Aziz Ansari Recaps the Master of None Finale: ‘It’s Not a Flashback’

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Aziz Ansari as Dev, Alessandra Mastronardi as Francesca. Photo: Netflix

Arrivederci, this is your final Aziz-cap! As a special supplement to your regular recaps of Master of None, we’ve asked New York Magazine cover star Aziz Ansari to give us the behind-the-scenes breakdown of each episode, pieced together from multiple conversations over the past several months.

Episode 210: “Buona Notte”
And so we come to the end of this banner season of Master of None. In episode nine, Dev was ramping up for his Best Food Friends show with Bobby Cannavale, and confessed his love to Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) in a helicopter, though she told him to hang on a minute.

In this finale, we find our fair hero shooting Best Food Friends and promoting it on a disastrous segment of Raven Live, the daytime talk show we all wish existed — with the rich, though apparently unintended, visual of The Cosby Show alumnus Raven Symoné tearing down a serial sexual predator. After Dev crosses some boundaries with Francesca and says things he can’t take back, he then runs into his ex-girlfriend Rachel (Noël Wells) at exactly the worst time. What happened with that ambiguous ending, and where does it leave us for season three? All that and more, plus a brief appearance from Bobby Cannavale in this final Aziz-cap.

The Kiss Through the Door

Aziz Ansari: At the end of episode nine, we go on this helicopter tour and I’m really sad and I’m like, “Look, what is going on?” We have this emotional conversation, and at the end, she’s like, “I’ve got to process all this. I need some time.” So [“Buona Notte”] is her coming back to see me and we’re just talking about where she is in her head.

Dev’s argument is, “Think about yourself a little more. You gave up your career for your family, now you’re giving up everything because it’s what you’re supposed to do, to be with Pino and everything, and your heart’s not in it.” But he doesn’t really know how much her heart’s not in it. He doesn’t really know what she thinks about Pino.

At one point, Alan had this idea that we just didn’t have time to do. It would have been that whole episode nine, but it would just be about her and Pino and you see all their moments together and their life together. There are probably a lot of beautiful things that you just don’t know about. Dev doesn’t know what her episode nine is with Pino, and they surely have one after being together for years. They’re just in a lull right now and she’s getting a lot of attention from Dev and probably taking advantage of him. She’s entertained and he’s lavishing her with attention, and they have a great time together and they joke around, and they’re doing fun stuff and they enjoy the city, and they have this rapport that’s really great. I think that her Pino relationship has probably lost a little spark and she’s running to Dev to get some sparks.

Dev’s also not acting completely great either, right? I mean, he knows she’s in a relationship, dicking around like this. He knows Pino, you know! They’re both doing something pretty shady. They’re both being pretty shady. And they’re justifying it because they’re kind of in love with each other.

There’s a scene like [kissing through the door] that’s in L’Eclisse, one of the [Michelangelo] Antonioni movies. It’s kind of a different context. This is different because it’s about a forbidden love thing. Theirs is a little bit different. That was a really tricky one to film, but I was so happy with how it turned out, and it just looks really great because of the blue and red light. I think our cinematographer just did such an incredible job.

It’s in this weird zone where they both know what’s going on, they’ve both kind of admitted their feelings to each other, and they’re in it together now. They have each other to confide in. But they’re going through two totally different things. Dev is just sitting there, just waiting for her to hopefully break up with this guy, and she has not only him to worry about, but she has Pino, whom she’s going home to. I think it’s a really horrible situation for her and it’s everything coming to a head.

Behind the Scenes

[Editor’s note: This was the scene I watched on set at the Master of None soundstage in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Here are a few takeaways.]

1) Alessandra Mastronardi and Ansari wrote the dialogue together through improvised rehearsals. “I just like to rehearse,” said Ansari. “If there’s a little part that needs to be tweaked a little better, I’d just rather do it with her and figure it out here [in a hallway] rather than on set in front of the cameras with everyone waiting to shoot like, ‘Are we ready yet, guys?’” At that exact moment, his phone buzzed with a text. “We’re ready to start shooting ASAP,” he read out loud. “Jesus.”

2) He speaks Italian to Alessandra whenever possible.

Mastronardi: I like your jumper.

Ansari: Ti piace?

Mastronardi: Yeah, I love.

