This past week I’ve been watching Master of None’s third season which, so far, is profoundly spectacular. It’s not nearly as funny as the first two seasons, but it also isn’t trying to be. Rather, it’s seeking, in every form, to tell a wholly human story.
As a result, it’s quite heavy on the drama. Within the first three episodes, there’s miscarriages, infidelity, and divorce proceedings, all back to back. Naturally, it’s not a show meant to be binged. When you have a show which, with topics like this, threatens to be too depressing, you need to find a way to lighten the viewer’s load. This isn’t to say that your story can’t be honest in it’s depictions of difficult material, it’s just that it’s much easier to engage with if there’s some sort of levity.
This is what Master of None succeeds greatly in. Though the audience is forced to sit with these harsh topics, we’re also allowed a space to breathe. If we were buffeted by one heart-wrenching scene after the next, there’s only so much emotional space we can naturally afford the show. But, if the show gives us something that says “hey, it’s not all bad”, then the show suddenly becomes infinitely easier to digest.
Take the third episode, in which Denise has just been forced by her estranged wife, Alicia, to sign divorce papers. Rather than watch her mope for the next 20 minutes, the writers have back to back scenes which exhibit purely wholesome moments. First, there’s a scene in which Denise and her friend, Dev, joke about the concept of divorce. In the next scene, Denise is comforted over the phone by her mother. Not only do these scenes effectively serve as a pallet cleanser for an audience who, early in the episode, had to witness a brutal (but wonderfully written) conversation between Denise and Alicia, but they also put us directly in the shoes of Denise.
Like Denise, we don’t want to think all about the sad stuff going on. We need moments that remind us of the good. A balance is entirely necessary, because if everything just seems bleak, then what’s the point?
The show masterfully maneuvers these emotional pitfalls in other, quieter ways as well. Throughout the first episode, nearly every negative conversation is sandwiched between sometimes reflective, sometimes sweet moments. We’ll get long moments of Denise and Alicia doing mundane things together, and though nothing intrinsically important to the plot is occurring, there’s a resonating emotional peace which the audience is able to find relief in.
This is all to say that the writers (Lena Waithe & Aziz Ansari) seemed well tuned to the fact that there’s a great deal of emotional distress within this season. Rather than force the audience to navigate that distress on their own, they gave small moments which, like life preservers, helped the audience hang on and hold out hope for the light at the end of the tunnel.