Anyone familiar with Aziz Ansari’s stand-up material will recognize a lot of the commentary in “Ladies And Gentlemen,” which looks at the sexism women face all the time. The episode relies on a lot of broad concepts, but it handles them with intelligence and nuance. And co-creators Ansari and Alan Yang understand that the message shouldn’t just come from themselves. Even though Ansari talks about a lot of the things that happen in this episode in his stand-up, on Master Of None, he steps back a bit. The teleplay comes from Sarah Peters and Zoe Jarman, and Lynn Shelton directs. Instead of it just being an episode about the horrors women face in their everyday lives as told by men, these women craft the story, lending to Master Of None’s overall authenticity.

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“Ladies And Gentlemen” takes concepts from Ansari’s stand-up and puts real faces, real emotions behind them. At the very start of the episode, a sequence contrasting Arnold and Dev’s night out at the bar with a woman’s night out at the same exact bar hits its point hard without anyone having to comment on what’s going on. It’s a perfect example of how showing can be so much more powerful than telling. Even though Rachel, Denise, Arnold, and Dev sit around at brunch later in the episode, discussing the reality of creepy guys, it’s so much more effective here in the opening scene, as we watch the two nights unfold. Dev and Arnold walk home without a care in the world, cut through an unlit park, and only encounter danger in the form of dog shit. The woman is scolded by a man she doesn’t know when she doesn’t take the tequila shot she never asked for, has to be on high alert as she’s walking home, and ends up being followed to her own apartment by the self-identifying “nice guy.” It’s a funny bit, especially because Dev’s scenes are scored with a jaunty, whistled tune while hers is set to more sinister music, but it’s also just a blunt acknowledgment of the shit women have to deal with on a regular basis and how ignorant men can be about their privilege when it comes to seemingly simple tasks like walking home at the end of a night.

That woman turns out to be Diana (Condola Rashad), Dev’s co-star in a TV spot for Garden Depot. Master Of None doesn’t just use her to make its initial point. She sticks around for the rest of the episode, which connects all the story pieces by way of its overarching theme. “Ladies And Gentlemen” balances specifics with more sweeping ideas, using the details to flesh out those broader pieces. It still wanders down some strange tangents in the way Master Of None often does, but those moments still feel grounded in the overall voice and perspective of the episode, making “Ladies And Gentlemen” feel incredibly well crafted.

It’s telling that even as Rachel and Denise tell him their stories about being stalked, he still focuses on insignificant details, like the puppy cam in the case of Rachel and the movie choice in the case of Denise. Dev recognizes that stalking and creepy dudes are bad, but when two women that he knows share their own experiences, he still doesn’t totally listen. That’s where “Ladies And Gentlemen” takes things to the next level. The conversation about stalking gets the ball rolling, and the masturbation incident makes for the very fun citizen’s arrest sequence, but the episode truly hinges on a much more subtle moment: When Brad Honeycut (Ian Kahn) introduces himself to all of the men sitting with Dev at the wrap party and completely ignores Rachel and Denise.

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Rachel and Denise immediately tell Dev how insulting Brad’s actions were, and Dev’s first reaction is to defend the guy. It’s easy for Dev to see the obvious ways in which women are harassed and treated poorly. Dev knows that the guy masturbating on a train is a bad guy. He knows that stalkers are bad guys. But it’s much harder for Dev to pick up on something as small and insidious as Brad’s actions. He’s quick to defend both Brad and himself, because even though Dev feels like a hero after becoming the masturbation vigilante, he still just doesn’t quite get it.

That’s a much more complex issue for the show to tackle than all of the more overt instances of sexism shown in the episode. Just as the episode shows how women and men have differing experiences, it also shows their differing perspectives—perspectives shaped by those different experiences. Dev sees Brad’s actions with his own eyes, but in his mind, the action was completely innocuous. Plus, it came from Brad Honeycut, who couldn’t possibly be a sexist asshole, right? He changed the entire concept of his ad in order to put women at the forefront. He’s a good guy, right?! Dev thinks so, but Master Of None cleverly uses the fight that ensues between Dev and Rachel to unpack the idea that sexism doesn’t have to be obvious. In fact, just because Brad did something sexist doesn’t automatically put him on par with the subway masturbator or Diana’s stalker. Sexism is much more nuanced than that. And what hurts Rachel more than Brad’s actions are Dev’s.

Denise and Rachel know what they saw, and it’s frustrating for Rachel when she tries to explain to Dev that he hurt her by assuming that it was all in her head instead of really listening. It’s easy for a show to point to stalking and say “this is bad.” It’s easy for Dev to make a citizen’s arrest on the subway. What isn’t easy is acknowledging how Dev’s reaction to Rachel and Denise pointing out a problem to him contributes to that very problem. Dev asks them earlier in the episode what he and Arnold can do about terrible men, and they tell them to just not do the terrible things creepy guys do, but the rest of the episode makes it clear that they can do more than that: They can listen when women tell them something. Again, Master Of None finds the more subtle part of the conversation and brings it to the surface, playing with a very small moment in order to make a very crucial point about sexism. And it does so through the specific points of view of these characters, making for much more relatable and complex material than Ansari’s stand-up—even at its best—could possibly achieve.

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Stray observations

  • The brilliant NoĂ«l Wells improvised the Home Improvement bit and spot-on impression.
  • Welcome back, Anush! That guy sure can hold the hell out of a rake.
  • Denise loves Sarah Jessica Parker enough to have seen Failure To Launch in theaters alone. Denise is the best.
  • I like that the show didn’t make that big of a deal out of Rachel and Dev being fully in a relationship now. I think, especially after an episode like “Nashville,” most other shows would really focus on that development, but Master Of None spends its time on more original storytelling like that of “Ladies And Gentlemen.”
  • This review would feel incomplete without a photo of this cake:

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