In 2017, the second season of Netflix’s Emmy-winning Dramedy, Master of None ended with protagonist Dev Shah (creator and lead Aziz Ansari) facing the ramifications of his colleagues’ sexual assault charges. Dev, who was on the brink of success with his new lifestyle show with TV star Jeff (Bobby Cannavale) finds out that Jeff has been harassing female crew members for many years. The allegations break out while they are promoting their show, and Dev too, faces ‘cancellation.’
It was then considered quite jarring when in January of 2018, a woman using the pseudonym Grace wrote an article on now defunct Babe.net titled “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned out to be the worst night of my life." In the article, Grace, a young photographer from Brooklyn said that Aziz had spent their date making sexual advances towards her despite her “verbal and non-verbal cues" that she was not interested. She also said that she felt immense pressure to get physical with him, and all her signs were either unnoticed or ignored.
She even shared screenshots of her telling the actor that his behavior made him uncomfortable. He apologised to her on text. Aziz had won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for Master of None. It was also when the allegations against Harvey Weinstein had surfaced, and Aziz was one of the several actors taking part in the ‘Times Up Movement.’
When the story came out, Aziz responded by saying that he had ‘misread’ the situation. He said that he thought whatever happened was consensual. He apologised for his behavior but maintained that he did not do it knowingly.
Needless to say, Aziz’s meteoric rise halted. Even though the actor had previously said that Master of None season 3 would not drop immediately, most people assumed that the show would not return at all. However, his industry colleagues were quick to ‘forgive’ him. When he came out with a stand-up special, which ironically talked about how “wokeness had been taken too far now-a-days," celebrities publicly voiced their support for the actor.
So, it was quite surprising to see that Netflix had ordered a third season of Master of None. However, instead of being a continuation of Dev Shah’s story, it would focus on his friend Denise (Lena Waithe) and her wife Alicia (Naomi Ackie).
During the season 3 promotions, there were various articles saying that Aziz will not appear in Master of None, except for a cameo. However, he has directed every episode of the show, and co-written all five of them with Lena Waithe. He also appears in two episodes. He is very much an important part of the show, no matter what the streaming service wants you to believe.
Master of None season three has been branded as Master of None: Moments in Love. It is tonally and content-wise very different from the first two seasons of the show. It has been shot entirely on film and in a 4:3 aspect ratio. It is shot using the ‘fly on the wall’ technique with beautifully framed wide shots that are mostly static. The protagonists go in and out of the frame, and we hear new characters before we see them. By the looks of it, the third season looks like an independent, arthouse project that gets a lot of brownie points among ‘film-buffs’ for the way it looks and feels.
It is fitting that the show focuses on the mundane-ness of married life. When we meet Denise and Alicia, they’re already married. There is no meet-cute. However, there is a sense of calm in the way they dance when they are doing laundry together. When Denise is interviewed by a publication, she is stiff, and only emotes when Alicia joins the party. Basically it’s a sweet couple living in a seemingly simple yet expensive farmhouse with their chickens in up-state New York.
Denise and Alicia’s marital bliss comes to a screeching halt when they invite Dev and his partner Reshmi (Aysha Kala). The night starts out fun, with old friends reconnecting, but soon turns out to be super awkward as Dev and Reshmi get into a full-blown fight. Reshmi doesn’t like that they are living with Dev’s parents in their tiny house in Queens. On the other hand, Dev has a simmering problem with Reshmi’s lifestyle, the things she buys and even her business ideas. Dev goes on to call her and her “clown car" of friends out for being lazy.
After the horrible fight, Alicia lands an ear to Reshmi, who says her life isn’t going according to her plan. She wanted a flourishing career and kids, which Alicia, who recently had a career-change can relate to. On the other hand, Dev reveals he is embarrassed to talk to Denise as she is doing well and he isn’t.
What Denise and Alicia don’t know that witnessing this ugly fight brings to light the cracks in their own marriage. Motivated by Reshmi, Alicia brings up the topic of having kids. They had previously said they would wait a year to talk about it. Denise says that she is a ‘New York Times bestselling author’ and needs to focus on her career.
However, she soon gets convinced by Alicia and they ask their friend to be their donor. They get pregnant by artificial insemination but in quick succession lose their baby too. Alicia is a wreck at losing her baby, but is confused by Denise’s stoicism in the situation. She accuses Denise of never wanting to be a parent. She says, “I want to have a baby, but probably not with you."
The first episode of Master of None shows a couple falling apart in the face of adversity. What seems to be a perfect life gets easily imbalanced by the idea of a more complete life. For a lesbian couple, it is harder to attain this lifestyle. For a heterosexual couple, trying for a baby can be difficult, but there are systems in place to help them. For Denise and Alicia, the systems quickly fail them.
It is not just the struggles of trying to have a baby, first through artificial insemination and then through IVF, that causes tension between the couple. Can a baby solve all the issues that they have swept under the carpet? Are they trying to put a band-aid on deeper problems? Denise and Alicia seem to be trapped in the marriage, and the symbolism made apparent in the 4:3 aspect ratio.
What Master of None: Moments in Love is trying to do is tell us that there are other things to focus on that their former star’s problematic past. By putting a strategic amount of time in between the seasons, we are being told that the dust has ‘settled’ and it is okay for Aziz to get back to work again.
This isn’t a new thing in Hollywood, from actors like James Franco, Casey Affleck, to filmmakers like Bryan Singer, Woody Allen and even Roman Polanski, men accused of #Me Too are quietly going back to work. Kevin Spacey made two bizarre Christmas videos in his House of Cards character and asked for ‘kindness.’ It is imminent that many will get a clean chit, as we can see is already happening in Bollywood.
Master of None: Moments in Love poses a conundrum to the audience. Does watching the third season mean that we have forgiven Aziz Ansari? Is it even our place to do so? Is it anti-feminist to talk about Aziz when the show is about two Black women? Are we not giving Emmy-winner Lena Waithe enough credit for the her role in the show?
One thing is for sure, even though the show tries hard to deflect attention from its former star’s past, it only brings it back to our attention. It is Aziz Ansari’s show, even though it tries not to be.