Dev (Azizi Ansari) isn’t the main character in the third spinoff season of Master of None: Moments of Love. Instead, Ansari’s on the director’s chair, capturing scenes in the life of Alicia (Naomi Ackie). She’s the wife of Dev’s best friend Denise (Lena Waithe, co-writing the season with Ansari). Nonetheless, Dev’s occasional appearance in their lives still affects them. Alicia and Denise host Dev and his girlfriend Rashmi for a dinner and drinks. This eventually leads to Dev directing an outburst on Rashmi. Such an outburst can bring two reactions. The first is how Denise and I would react, that there’s no way she would end up like her childhood friend. Denise’s confidence in her relationship with Alicia reminds me of that adage about what happens when people make plans.
The second is Alicia’s reaction, that one can easily hate the person they love. Alicia makes for an unconventional protagonist just because of her tenuous connection to Dev. But that in itself is a comment on how tenuous everyone’s relationships are. Here, soulmates separate, grandparents die, like they do in real life. Other tenuous relationships include the ones between parents and their adult children. By the way, this is something that the show explored during the first season. This time around it shows Denise talk to her mother (Angela Bassett) over the phone. Alicia would do the same to her own mom. And that distance hurts especially as Alicia makes multiple attempts to be a mother, a challenging feat for a lesbian in her mid 30s.
There’s something fascinating in the way Ansari’s camera shoots these characters during these tribulations but that’s especially true for Alicia. As a reminder, Ackie has one of those unique faces and presences. Ackie’s few scenes in Small Axe made viewers demand that they pay attention to her. But during earlier episodes, doesn’t get a close-up, which reflects her feeling that Denise only uses her as a prop.
The same goes for the rest of the series where she tries again and again to be a biological mother. The only close-ups she get are during her sit-ins with a doctor and when they’re inserting her with her fertilized embryos. Ackie is a beautiful woman like most actresses are but her lack of vanity during those scenes evoke the same qualities Bette Davis and Jessica Lange.
Maybe it’s my lack of imagination, but those comparisons made me wonder why I didn’t think of Cicely Tyson. Of why viewers will always compare Black women and people of color in general have little choices in visual media. That we inevitably follow the footsteps of white people, all of whom find themselves under the trap of the white male gaze. The whole season as a reference to Scenes of a Marriage and Bergman’s own mirror-like spin on the white male gaze. That feels like part of that trap even if yes, the construction of that trap is beautiful.
The season takes us to those journeys and its depressing valleys but it knows how to bring levity in surprising ways. Alicia and Denise eventually divorce and cheat on their second spouses with each other. Denise celebrates that affair with a gift that goes wrong, and that wrong takes place offscreen. But there’s such an intimacy to the scene that it feels like the viewers are in the same room as they are. That adage about making plans applies to the big ones and the small ones too. And the fact that the season ends with the smallest curveball reinforces and echoes an intimacy. One that the whole show has been bringing for years.