The season began on a high note with the episode “The Thief” which finds main character Dev Shah, portrayed by Ansari, living in Italy as an apprentice pasta maker following his breakup with Rachel at the end of season 1. The episode was a black-and-white homage to the 1948 Italian film The Bicycle Thief and is an artistic triumph above and beyond anything from the first season.
In that episode, it became clear that Ansari and Yang would be willing to take risks with the storytelling that they wouldn’t have in the previous season when they were still trying to find their footing and the show’s voice.
“New York, I Love You” Is A Fantastic Episode
The one episode in season 2 that has drawn considerable attention and critical plaudits is the standalone episode “New York, I Love You” (named after an LCD Soundsystem song). It’s comprised of a series of vignettes of average New Yorkers interacting with each other throughout the course of a day. None of these characters are anyone we, the audience, have met before, and more than likely will never meet again. The actual main characters of the show, Dev, Arnold, and Denise appear only at the beginning on their way to see a movie called Death Castle, and at the end when most of the episode’s characters converge on the theater in which the movie is playing.
The episode is excellent both as compelling storytelling and as a stylistic experiment. One vignette features a deaf main character and is told entirely in ASL. It also contains maybe the most sexually explicit dialogue ever featured on the show. The cab driver’s story is similarly affecting and climaxes in a rousing late night dance party at a fast food restaurant set to the incredibly irritating Vengaboys “hit”(?) “We Like To Party! (The Vengabus)“.
Working Class New Yorkers
The episode also deserves credit for showing a side of New York City that we rarely get to see portrayed in media; the working class. From Seinfeld to Friends to Sex And The City to Girls, New York’s residents are almost always portrayed as middle-to-upper-middle class white people with fabulous, spacious (and completely unrealistic) apartments, interesting, lucrative jobs and plenty of disposable money to burn on Manolo Blahnik shoes and brunch.
The characters we’re introduced to in the episode are mostly people of color working in the service industry and are actually struggling to live in a city known for having one of the highest costs of living in the world. This is something portrayed all too rarely in episodic television and for that reason alone it deserves to be lauded.
Why “Thanksgiving” Is The Best Episode of Master of None Season 2
And yet, as good as “New York, I Love You” is, it’s still not much more than an intriguing, yet inessential, diversion. It doesn’t develop the main storylines of the show. It doesn’t deepen any of the character arcs (unless you consider New York City a character) and in terms of the season’s narrative flow, it stops that dead in its tracks. It’s effective as a breather between more plot-centric entries, but you could easily skip this episode, watch the next and feel as though you’d missed nothing. It is, without a doubt a great episode, perhaps even a classic, but it’s not the best episode of this season.
No, the best episode of Master Of None season 2 is “Thanksgiving“. This is Master of None firing on all cylinders. It’s heartfelt, honest, warm and heartbreaking at times, all while being really, really funny. It also adds depth to one of the show’s main characters; Dev’s friend Denise.
A Showcase For Lena Waithe
Denise, played by Lena Waithe, who co-wrote the episode and based it on her own experiences coming out, has been an integral part of this show since the first season, but she’s mostly been there to provide support to Dev, call him on his BS or just goof off with him. She’s never been the focus of an episode. In “Thanksgiving” that changes. We’re given essentially Denise’s origin story. We meet her family, we see her struggle with accepting her sexuality, come to terms with it and come out to the important people in her life, first to Dev and then her mother, played by the legendary Angela Bassett.
In “Thanksgiving” we learn that Dev has been a regular guest at Thanksgiving dinners at Denise’s family’s house since they were both kids in the mid-90s. As they grow up together over the course of 6 Thanksgiving celebrations (taking place in 1995, 1999, 2006, 2015, and 2017) we see their friendship grow and deepen.
A Coming Out Story Done Right
We see Denise and Dev go through awkward teen phases together, they smoke pot together for the first time, and he’s the first person with whom she feels comfortable enough to come out to as a lesbian (or as she says, “Lebanese” since she’s still so uncomfortable with the actual term) when she’s 16. It goes about as well as one would expect knowing Dev’s character and how progressive or “woke” he is later in life. He has no issue with it at all and accepts it as another facet of the friend that he loves.
Her mother, Catherine, however, is not nearly as progressive. Denise waits until she’s safely off at college and has presumably become more secure with her sexuality, to come out to her mother during a Thanksgiving meal at a diner near her university. As expected, Catherine does not react well and burst into tears. She says to Denise, “I don’t want life to be hard for you. It is hard enough being a black woman in this world, and now you want to add something else to that?”
Over the next two Thanksgivings, Denise begins to bring her girlfriends to the family dinners and we see Catherine very, very slowly begin to evolve. You can feel the palpable tension virtually emanate from the screen during the first Thanksgiving with Denise’s girlfriend Michelle whom Catherine treats with barely hidden contempt. The following year when Denise invites her new girlfriend Nikki (who has an annoying habit of referring to Denise as “DeeDee” and who’s Instagram screenname is “NipplesAndToes23” which leads to some pretty hilariously awkward dinner conversation courtesy of Dev) is even worse.
When Michelle returns for the final Thanksgiving and offers to help with dinner preparations, Bassett’s Catherine finally softens and accepts the offer. You can tell she’s still not 100% of the way to fully accepting Denise’s orientation, but it’s clear she’s made considerable progress and her enduring love for her daughter will get her the rest of the way eventually. Bassett acts the hell out of these scenes. She’s truly a force of nature in this episode.
Master of None At Its Finest
This episode handles the process of coming out both delicately and realistically. It handles the issue of how race can complicate the coming out process with a deft hand and a distinct lack of histrionics or needless drama. The writing is subtle and hilarious, and enough can’t be said for the stellar acting on display here; not just from Angela Bassett, but also from Lena Waithe as Denise, Venida Evans as her grandmother Ernestine, and Kym Whitley as Denise’s hilarious aunt Joyce.
“Thanksgiving” is a stunning episode — definitely the best episode of Master of None Season 2. And it’s very likely one of the best episodes of television you’ll see this year period.
Both seasons of Master of None are currently streaming on Netflix.