Image Credit: Netflix
The third season of Master of None arrived last month with little more than a whisper. After a four year hiatus, the few promotional images that announced its return seemed to clarify the long wait for what has been one of the best series on Netflix, by revealing the entirely new direction it was taking. While the first two seasons followed the romantic and professional life of Aziz Ansari’s main character Dev— an actor living in New York with his millennial friends, played by Lena Waithe and Eric Wareheim— this new instalment was filmed under lockdown and came subtitled as ‘Moments in Love’, a six-episode look into Waithe’s character, Denise, and her wife Alicia.
It’s not as unexpected a change as you might think. In its development as a show, Master of None went from a well-written comedy about modern dating and the second-generation experience, to something more freeform and profound. The second season is a masterpiece, combining moods and textures inspired by Italian cinema with a tapestry of modern life’s intersecting forces of religion, culture, cuisine and love, culminating in two elongated, heart-breaking episodes that brimmed with signature charm and melancholy. It was such a maturation in form and style that the idea of a third season was already being questioned by Ansari: “I don't have anything else to say about being a young guy being single in New York eating food around town all the time,” he told Vulture in 2017.
But by shifting its gravity into explorations of its other recurring characters’, most notably in the acclaimed ‘Thanksgiving’ episode in which Denise comes out to her family, the roots of this new direction were already being planted. ‘Moments in Love’ finds Denise living upstate in a rustic cottage, a successful writer married to budding antiques-seller Alicia, sensationally portrayed by the British actress Naomi Ackie (who has gained recognition from roles in Star Wars and End of the F***ing World).
The titular ‘moments’ are bookended by little chapters in each episode, but all these allusions to form only accentuate the lack of it— as the lines between TV and film dissolve into the intimate, sedate, occasionally devastating lives of these two characters. “I have heard from so many Black artists that they just want to see Black people who just exist. And the cool thing is that you get to see Black people that happen to be queer — and it can be messy and complicated,” said Ackie, where this season locates its central relationship in near isolation from a world that still questions its right to exist.
Shot in grainy, gorgeous hues in which every lamp, candle, wintry sky or silver moon casts its light like something physical in each frame, the brush-strokes in these portraits and the emotion beneath every surface are made vivid by long stills that bring out the warmth and coldness between each character. And from books, paintings, jumpers, joints and Jordans, the empty silences that exist in both life and relationships are filled and fleshed-out by the details that adorn them.
The time passed since the last season becomes a defining motif, dashing months and even years into unseen spaces that take place between episodes. And in this way, the peaks and valleys of mid-life are captured in both major upheavals as well as gradual shifts — losing contact with those closest to you, realising that your life isn’t where you thought it would be, plans gone unrealised or forgotten. But as Denise and Alicia slow-dance to Nina Simone singing ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ over the crackle of vinyl and a live audience, the music, the light, everything simple and fleeting about that moment in particular turns antique, nostalgic for itself before it’s even over, in a season filled with moments both seismic and subtle that stay with you long after they have passed.
Editor's Note: Master of None is available to stream on Netflix