Ansari: Va bene.

3) Ansari weighs in on everything, from asking Alessandra to change her shirt because it looks too busy in the shot, to deciding that one of the red or blue light bulbs Dev uses to make his apartment look like a bar is too fancy to look like one he believably owns.

4) It’s totally fascinating watching their stand-ins block out the scene.

5) Ansari and Mastronardi had a heated debate over whether Dev and Francesca kiss or don’t kiss.

Ansari: I think it makes more sense if we kiss and she’s into it and she’s like, “Fuck, what am I doing?”

Mastronardi: I realize after all of this, I’m playing with you, I’m flirting with you.

Ansari: Well, in the ’copter, you say, “I would’ve kissed you back.” So if I’m him, that’s a green light.

Mastronardi: That’s what I’m saying, why push you away? It’s completely nuts. If you want to play this, that’s fine. I’ll do it. I’m just afraid — fuck, she’s completely nuts. She came here saying, “It’s terrible to be here, I feel bad to be here, Pino doesn’t deserve this.” And then we dance and we kiss and I say, “No wait, I can’t do this.”

Ansari: I think it’s because when you kiss him, it becomes very real and scary. It needs to be a downbeat. It needs to be something where she’s like, “Fuck! What am I doing?” Because the kiss through the glass is a fantasy, right? It’s fun, but when it gets real, it’s like, “Fuck.”

6) There was also a debate over who pushed the glass door aside.

Alan Yang: She’s playing the song and then she brings him over to the bedroom. She’s initiating a lot of stuff.

Ansari: Then maybe I move the glass out of the way. I mean, I would move the glass out of the way if the person was like, “If you kissed me, I would’ve kissed you back.”

Yang: That’s what I’m saying. Then that motivates something.

Mastronardi: I’m really lost.

7) Even when they filmed the kiss and it turned out great on the first take, Ansari wanted to shoot multiple other versions. Mainly, he wanted the camera to chase Francesca as she grabs her jacket, leaves the apartment, and slams the door, rather than stay on Dev’s frustrated reaction.

Yang: You want to see her leave, but I think the scene is done when she leaves frame. Is there a compelling reason you want to see her physically leave? That’s a specificity you don’t really need.

Ansari: I just feel like there is an abundance of sad Dev face [this season].

Yang: Ah, well, that’s true.

Aniz Ansari [Aziz’s brother, and a writer on the show]: But this is the one. This is the one where we need it, man.

Ansari: He has a whole bunch! Look at the stills! He’s so sad!

Aniz Ansari: I see what you’re trying to get at, I just don’t know that we’re getting it. Dude, her walking off frame is so compelling.

Mastronardi [walking up, to Yang and Aniz Ansari]: Why don’t we just keep it the way that it was before?

Aniz Ansari: We’re trying to talk him into it. SHHHHHHHHH.

Yang: SHHHHHHHHHHHH.

[Later…]

Ansari: The first one was better. I’ve definitely kissed people before and been like, “This is great!” And they’ve been like, “No!”

Best Food Friends

Ansari: They’re doing the ramen episode in Okonomi in Williamsburg. My favorite thing was they’re like, “Which one do you want? The bacon-and-egg one is really good.” And I was like, “I don’t know, man, I’m going to have to keep eating it over and over and I don’t want to do that and get too full. I’ll have to eat it a lot for the filming.” And they’re like, “No, no, no, you’ll be fine.” And then they gave it to us and it was so good and me and Bobby just kept eating it over and over again! [Laughs.]

Bobby Cannavale: I really think one of the reasons my character’s a chef is so that we could go and eat at all these cool, hip-ass, four-table, three-table restaurants that nobody could get into.

The Return of H. Jon Benjamin

Ansari: Oh, I love Jon Benjamin. We had this idea for him to do a bad play very early on. It just kept moving from episode to episode, and then it ended up being in the finale. Benjamin is just one of our favorite actors to have on set and do scenes with, and he’s always such a joy and always improvises amazing things. That Lil’ Bow Wow thing, Life in the Fast Lane, that was a thing from him about teaching an inner-city-kid how to drive. And we wrote that play! It’s a two-man play, three hours, no intermission. [Laughs.]

