On Insecure, Lawrence goes to the “sunken place.”

Wait—Did Insecure’s Lawrence Just Take a Trip to the “Sunken Place”?

Wait—Did Insecure’s Lawrence Just Take a Trip to the “Sunken Place”?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 14 2017 12:47 PM

Wait—Did Insecure’s Lawrence Just Take a Trip to the “Sunken Place”?

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Now sink ...

HBO

One of the many notable aspects of Insecure so far has been its sex scenes, which are explicit and frank, yet not hypersexualized, in a way that such moments between two black people rarely are on screen. On Sunday night’s episode, however, the writers turned their attention to one of the most complicated and historically fraught coital experiences an American can have: sex between a black person and a white person, and more specifically, a black man and a white woman. As if to deliberately up the quotient of inevitable “WTF” live tweets, the show has Lawrence engage in a threesome with two non-black girls he meets in line at a grocery store, one white and one played by a biracial actress who is of both white and Japanese descent—and he definitely isn’t prepared for the emotional consequences that result.

Aisha Harris Aisha Harris

Aisha Harris is a Slate culture writer and host of the Slate podcast Represent.

It ends the way pretty much any black person with actual life experience might have expected, given the way these women interacted with Lawrence throughout the episode: with the girls reducing Lawrence to his “black cock,” ultimately revealing that screwing black guys is, like, their thing. But as we’ve already seen this season, Insecure’s main male protagonist is going through a bit of a crisis when it comes to romantic entanglements now that he and Issa are done. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before he showed signs of having descended into a dark emotional state that feels not unlike the Sunken Place.

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Could it be that Lawrence’s trajectory in “Hella L.A.” is reminiscent of the journey of Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris in Get Out? Consider this: Earlier in the episode, Lawrence finds his life hanging in the balance after getting pulled over for making a U-turn. (A couple of other cars in front of him have done the exact same thing, but for whatever reason, the police decide he’s the one to single out.) He’s clearly nervous as one of the white cops walks up next to his side of the car. At first, the interaction teeters on the brink of racially-motivated violence—the policeman asks if this is his car, and when he goes back to his own vehicle to run a check on Lawrence’s license, the other officer warns Lawrence harshly, “Keep your hands where I can see them.” Luckily, the first cop lets Lawrence off with a light chiding: “I should’ve given you a ticket for that Hoya sticker,” he jokes, referring to a rivalry between Georgetown and Villanova. Lawrence is relieved, having avoided the terrifying fate of too many black people who have been pulled over by police for small traffic violations. Recall that a similar scene occurs in Get Out, in which a noticeably uneasy Chris tries to temper his fake-woke girlfriend Rose’s reaction to the cop who pulls them over—the potential threat of encountering a gun-toting white authority figure is all-too-palpable to him as a black man.

And yet, while Chris can sense the potential for that casual interaction to go from zero to 100 real quick, he doesn’t heed the many warning signs that crop up once he arrives at Rose’s family’s woodland estate—the creepy brother who uses language reminiscent of early-20th-century eugenics, the zombiefied black groundskeeper and maid—that precede the climactic fight for his life. He gives Rose and her family members the benefit of the doubt for far too long because he’s convinced himself that much of what he’s experienced is either in his head, or that he’s being overly sensitive to their aggressions, micro- or otherwise. And he does this because he’s certain his girlfriend of just a few months (!) likes him for him, not as a fetishized object of her affections.

True, Lawrence is hardly at risk of being given an involuntary brain transplant (this is a true-to-life HBO comedy, not a horror satire), but both black-authored narratives provide pointed examinations of how the black male body is treated under a white gaze. The flirty women comment on how he looks like someone named “Craig,” while eyeing him seductively as a conquest to be had. Later, in their apartment, the white girl dances awkwardly while saying how much she “looooovves the Weeknd.” And then, of course, mid-threesome, there are the phrases that sound as if they were plucked directly from a porno—“Your black cock feels so good on my white pussy,” etc. It’s no surprise, then, that as soon as Lawrence doesn’t live up to their expectations of how a black man is supposed to perform in bed—(“What’s the problem? We’ve been with a bunch of other black guys who can come and keep going”), they’ve moved on to snorting coke and discussing plans to grab pad thai for dinner.

Afterwards, Lawrence is shaken by something that, given that he’s a man in his 30s, should have been obvious to him. But like Get Out’s Chris, he can be simultaneously hyperaware of how blackness comes under fire from the white male gaze and willfully ignorant as to how it can manifest itself in the female form. He lacks an incredible amount of self-awareness, as Tasha rightly pointed out to him in the previous episode, apparently having not learned the lessons about love and sex that most guys (I hope) learn by their early-to-mid 20s. (He and Issa were together for a few years.)

Of course, one also can’t discount the simple truth that threesomes are the fantasies of an untold number of heterosexual men. The fact that it came so easily to Lawrence apparently blinded him to any of the warning signs these two women were giving off. His story ends in this episode with him parked in his car, recounting the night’s events to his shady best friend Chad and giving an unconvincing performance of male bravado, leaving out the racial details and instead providing a half-hearted, “Yeah, it was great,” with a look of shame and regret on his face. When he hangs up, it’s revealed that he’s sitting outside the apartment complex he and Issa once shared together. Perhaps this marks a turning point for Lawrence, the incident that finally makes him look more closely at himself. But even if this doesn’t lead Lawrence to turn his life around and head somewhere new, it’s another example of Insecure’s willingness to go places that are all too real.