Master Of None

Even though it’s one of the season’s central ongoing storylines, Dev and Francesca’s unfurling romance hasn’t been as well developed as some of the other narratives that make up this ambitious and varied season. “Amarsi Un Po’,” at least, develops Dev’s attraction to Francesca beyond surface-level details. There’s an energy he feels when he’s with her, and that energy comes through powerfully in each of their scenes together in this episode. But a lot of that comes from Aziz Ansari and Alessandra Mastronardi’s easy chemistry rather than strong writing. And Francesca is still a too thinly sketched character for the weight of their star-crossed love to really sink in.

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But “Amarsi Un Po’” also crucially develops and contextualises Francesca’s attraction to Dev. With Dev, Francesca goes on adventures, does what she wants to do, lives a carefree and romantic life. Compare that to her actual life in Italy, where external factors have prescribed how she lives. Her mom died when she was young, forcing her to abandon her art history pursuits so she could help her Nona with the pasta shop. She has been with Pino since she was 18, and now they’re engaged to be married, which for her feels like the way she’s supposed to do things. Dev builds up Francesca as a fantasy, but there’s a sense that she’s doing the same with him, pinning her anxieties about feeling stuck and bored on him, who she’s never stuck or bored with.

Still, the character development surrounding Francesca in this episode happens in broad, clumsy strokes that take away from the otherwise very natural script. In clunky dialogue, she explains that she’s fighting with Pino all the time, that he works too much and takes their relationship for granted. She still remains somewhat of a blank slate for Dev to project his fantasies onto, and at one point, he literally fantasizes about kissing her in the style of the film L’Avventura, but where’s Francesca in all of this? What do we really know about her? It’s tricky, because Dev is clearly Master Of None’s protagonist, so it makes sense that we see things from his perspective and get more of his internal processing than Francesca’s. But in other episodes this season, the narrative control has shifted away from Dev, like in “Thanksgiving,” which spotlights Denise, and “New York, I Love You,” which takes Dev out of the story altogether. One of the best scenes in “Amarsi Un Po’” is when Francesca and Pino are alone, arguing in Italian. We finally get a glimpse of what’s going on in her head, where she’s at emotionally.

Dev’s intentions are clear, and Francesca’s are not, and some of that uncertainty is necessary for the episode to work. The episode’s greatest strength, other than the chemistry between its leads, is the tension it builds and the fact that it never quite delivers on it. Many times throughout the episode, Dev and Francesca end up in scenarios that could easily lead to kissing. They wander the well lit streets of New York, strolling in Washington Square Park before eventually hiding behind a tree after some fans recognize Dev. Dev holds her arms behind the tree, and the two are so physically close that a rom-com kiss seems inevitable. But it never happens. They snuggle on a couch while watching a movie. They get snowed in together and have a late-night pajama dance party. They take a helicopter tour of New York. Despite all these romantic scenarios and their physical proximity to one another and the heightened tension, they never act on their feelings. Instead, the episode feels like a series of romantic build up without the romantic climax. Even when Dev eventually does confess his feelings to her and Francesca agrees that she feels something for him, there’s no real resolution. And that keeps the episode grounded and relatable. We get to see the spark between them grow.

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Dev and Francesca might not ever act on their attraction to one another, but there’s no denying that the two are wrapped up in an intimate and messy emotional affair. Flirty texts sent silently in the middle of Pino’s birthday celebration are far from innocent. And even though Master Of None doesn’t make Francesca and Dev out to be bad people in the episode, there’s certainly a sense that what they’re doing isn’t quite right. Both characters are conflicted and confused throughout, although Dev’s state of mind is spelled out for us more clearly through his conversations with Arnold. Ansari’s script and direction exude confidence, and he taps into the moral and emotional gray spaces of flirting with a friend and, more specifically, flirting with a friend who’s with someone else. The conflict and the tension is genuine, but Francesca lacks the definition and dimensionality to make the story truly substantive.

Stray observations

  • I hate that Francesca ends up in a men’s dress shirt, because women wearing men’s dress shirts after sex in film and television is a major pet peeve of mine. Does anyone actually do this in real life?! Maybe Master Of None is trying to make fun of that trope, but that’s not what I got from it. I think it just played into Dev’s fantasies about her as this Italian dream woman straight out of a movie.
  • I don’t think the episode’s extended run time does it any favors. Some scenes drag a little too long.
  • I do rather enjoy Francesca’s delight over pharmacies.
  • Storm King makes a stunning setting for their budding romance.

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