It’s been four years since the critically acclaimed Master of None premiered a new season, and a lot has happened both inside and outside the show during that time. The show’s long-awaited third season, now subtitled “Moments in Love,” picks up years later and instead centres on Denise (Lena Waithe) and her marriage to Alicia (Naomi Ackie).
Alicia is a newcomer to the audience, yet her relationship with Denise sheds light on important concepts such as queer love, heteronormativity, and monogamy. The two ladies have created a lovely life together that neither of them feels completely at ease in, and that is ultimately what the season is about: seeking, establishing, maintaining, and yearning for the comforts of home.
We meet Alicia and are reintroduced to Denise in the season’s first episode, which is one of only two over 35 minutes. Denise, who is now a well-known author, purchased the lovely rustic home they now share in upstate New York. Alicia works at an antique shop in the hopes of breaking into the interior design industry. They live a simple life, and Ansari, who directed all five episodes, takes his time establishing their regular happiness. The pair is aware of each other’s twitches and rhythms. They’re both at home, with each other. They are folding laundry and dancing to the song “Everybody, Everybody.” They’ve got chickens. They keep each other awake at night with fictitious pillow talk about licking each other’s armpits to stay alive. It’s as sweet as any domestic scene could hope to be. When Dev and his new girlfriend Reshmi (Aysha Kala) come over for dinner, however, the cracks in their marriage start to appear.
Dev and Reshmi are at each other’s throats almost immediately, rehashing disagreements they’ve clearly had previously. Reshmi is displeased with the fact that they are living with Dev’s parents in Queens. Dev is irritated by Reshmi’s excessive purchases at the farmer’s market. He should have undergone hair plugs, she claims, to safeguard his acting career. He dismisses her plant-sitting business concept and even refers to her as a lush.
Reshmi tells Alicia in the restroom that her life isn’t where she intended it to be. She had intended to be married with children and a successful profession, but now she is in a tumultuous relationship with a partner who resents her. Alicia is taken aback by her openness, and once their friends have left, she brings up the subject of children with Denise. She want to be a mother and has devised a strategy to achieve her goal. All she needs now is Denise to join her. Denise is hesitant at first, but eventually accepts. And after they enlist Alicia’s friend Darius (Anthony Welsh) as a donor, she becomes pregnant swiftly, only to miscarry twice. Alicia is torn apart by the loss, and the episode ends with her telling Denise that, though she still wants children, she isn’t sure she should have them with her.
It’s difficult to separate this season of Master of Love from who Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari have become since the second season aired. The show was a critical success, and Waithe won an Emmy for it, which she used to launch her successful Hollywood career. However, Ansari’s reputation took a knock after a now-defunct website, Babe.net, published a contentious article accusing the actor of inappropriate behaviour on a date. Ansari has mostly avoided the limelight as a result of the allegation.
However, in this second season, Ansari directs — and co-writes with Waithe — a more concentrated tale that astute culture consumers will see as nothing more than an attempt to process how much their lives have changed since they last made the show. The tone has gone from light humour to mundane drama, languishing in its ordinariness to drive home the sameness of married life and the work that goes into keeping relationships. Shot fully on film in the style of a domestic drama, the tone has switched from light comedy to mundane drama, languishing in its ordinariness to drive home the effort that goes into keeping relationships.
Dev and Denise sit outside the home after Dev and Reshmi’s dispute and catch up, realising how much their own relationship has altered since Denise’s spectacular climb. “You no longer call me. We aren’t the same pals anymore. Dev laments, “You made all these new buddies once you became this enormous success, and I didn’t make the cut.” “You’re doing so wonderfully, and I’m having such a hard time. It’s humiliating.”
At the risk of speculating too much, it’s difficult not to see this moment as a statement on Waithe and Ansari’s careers splitting. Waithe has established herself as a prolific producer, with credits on sitcoms including Boomerang and Twenties, as well as films like The Forty-Year-Old Version and Queen & Slim. Ansari has a stand-up special and participated in the Parks & Rec COVID reunion special, but there isn’t much else that the public knows about him. It’s easy to see how resentments could have developed between them. Ansari boosted Waithe’s career while suffering a major setback in his own.
Denise’s marriage to Alicia, however, is the actual narrative. Observant gossipmongers may have heard that Waithe (supposedly) left her wife for singer Cynthia Erivo just two months after they married. While neither party has stated anything, it’s easy to see this episode through the lens of her possibly tumultuous personal life. There’s no way of knowing how much Waithe drew from her own life for this, but Alicia’s obvious apprehension and uneasiness about her place in Denise’s life feels like Waithe looking back and assessing, with clear eyes, how she might have been complicit in her marriage’s demise.
And Ansari has a knack for capturing that hesitation on camera. Many, if not all, scenes are shot in static mode, with characters moving in and out of the frame, adding to the impression that life goes on without them. The couple’s home is crammed with art that Alicia has collected to make it feel more like their own, but it also makes the space feel cramped. Denise and she are in one other’s personal space, and it’s starting to feel awkward. Alicia’s dissatisfaction with their current situation is evident in the first hour, and her annoyance with Denise’s unequal mourning feels like a foreshadowing of the ending.
A multi-talented individual
• Alicia has a Ph.D. in chemistry, according to her. I’m curious as to why you changed your career path to interior design.
• Denise doesn’t say so, but there’s a sense that she thinks she’s above the domesticity she’s created, and as a result, she’s been ignoring her loved ones. When Alicia brings up the subject of children again, she tries to deter her by suggesting that her work is going too well to risk it, but she never genuinely inquires about Alicia’s feelings.
• Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, and Patti LaBelle are the names of Denise and Alicia’s hens. It makes no difference; it’s just fun.
• Despite the obviousness of Denise and Alicia’s impending ruin, there are moments of genuine sweetness between them, and I’m a little unhappy that we rush past them in order to get to what destroys them.
• It was difficult not to notice that family labour seemed to be divided along conventionally gendered lines.