Thursday, May 20th, 2021
Master of None (Season Three)
Netflix, May 21, 2021
May 20, 2021
By Kyle Mullin
Photography by Netflix
The third season of Master of None harkens back to the time before Netflix gained notoriety for quantity over quality. It also harkens back to before much of the streaming service’s original content devolved into background noise that users could leave on while splitting their screens with another distraction. Instead, the five episodes of the latest, and last season of Master of None, titled Moments In Love, demand every ounce of your attention. Part of that is due to star Lena Waithe’s singularly subtle performance and vision. She builds on the award-winning writing she collaborated on with former series star Aziz Ansari, which garnered her an Emmy in Season 2 for the episode that focused on her character’s fraught coming out in an African American home.
Ansari smartly cedes the spotlight to rising star Waithe for the entire third season. Waithe’s performance is not as conventionally accomplished as Naomi Ackie, who co-stars as her wife and lights up the screen with each aptly chosen facial expression and line reading. Waithe’s lower key approach takes its time impressing viewers. She does so with a slight shift in her typically swaggering posture, a contemplative gaze in the midst of arguing with Ackie, or an emotional deflection disguised as a joke. Each of these choices is exponentially effective because of her overall minimalism. So lived-in is the authenticity of her acting, that it rises to the tall order of her writing.
Re-teaming with Ansari as the dust settles on his #MeToo allegation, the pair pen a pained and impassioned queer love story that will resonate with audiences of all stripes because of its universality. Montages of Waithe and Ackie dancing while folding the laundry, or curled up in one of the nooks of their picture-perfect upstate New York home exude honeymoon period bliss. When Ansari’s character does return to the screen, it’s not quite a caricature of toxic masculinity, but more of an intricately shaded portrayal of a shitty boyfriend. His far greater nuance here redeems the flimsier post-#MeToo assessment Ansari gave in his latest standup special.
Ansari is also masterful (pardon the pun) at capturing Waithe’s groundbreaking portrayal of queer romance and heartache by returning as director, and bringing auteuristic flourishes. His use of long takes, where characters pass in and out of a still frame, their dialogue and actions like slammed doors and revved car engines, still audible even when they are not visible, will glue your eyes to the screen in anticipation of the next detail. Closeups of Waithe and Ackie as they work through the most intimate moments of their complex relationship, or erupt into arguments that find them pacing the confines of their antique laden cottage like boxers, are also gripping. Through it all, his just-so chosen camera angles and vintage tinged cinematography give Ansari’s direction a painterly quality.
When the plot shifts from the universal to each character’s specifics, the minutia rings truer and is more relatable than the story’s broader strokes. For example, discriminatory policies against queer fertilization or Waithe’s offhand jokes such as naming every member of her country coop after R&B divas, and singing “I’m every chicken/ It’s all in me” while feeding them.
An episode devoid of the marquee star (like Waithe’s Season Two Emmy winning turn), and devoted to Ackie’s fertility clinic visits is richly complex enough to warrant another Emmy. The unexpectedly fairytale-esque finale will also leave audiences hanging on this complicated couple’s every word.
Moments In Love will make you excited for Waithe and Ackie’s potential future turns, have you rethinking Ansari’s post-controversy standing, and renew your hope in a platform that was once a haven for visionary work. (www.netflix.com/masterofnone)
Author rating: 9/10
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