Aziz, you've done it again.
The second season of the hit show Master of None made its debut on Netflix less than three weeks ago. The quick-witted quirkiness we've come to love came back in droves. However, the second stanza of the series transitioned into something in the realm of a love story -- though the charm exuded by Ansari and his fellow cast disarmed the potential for overwhelming sappiness.
This piece will review the entire season -- with commentary on each episode. For those who've yet to watch the second season, you may want to step away from your computer/mobile device (temporarily) until you've caught up. The spoilers will be flying fast and frequently.
Episode 1: "The Thief"
The season's opening episode takes us to the small Italian city of Modena. Ansari's character Dev has since become a pasta maker, learning from none other than the most Italian grandmother you've ever seen. It's in this episode where we casually meet Dev's friend Francesca (portrayed by Alessandra Mastronardi). Francesca will certainly be spoken about later in the piece. It's clear Dev is sorting through some stuff -- particularly when a chance encounter with a fellow (and attractive) expat turns from a potential dating experience into rather bad luck.
More than anything, the cinematography in this initial episode is fantastic. It was filmed completely in black and white, and had numerous references to the iconic neo-realist Italian film The Bicycle Thieves. His interactions with the young, boisterous and chubby Mario (depicted by Nicolo Ambrosio) is both heartwarming and hilarious. It was also impressive to see Ansari speak fluent Italian for the vast majority of the episode.
Ultimately, the brain trust of Master of None did well in illuminating the rather gloomy nature of Dev. It helped in setting the stage for Dev's next life chapter.
Image Source: Vulture
Episode 2: "Le Nozze"
Big guy. Lil guy.
The dynamic between Dev and good friend Arnold (played by Eric Wareheim) is one of good vibes. Both support each other -- with Arnold often placing a positive spin on any issue Dev may be having. Much like Dev, Arnold is currently in a rut. Traveling to Italy for a wedding (which we later find out is for his ex-girlfriend), the hulking figure gives off an initial facade of womanizing and happiness (and by womanizing, I mean it in the most harmless of ways). As the wedding creeps closer, we begin to understand Arnold's desire for a reconciliation with the bride-to-be.
Dev accompanies Arnold to the wedding -- where the duo embark on countless mishaps (including getting their tiny Fiat stuck between two pillars on a narrow street). While Arnold struggles with his own demons, Dev finds himself texting his old girlfriend, Rachel.
This episode touches upon a number of topics. For one, the dichotomy of loneliness versus appearance is ever-present. It's something we all have dealt with at one point in another. Both Arnold and Dev have vines from the past attempting to snatch them back into an ambiguous existence. Instead, their company allows for each of them to forge forward into the future. Arnold focuses his attention on a girl in New York, and is able to get past the dormant feelings he had for his ex. Dev opts to break communication with Rachel -- instead choosing to focus on the present...which includes moving back to New York in order to find another career.
Image Source: Eric Wareheim's Instagram Account
Episode 3: "Religion"
Finally, we get some time with Dev's parents (who happen to be his real-life parents). Dev's father in particular has his usual moments of one-liners and endearing interactions (especially when he demonstrates his modeling poses at the dinner table). Pertaining to the storyline, Dev has family in town during Ramadan. Expected to be a devout Muslim, Dev is nothing of the sort. He loves pork -- to the point where he got his (formerly) religious cousin to go with him to a barbecue festival.
While his father brings the comedic side to the episode, the relatable element of disappointment is offered via the relationship between Dev and his mother. Bothered by Dev's cavalier attitude towards this cultural practice, Dev's mother becomes immensely upset. Many of the "millennials" face a conundrum when trying to navigate the pitfalls of a generational gap. In Dev's case, does he honor his mother by not partaking in the consumption of pork, or does he abandon that premise for the forbidden salty goodness?
As children, we often hide things from our parents that would otherwise make them upset. It seems prudent to participate in these activities when mom or dad are not present. While Dev won't be shying away from bacon anytime soon, he was able to reach an understanding with his mother.
Image Source: Eater
Episode 4: "First Date"
The initial start of this episode is truly emblematic of the increasingly difficult and casual nature of today's dating world.
Dev threw himself back into the game with reckless abandon -- as this episode focused on his inability to find a true connection with someone. Snippets of each "date" were illustrated with incompatibility and weirdness. Sticking with the theme of food in this season, Dev even meets a famous food blogger...who ultimately already has a boyfriend.
The impetus on dating apps is showcased brilliantly -- as Dev constantly looks for the perfect opening line. It ultimately turns out to be "Going to Whole Foods, want me to pick you up anything?" There is hope for Dev -- as he meets a seemingly normal and nice girl named Priya (portrayed by Tiya Sircar).
Image Source: Mashable
Episode 5: "The Dinner Party"
Surprise! Francesca and her bizarre boyfriend Pino come to New York for a quick business trip. But before we delve into the burgeoning Francesca-Dev situation, Dev goes out on a date with Priya. After initially having a pleasant rapport on the initial encounter, the second date is a complete disaster.
Dev has secured a role as the host on "Clash of the Cupcakes" -- a show straight out of the Food Network. The network boss -- Chef Jeff -- invites Dev and a guest to an intimate dinner at his house (where John Legend offers a performance). Left without a date, Dev asks Francesca to accompany him. The energy between the pair was both palpable and apparent. Here, we get the first real insight into Dev's true feelings for her.
As Dev bids adieu to Francesca, he sits solemnly in the back of a cab alone -- pondering his feelings. This specific scene speaks to Ansari's vast potential as a dramatic actor. Portraying the character Chef Jeff, veteran actor Bobby Cannavale does a terrific job of channeling his inner Anthony Bourdain (albeit with a bit more energy and volume).
