Master of None
Aside from a few stand-alone episodes, the primary story lines on Master of None this season involve Dev’s second professional act as a food-TV extraordinaire and his emotional affair with Francesca, the engaged Italian pasta maker he met in Modena. The last two episodes of the season — “Amarsi Un Po” and “Buona Notte” — bring both stories to a head with positive results. These final episodes showcase Aziz Ansari at his most consistent, both behind and in front of the camera, with material that’s grounded and honest. They might not be the season’s very best episodes, but they’re the ones that best encapsulate the thematic heart of Master of None: that people will go to desperate lengths for even the briefest moment of true connection.
In the episodes leading up to the season’s end, Dev and Francesca’s romance hasn’t been stellar. Their initial attraction in the beginning of the season was cute enough, but their first big night out in “The Dinner Party” was fairly bland, despite help from Chef Jeff and the musical stylings of John Legend, mostly because of the opacity around Francesca. It’s not a requirement that a love interest have the same deep characterization as the lead, but it certainly helps add depth when the nature of the protagonist’s attraction seems superficial, i.e. the allure of an unavailable woman. Maybe that isn’t entirely fair, but up until this episode, it was difficult to tell if Dev’s attraction was more than surface-level, other than simply taking the show’s word for it.
So much credit to “Amarsi Un Po” for successfully selling Dev and Francesca’s relationship as a genuine romance and their mutual-yet-forbidden attraction as a realistic extension of their chemistry. Ansari effectively captures their rapid development in long takes — Dev and Francesca walking and talking in New York, shopping in a pharmacy, dancing to Edoardo Vianello’s “Guarda Come Dondolo” in pajamas — playing off the episode’s sweet-natured writing and Ansari and Alessandra Mastronardi’s onscreen chemistry.
Halfway through the episode, when Dev and Francesca are hanging out at Dev’s place in a snowstorm, talking like people who are slowly discovering their feelings for one another, their relationship clicks. It makes obvious sense why the profoundly unsatisfied Dev would fall for Francesca, but “Amarsi Un Po” also communicates why she would fall for him. It’s not just a right-time, right-place thing; it’s also that Francesca’s life has been circumscribed by events beyond her control. She gave up her art-history pursuits after her mother died so she could help out her grandmother, she’s dated Pino for over ten years and decided to get married mostly out of convenience, and she’s spent the majority of her life in a small village. When she looks at Dev, she sees something beyond the contours of her life. She sees Dev and she sees adventure.
Of course, it’s all part of the fantasy, but Ansari nicely illustrates that first love largely depends on a mutually beneficial fantasy. Dev wants a magical adventure that never ends and Francesca wants to leave behind her old life and jump headfirst into a new one. General chemistry aside, that illusion often serves as the initial groundwork for a relationship, even though both parties will eventually hit reality and realize it’s harder to maintain something than start it.
Ansari also doesn’t moralize Dev and Francesca’s situation in “Amarsi Un Po,” instead preferring to explore the emotions without an undue ethical burden. Of course, Francesca commits some sort of emotional infidelity with Dev, and she’s clearly aware of it, but Ansari demonstrates that these affairs occur even with the best of the intentions. Dev clearly tries to break off the engagement, especially when he goads her into admitting that she has thought about being with other people, and Francesca essentially allows him to try, at least for a while. However, at Arnold’s DJ party, Francesca clearly pulls away from Dev as she feels that the relationship has gotten too serious, forcing him to admit his attraction in so many words. She acknowledges the attraction, but leaves it at that.
Some time goes by. Pino and Francesca fight about her disinterest in returning to Italy. She denies that there’s someone else, but admits she doesn’t know what she wants anymore. After not communicating for a bit, Dev and Francesca ultimately decide to go on a helicopter tour of New York together, where Dev finally admits that he’s in love with her and that they should be together. Francesca verbally reciprocates his feelings, but also tells him that she needs time to sort things out. A fantasy can be a great thing, and yet to keep it going, actual logistics have to enter the equation.
Jack of All Trades
• Ansari peppers in some references to mid-20th-century Italian films, including Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura, which Dev and Francesca watch late at night. At one point, Dev imagines himself as the Sandro character and Francesca as Claudia.
• Dev and Francesca list off their celebrity “wish” list. Francesca names Ryan Gosling, young Robert Redford, and Marlon Brando, when alive. Dev names Monica Vitti and Claudia Cardinale. Gee, I wonder where his priorities lie?
• There’s some good Arnold material in this episode as well, such as when Pino tries to convince him to retile his bathroom and Arnold politely rebuffs him, or when he awkwardly switches conversation topics at his party just as Francesca approaches him and Dev.
• The less said about that terrible dream sequence, the better. It’s truly inconsequential and unnecessary.
• Ansari scores the helicopter scene to “I Can’t Let It Happen to You,” arguably the best song recorded by ’60s pop group the Walker Brothers.
• The pilot gag at the very end was telegraphed, but it’s still super effective.