There’s a very specific primacy and intimacy to female friendships, and nowhere is that more clear than on television. Whether it’s Abby and Ilana on Broad City, Meredith and Cristina on Grey’s Anatomy, or Kat, Sutton and Jane on The Bold Type, television shows are full to the brim with female friendships that shape and mold their participants, helping the women within them become their best selves and never be afraid to rely on the strength of their bonds.
What television does much less of, however, is show you what happens when those bonds fall apart. The only example that comes to mind is LC’s lone black tear as her friendship with Audrina fell apart on The Hills. Insecure used its fantastic fourth season to tackle that question head-on, and as a result, produced its best run of episodes in years. The season’s central thesis was that sometimes you outgrow your friends. But the magic of the story was that the show managed to bring just enough specificity to the deterioration of Molly and Issa’s friendship to fully examine how central these relationships are in our lives, and why they deserve the same reverence as any romantic partner.
Molly and Issa’s epic falling out was built on slights. The death-by-a-thousand-cuts nature of their friend breakup is typical of how many friendships end. Something was off, and neither of them knew how to address it. With a lover, you talk. You go to therapy. You figure it out. But we’re taught that friendships are temporary. We ditch the ones that don’t serve us under the guise of “protecting our peace.” Eventually, you realize you’re merely civil with someone who used to know every corner of your world. There is no pronouncement, but the friendship is over.
Unlike with romantic relationships, there’s still no widespread script for ending a friendship. Largely, we understand how to break up with a partner. Whether the relationship lasted six months or three years, there are established ideas about how to mourn when someone you loved romantically leaves your life. But fractured friendships still exist in a space of silent suffering—the hurt is felt but never really processed.
As Molly and Issa leveled up in different parts of their lives, they in turn refused to see the growth of the other, compounding the uneasiness that had been building between them. Whether it was Issa telling Molly she was doing too much for wanting to get serious with Andrew or Molly calling Issa messy for not abandoning her budding friendship with Condola, they couldn’t allow each other to step outside the roles they had been assigned within their relationship. It meant that misunderstandings became fights, and fights became fall-outs.
What made this season so perfect, was its attention to the details of how quickly things escalate when friendships begin to implode. The misread tone of a text message postponing a talk becomes fodder for a cold demeanor when they meet in person. Small slights balloon, expressly because the nature of friendship means that everyone involved assumes they are understood in the same way. Molly’s season-long refusal to bend for Issa is a prime example—she didn’t think she should ever have had to explain why she was hurting in the first place. But it’s also why Issa was so blindsided to discover Molly wasn’t on the same page after their awkward brunch. She thought things had gone well. Surely Molly felt the same.
The disparity between how we treat romances and friendships denies the fact that friendships are often the longest and most intimate relationships of our lives. Unlike romantic relationships, we generally assume that our friendships will last forever, barring some unforgivable slight. But friendships are still relationships with other people, and they require just as much work as any marriage to ensure that those involved remain in alignment over time. Marriages end because people grow apart, and so do friendships. But married people have contracts to sign that formalize the end of their entanglement. Friends just have memories and hurt feelings.
What Insecure excelled at this season was showing the longing and confusion that goes into falling out with your person. Even when they weren’t on speaking terms, Issa and Molly yearned for the comfort they provided each other, because there is a special, different kind of closeness between women who love each other platonically. Their primary relationship was with each other. When it was lost, neither had anyone to turn to digest the foibles of their respective romances. Realizing that she was truly alone sent Molly back to therapy for the first time in two years. The ending of her entanglement with Issa led to the tumult in her romance with Andrew, and finally to self-examination.
Friendships are special, and they deserve every ounce of reverence that we reserve for romantic love. What happened between Molly and Issa was nothing short of a heartbreak. Season 4's final shot was of Issa and Molly together again, back in the Ethiopian restaurant they both love, finally making the space to voice the pain they’d avoided bring to the fore. With no premiere date in sight, it will likely be a year or more before we see how that conversation concludes, but it is fitting that after 10 weeks of distance, they would end the year in each other’s company.