Berkofsky — our director, who has been a cinematographer for "Insecure" from Season 1, so she's watched this journey between Issa and Lawrence with front-row seats — beautifully orchestrated this apartment scene and how they're always physically apart from each other: When they walk in, she goes to the bar, he sits on the couch, and the tension between them is heightened by virtue of the blocking. But in that moment, she's literally stepping toward him; she's making her way back to him by taking these incremental steps. She just says the words and allows her eyes and her heart to really carry the message across that distance to him.

The sex scene that follows is one viewers haven't seen throughout the four seasons of "Insecure."



Jay Ellis in "Insecure."
Jay Ellis in "Insecure." (Merle W. Wallace/HBO)

Why end this episode with Issa's walk?



Does this episode mean #TeamLawrence will ultimately win?



We wanted the end of the episode to feel like the beginning of a conversation and show the potential that they've created after this night. As writers, we'd be doing a disservice to put a period on the end of that sentence rather than an ellipsis. The next morning, there's no DTR — defining the relationship — but just an appreciation for this honest and happy moment they've had.

This joyous episode happens to be airing amid another horrible moment of the dehumanization of black people. What do hope black viewers specifically get from watching this at this time?



There's a lot happening right now that makes me feel less than human. And it's hard. I mean, I'm searching for words, and I'm a writer! Because it's just hard to even imagine that in the eyes of police officers and other individuals who aren't in law enforcement, black lives just don't have value. Our show is a love letter to black people. My hope is that it is for at least a half-hour — don't ask if it's going to be an hour because it's not going to be an hour, it will never be an hour, it's a half-hour comedy! — and for the people who have the privilege of tuning in, who still have breath in their bodies and the means to do so, they can have a reprieve from the hellscape that is going on right now.