When Benjamin warns Dev about Chef Jeff, that’s big. Before, no one said anything to him. The idea was, “This is a guy that everybody loves and thinks is so great, and now one of your friends tells you, ‘No, actually he’s a scumbag.’ What are you going to do?” That’s a weird situation to be put in.

I think we have a lot of versions of that in our lives. We were talking about it in the writers’ room: You have someone like Chef Jeff where you’re like, “Don’t know him super well, but everything points to them being a good person,” and then you find out, “Oh, shit! They’re actually up to something horrible.” It’s a weird situation, and to put that in a work situation seemed really interesting to us. His whole career is hanging on this guy. This is the guy who gave him the show and everything. What are you going to do when you find out, “Oh, he’s actually doing something pretty bad?” There’s posters of them together up all around town! It really puts Dev in a bad position.

Cannavale: I think Aziz is smarter than to just go, “I’m going to base him on Anthony Bourdain.” He never mentioned Anthony Bourdain, he was just like, “Dude, I love these cooking shows and I love to cook.” He just wanted me to be really fucking friendly, and really into his job, and really excited about everything. Chef Jeff, he’s just fucking inappropriate. The guy can’t help himself. It just takes Dev a second to figure that shit out. I think it happened to Aziz. He was relaying some kind of story loosely based on a guy that he met. He thought he became friends with him and then was like, “Oh, shit. This guy’s wrong.” That’s funny, when you think you’re friends with somebody and then you’re like, “Oh, I got to back off.”

Raven Live

Ansari: The Raven Live thing was really fun. We were going to try to make it a real show and the real shows we wanted, they weren’t really down for it. I don’t know who came up with Raven Live, but I was really happy we ended up using Raven [Symoné], because she was so good. Raven killed it. She was so down. She knew exactly what we were going for because she’s been in daytime before with The View, and she just knew the energy we were going for. And then she also was great at playing the turn of getting mad at Chef Jeff and getting mad at Dev. I was really happy with the performance.

I also loved coming up with the Raven Live theme song. I came up with the lyrics for it. The lyrics are… [sings] “This is Raven Live / Yes, this is Raven Live / Get on your feet / This girl’s got the heat! / Get ready for Raaaaaaavven / Raven is live!” I think I just sang it to Danielle [Brooks] and told her to sing the theme song. And now I have a writing credit for the Raven Live theme song!

Danielle is such a delight to have on set and she’s so funny. Even in the second episode, she just kills on that phone call [as Dev’s agent, telling him about the Clash of the Cupcakes offer]. When she started improvising that thing where she starts looking into my soul, that was hard to make it through. That was really fun. She just kept doing that and it really made me laugh and we put it in. That was her improv. I think she still has Dev’s back after that [Chef Jeff debacle]. I hope.

I was texting Alan today. I was like, “Should we just make Raven Live and be executive producers?” If any daytime people are reading this and want to do it, I’m down.

It was so crazy, we were writing the [Chef Jeff sexual-harassment plotline] right around the time there was the Roger Ailes thing. When we were writing, we were thinking, “I’m sure there’s someone else who does this right before, right when the show comes out.” And then sure enough, a week before the show comes out, it’s the same thing with Bill O’Reilly. I’m definitely not happy about that! I’m definitely not thrilled that we were proven right on that!

I think on Raven Live, it’s one of those situations where you’re so overwhelmed you don’t even have time to think. It’s just such a nightmare scenario and it was a pretty surreal situation for Dev. You have this great opportunity, you think everything’s going really well, then you find out that the guy who’s responsible for all your good fortune is this monster who’s probably going to be in big trouble. It’s probably going to ruin all of your professional life as well, and there are posters up everywhere of the two of you that say Best Food Friends. It’s a pretty dire situation, so I think he was probably overwhelmed.

Dev's Fight With Francesca

Ansari: Let’s just say for the purposes of this conversation that Dev is the person that’s single and wants the non-single person, the Francesca, to leave their partner. That’s their relationship dynamic. I think often the Devs of the situation are really just thinking of themselves and aren’t fully considering the other person’s perspective, because they’re so engrossed in love and remember how great things are. They get deluded in the fantasy of this relationship so much and just how happy they would be that they’re not always straight about what it would entail for this person to uproot their whole life. I think that [final conversation] is Francesca laying that out at him. And that was really fun to film.

