The best episodes of Master of None Season 2, hands down, are the stand alone episodes. There’s a reason all my favorite podcasts are shouting out “Thanksgiving” and “New York, I Love You”. These episodes show off the what the Master of None team is really good at: efficient, specific world-building; writing for their core company, and totally nailing the kind of cultural commentary that eventually becomes a meme.
The Master of None writers and creative team have great world-building chops. They give us exactly what we need as we need it to understand new spaces, be it a small town in Italy or Denise’s mom’s house. The key is the specificity of the world. Each setting offers a whole network of details and references, which serve the overall “true” feeling of the spaces, whether or not they’re references you actually get. See: Denise’s evolving bedroom decor in “Thanksgiving” or on-point graphics in all three of this season’s fake TV shows. The devil's in the details and Master of None pays attention.
The show’s best chemistry comes between Dev (Aziz, obviously) and his friends, Arnold, Denise, and that friend who has to get her vacuum fixed. The rapport in each of these relationships doesn’t feel particularly naturalistic, rather it thrives on that special kind of TV deliciousness of good friends thinking impossibly fast. There’s something pleasantly mechanical and musical to the rhythm of speech Dev falls into with each of his long-time friends, especially the sing-song whine he and Arnold drop into in times of childish joy. This musicality is so lovely to spend time with because it showcases friendship operating at their best.
There are scenes-as-social-commentary that are strong, too, though the ones that feel like reworked, dramatized stand-up bits (“Going to Whole Foods, want me to pick you up anything?”) work far better than the after-school special chatter the show sometimes falls back on. Don’t get me wrong, I love a show that addresses the realities of sexual harassment in the workplace, but does the writing have to be so wooden around it?
Moments like that, where the morality subtext is louder than the characters wants and needs, are the downfall of this season of Master of None for me. No doubt the show deserves all the praise it’s received for being inclusive and diverse, and for engaging on topics that are decidedly modern and relevant. But, with the exception of “Thanksgiving” which I thought was fairly excellent, when the going gets tough, the writing seems to suffer. These writers know their way around well-oiled friendships, zany parents, and awkward silences. It’s when the stakes—emotional, social, romantic—get high, the patter falters.
This season also suffers from staying too close to Dev’s perspective. While the episodes where Dev is a secondary or even tertiary character shine, when we’re following him too closely, the storytelling is a little too blinded by his point of view. He’s the protagonist and it’s third-person limited, I get it, but just a few moments to deepen my understanding of the other characters in this universe would go a long way to helping me love them myself, instead of just taking the it at Dev’s word that I should I love them.
Many of Master of None’s secondary characters suffer from this limited third-person storytelling, but none more than Francesca. For a show that is in other ways pretty culturally and politically aware, the most-seen love interest of this season sure is reduced. Francesca is little more than a pretty face, a cute accent, and a passing mention of an interest in art history. For much of the season, I remained hopeful that Master of None was up to something truly clever: perhaps the Francesca we saw was very intentionally the bella donna of Dev’s projected fantasy, perhaps we were all due for a reckoning with reality. Francesca’s not quite a manic pixie dream girl, but she does have that same kind of blank-slate-character quality that is the hallmark of the trope. What does Francesca want? Master of None sends her to the door whenever she’s about to tell us.
In the last shot of the season, she’s back in Dev’s bed, this time without her engagement ring. I wonder if next season we’ll learn more about this character than what makes her ~totally adorable~ or if she’ll be reduced to the same fate as Rachel: a few flirty texts from off-screen and a polite cameo to show how far we’ve come.
Master of None so clearly wants to engage in some hearty feminist dialogue, the real kind, not some #feminism that sells Diet Coke. I just hope that next season they bring a feminist dramaturgy to the character development and storytelling instead of relegating feminist topics to B or C plot points.