Master of None
After the dissolution of their marriage, Denise and Alicia are now divorced and out of each other’s lives. Alicia is back in New York working at an antique store and finally ready to pursue the pregnancy she’s been craving. With so much baggage swirling as a single, queer, Black woman, it’s an interesting choice for Alicia to follow through with this process on her own. But in the spirit of season two’s “Thanksgiving” Master of None devotes the entire hour of “Chapter Four” to Alicia’s pursuit of her own family — and the structural difficulties that come up when that family is queer.
The first, most jarring scene to set the stage for this emotional rollercoaster happens in a fertility clinic. At 37, Alicia’s fertility is declining rapidly and time is not on her side. Her best chance is IVF, but even then her chances of pregnancy only hover around 30-40 percent. And most crushingly, getting coverage for the process from her insurance will be a process, because as her doctor tells her, there’s an insurance code for being attacked by an orca whale, but not “gay and desires pregnancy.” No matter what, she’s looking at ten thousand dollars in out-of-pocket costs. It leaves Alicia with a choice to make. Should she go for broke, literally, and try to have this baby? Or should she focus on opening a retail space for her growing business? Baby it is.
After weeks of injections and doctor’s appointments, Alicia’s mood and resolve are tanking, but her doctor successfully retrieves five eggs. Unfortunately, of the three that are fertilized (courtesy of sperm donor and friend Darius), none are viable for implantation. It’s a crushing blow that leaves Alicia exhausted and sobbing offscreen. Once again, she’s at an impasse. If she wants to have a baby, she has to try again, but the money alone might be a deterrent.
After some consideration, Alicia decides that she’s not willing to let her life pass her by anymore. She wants a child. Not for her mother or for a wife, but for herself. This is her goal and she’s going to achieve it. The second round of IVF renders 13 eggs and 5 embryos. Some polyps in her uterus present a slight complication to implantation, so she has an additional surgery to remove them before implantation. But after a few weeks, her nurse calls to tell her the good news. She’s finally pregnant.
There’s a deep melancholy to this episode that is hard to work through at first. Ackie’s performance brings Alicia’s pain and trepidation to the fore. Her desire for children is so great, but there are so many barriers in her way that it almost feels insurmountable. Why should it be so difficult to do something that women are told almost from birth that their bodies are naturally designed to do? And compounding that, she’s undertaking this journey alone. Without Denise or another partner, she’s dealing with the emotional ups and downs of hormone injections, doctor’s appointments, hopes, and disappointments all on her own. And while her mother and Darius are both there for her, she doesn’t have anyone to hold her when she cries over her longing for the families in margarine commercials. This is a journey she’d wanted to take surrounded by love and support and joy. And instead, she’s battling her body, her finances and her own emotions. It’s a devastating portrait of just how hard-won queer families can be.
What’s so moving about this episode is that it is largely just as quiet and unassuming as the ones that came before. Alicia spends most of her time alone. She ferries herself back and forth between her home, her work, and the clinic. The mundanity is just as apparent as it was in her life with Denise. The setbacks are discouraging and upsetting but they’re still just a matter of course. All she really has control over is her own resolve. Her only immediate source of comfort is her nurse, Cordelia (Cordelia Blair) who encourages and reassures her every step of the way.
It’s also hard not to see it as commentary on the “strong Black woman” trope. Infertility can be draining, both mentally and emotionally, but Alicia has to endure it mostly on her own. Even as her resolve shakes and she begins to doubt her choices, she perseveres because she insists that her body can do it. It has to. Because then what is she good for? Thankfully, she never has to answer that question.
Ackie plays Alicia’s final joy at getting pregnant like a revelation. Quaking and crying as she gets the good news, the disbelief is naked on her face. It’s a triumph for her body, her will, and her spirit. A child is the one wish she’s held close to her heart for all these years, and now it’s achievable. As she told her doctor before her second course of treatment, “I’m a bad bitch.” Her body did not make her a liar. And with this deeply personal goal achieved, there’s nothing else she can’t get done, too.