Image Source: Eater
Episode 6: "New York, I Love You"
This episode stylistically was an amalgam between a Wes Anderson film and Love Actually. The audience sees three vignettes of various people across the city.
One vignette focuses on a concierge -- who's job is made more difficult by a bizarre request and a racy situation involving a tenant in the building. Artistically, the next vignette was superb -- as it involved three deaf characters. Subtitles were offered, and there was absolutely no sound whatsoever for this portion of the episode. The third looked at an apartment of (presumably) African immigrants. The group pooled up their money from driving cabs, and had hoped to have an exciting night out on the town.
The social commentary -- both said and unsaid -- really helped to shape the episode. For one, the cast of characters spoke to the diversity of not only New York City, but also the United States in general. Despite the varying levels in income and class, these are all people trying to carve out their own niche in society. It's something Ansari clearly wanted to establish with the city setting as a backdrop. Each group highlighted in this episode all end up at the same movie theatre, watching a (fictional) Nicholas Cage movie entitled Death Castle.
Image Source: CNN.com
Episode 7: "Door #3"
This episode felt like a bit of a bridge between Episode 6 and Episode 8.
It wasn't as if it was bad, per se, but it didn't really add much to the overall season. There were some funny moments between Dev and his father -- particularly in the doctor's office (you'll never look at an electric toothbrush the same again). The minor storyline with Brian and his father's dating life is also rather humorous.
Cedric the Entertainer makes an appearance as an emotional magician tasked with performing a trick during a live taping of Dev's show. However, it doesn't exactly go to plan (if you're squeamish with blood, you may want to look away at that point in the episode). The biggest revelation in the episode was the conversation between Chef Jeff and Dev. Dev has become increasingly disillusioned with the show, and instead pitches an idea to Jeff for a travel show entitled "BFFs: Best Food Friends."
Image Source: Eater
Episode 8: "Thanksgiving"
This episode is heavy when it comes to emotion. We learn that Dev would visit Denise's home every year for Thanksgiving. Billed as two outcasts within their own community, the two form a strong -- albeit unconventional -- bond. We see flashbacks of the duo as young children, teenagers, and then within the last few years. Denise's mother (played by Angela Bassett) is unwilling to come to grips with the fact that her daughter is a lesbian -- even though the insinuations and signs were plainly visible.
Ultimately, Denise's mother offers acceptance via her approval of Denise's girlfriend, Michelle. It's one of the best moments in the series, particularly since the flip is shown rather than told with dialogue.
The comedic elements of this episode help to break up the tenseness of the mother-daughter dynamic. Aunt Joyce and Grandmother Ernestine (played by Kym Whitley and Venida Evans, respectively) paired exceptionally well with Dev's smart-alecky behavior at the dinner table. It was easily one of the most well-done episodes of the show, regardless of season.
Image Source: USA TODAY
Episode 9: "Amarsi Un Po"
"Amarsi Un Po" is almost double the length of the usual episode (57 minutes). This chapter within the story jumps full bore into Dev's infatuation with Francesca, and the requisite bubbling of her feelings for Dev as well. We learn Francesca got engaged to Pino. Understandably so, Dev tries to conceal the fact that he's crushed by the news.
Both Pino and Francesca ultimately come to New York for a month -- as Pino has business engagements taking him all across the Northeast. It leaves Francesca by herself to explore the city. Taking it upon himself to be a platonically welcoming host (sense the sarcasm in this statement), Dev hangs out with her at various spots across the city. As the hang-out sessions become more and more frequent, the chemistry and unspoken connection between the two grow.
Without giving too much way, the dance between the two in his kitchen is both beautiful and intense. The random blizzard forcing Francesca to stay the night may be a bit cliche, but it works well within the parameters of the relationship. Francesca certainly is immersed in this tryst of sorts, though the unbridled intrigue is still bracketed by the fortification of a prior commitment with Pino.
Image Source: ELLE
Episode 10: "Buona Notte"
The potential "BFFs: Best Food Friends" show appears to be tabled after it's revealed that Chef Jeff has been sexually harassing crew members from previous sets.
After confessing his love to Francesca on a helicopter ride over New York, it isn't exactly reciprocated. The engagement to Pino is surely weighing on her mind -- as is the fact that she'd be uprooting her entire life should she stay with Dev in New York. As such, both Dev's personal and professional lives are in shambles.
Ansari ambitiously attempts to tackle a facet many fear. Using this relationship as a model, he leaps deep into the human psyche -- allowing the protagonist to voice his true feelings as opposed to burying them deep within his soul. On the other side of the coin, Francesca doesn't appear able to take the same leap of faith. Being vocal about wants and desires often gets blurred when love is thrown into the mix.
If anything, Ansari depicts this premise wonderfully.
Image Source: Vulture
This show does a masterful job of cleverly plucking at the heartstrings of the audience collectively -- regardless of race or sexual orientation. Through this season, virtually every demographic is represented and accounted for in some form or fashion. Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang explore a plethora of themes pertaining to the doldrums of everyday life. The persistent pressures of relationships -- romantic, platonic, and familial -- are exquisitely illustrated. Additionally, there's no denying the immense chemistry between Ansari and Mastronardi. It will be fascinating to see when this story will be revisited (if ever). The mystery surrounding the absolute end of the finale (is it a flashback or a flash-forward?) has many scratching their heads at what's to come.
Image Source: Hindustan Times