We basically improvised that whole scene and did four fights. I can’t remember which take it was, but it was mainly using one piece from one of them and grabbing little moments from other ones. We just ripped into it. I told Alessandra, “Come at me with whatever and I’ll do the same, and let’s just make it really raw and real and go for it.” We’d argue for ten minutes and then we’d cut and then do another one. It was fun to do. And I was happy with how the scene turned out. That’s the director’s cut. They’re nice at Netflix. They trust us with what we want to do. They’re all director’s cuts. That’s the best version of that fight.

There’s a great moment that she improvised that I cut. It just didn’t fit in with the other stuff, but she said, “What if we’re supposed to have just those three weeks and that was it? And that was what we’re supposed to do, and now we’re supposed to move on?” And Dev said, “Well, then that sucks.” [Laughs.] But, you know, maybe that is what that’s supposed to be. Maybe that was supposed to be this magical little emotional fling and that’s it, which kind of sucks for Dev, and for her, too. I thought that was an interesting idea, but we couldn’t fit it into the argument.

The Return of Rachel

Ansari: I’ve had so many moments in my life when I’ve run into someone at the worst moment. And that just felt really real for me, for it to be at the pit. Career in trash, personal life in trash, and you run into this person at the worst possible time. And it just seemed like a cool way to bring her back and it felt very real.

What I’ve read people saying about the Rachel relationship is exactly what I hoped they would say, the idea of “Oh, I loved that character and I love Noël and I wish I could’ve seen her in the season,” but what people have said that they’ve liked is it feels like a real breakup. I mean, when you really break up with someone that you’re living with or whatever, they don’t just become your friend and start hanging out with you all the time. They’re not getting brunch with Denise and Arnold and hanging out. They’re gone! They move on. They do whatever they’re going to do. So I’m happy that we were able to portray that in a way that people respond to.

They just are in two different worlds right now. He doesn’t know who those friends are she’s with, we don’t know what her life is now. You put on that fake “Oh, hey, I’m doing great! Good to see you!” And you go off and you deal with your problems.

The End

Ansari: The ending, I’m going to be a little coy about sharing my own personal interpretation, but I will say I was curious what people would think of the ending. It’s been interesting to read people’s thoughts on it. I looked at a couple of things and talked to a few friends and stuff, and the sweetest thing I’ve found is that people are saying it reminds them of my favorite ending of anything, which is the end of Before Sunset, which I think is incredible. I read something where someone says there’s the Before Sunset test, which is “Okay, if you’re a romantic you think they’re in bed together and you think that things are going to be great.” If you’re another type of person, you think, “Oh, they’re together and it’s going to be horrible.” Another person could say, “Oh, I think it’s just a fantasy and she’s thinking about how terrible it would be if she actually went through with it.” Another person could say, “Oh, it’s Dev imagining it and how it would be actually not what he wants. It would be a shit show, like what Arnold was saying, that he’s just in love with the fantasy of her and not the real person.”

I think I would like to keep it that way, where it’s really dependent on who you are and where you are in your own head to decide what that thing means. I will say it’s not a flashback. It’s not a flashback to the blizzard scene because we’re wearing different clothes and she doesn’t have an engagement ring on.

Aziz's Message to Fans

We don’t know if we’re going to do a third season. We put so much of ourselves into the show — all of us, not just me, but Alan, Lena, Aniz, everyone on our crew. We all really give everything to make something we’re really proud of, and to read the response has been overwhelming. We’re so grateful. I think the consensus seems to be that we’ve made something that was better than the first season, and that was always the goal, to kind of top ourselves and push ourselves and make something more ambitious and to improve in every regard: acting, cinematography, everything. From a casual perusing, it seems like that’s what people feel like we did, and that makes me very happy. And I’m just glad people like it. And if you’re like, “When’s next season?” Chill out a minute. We just finished. [Laughs.]

I don’t know if we’ll do more. If we don’t do more, I hope people look at these two seasons and feel like it’s a cool document of this time and relationships and just everything. I’m really happy with it and I’m glad people seem to dig it. If we don’t do a season three, we’re around. We’ll make something else.

Aziz Ansari Recaps Master of None Finale: ‘Not a Flashback’