Returning four years after its critically lauded second season, Netflix’s Master of None bet its shortened third season on a complete plot and format shake-up. Season 3, subtitled Moments in Love, is five episodes of varying lengths focused on the married life of character Denise, played by Lena Waithe. Having found success after publishing her first novel, Denise and her wife Alicia (Naomi Ackie) live in upstate New York in a gorgeous house, where the majority of the season takes place. (Likely a COVID-19 workaround.) Creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang yield the show to Waithe and Ackie, with Ansari directing the entire season. While the season conjures some beautiful moments by going deep on Denise and Alicia’s relationship, it also loses a large part of the previous seasons’ charm, which came from the eclectic cast of supporting characters.
The season starts with Denise and Alicia living in domestic bliss in their house. Denise is a bestselling author slowly working on her second book. She’s a more mature version of the character from Master of None’s Emmy-winning solo episode, “Thanksgiving,” having found career success outside of magazine jobs. Alicia is a former chemist who now works in interior design. The first episode, which sets up their relationship dynamic, lingers on comfortable moments between them, with minutes-long shots of them folding laundry and dancing to old R&B. The show’s forward motion is based on the couple’s fertility journey, as Alicia tries to conceive. It’s notable that such a celebrated show is focusing on a queer Black relationship.
Season 3 is also much more of a drama than the previous two seasons, which leaned toward observational comedy. There are still jokes, but they feel like a feather tap to ease the tension from serious conversations and scenes about marriage and fertility. Part of the dramatic turn works with the shift in the show’s theme from dating to marriage, and it shows a certain maturity that Ansari and Waithe are so comfortable with the characters. Their writing (the two wrote all five episodes) and Ansari’s direction is elegant and unafraid to linger in the space between the early seasons and the new direction.
In places, it’s obvious where the outside world affected the show. Centering the new season on Denise and Alicia falls in line with Ansari’s choice to lay low after he was accused of coercing sexual acts from an anonymous woman in an article from the defunct Babe.net. He later released a statement saying he “took her words to heart,” and has said publicly that he took time to reflect on the incident. While yielding the show to two queer Black characters can be seen as growth, it could also be seen as a way for him to avoid scrutiny, and dodge the past.
It’s also strange that, in a show that used to constantly reference itself, the fast-forward to Denise’s married life includes relatively few allusions to past seasons. Ansari’s Dev only shows up in a few scenes, which gracefully explore the natural distance that grows between friendships as they age. Besides Dev’s appearances, life before Denise and Alicia’s marriage only shows up in small references. Fans of the first two seasons may be disappointed that they seem to have been forgotten. (Though there is a phone cameo that should charm fans of the “Thanksgiving” episode.)
Even though five episodes is a great length for the overall story arc, the pacing is awkward at points, specifically in scenes where soundtracked breaks in the action go on for a bit too long. One episode starts with Denise eating a burger alone in a parked car for a minute and a half, listening to opera on the radio. Where some of the earlier dialogue-free long takes are simple and poignant, this one just feels like it’s filling time. That’s part of the struggle of the first three episodes of this season: While the choices made and the pieces constructed are wonderful, the entire picture doesn’t fall together perfectly. It’s a bit sluggish and ill-fitting; a metaphor could be made about long-term relationships feeling sluggish and ill-fitting, but that’s more of a season 1 joke.
The final two episodes are excellent, and more than make up for the slow pace of the front end of the season. Episode 4 showcases Naomi Ackie (The End of the F***ing World), the star of the season, and it’s a must-watch just to see her performance. The installment follows Alicia as she pursues in-vitro fertilization (IVF), showing each part of the process intricately while also empathizing deeply with the emotional highs and lows Alicia experiences. It’s an episode performed and directed with great care, and one of the great examples of why Master of None shines most when it takes the spotlight off of Dev.
The series has always been surprisingly insightful about depicting the hypocrisies of American society, and that skill shows most strongly in episode 4. A great example is a scene from season 1’s “Ladies and Gentlemen,” where a woman, played by Condola Rashad, is followed home by a man and has to call the police, which is juxtaposed with Dev walking home with his friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim, who’s completely missing this season). The new version of that dynamic is a scene in a fertility clinic where the doctor tells Alicia examples of absurd insurance codes that exist in American healthcare, comparing those to the heteronormative standards insurance has for IVF. Beats like that have always been the hidden gem of the show, and it’s a shame that there’s less about the absurdities and inequities of the country in this season.
In theory, season 3 should have as much emotional impact as previous seasons’ non-Dev episodes, such as season 3’s “New York, I Love You” and “Thanksgiving.” While it falls short of perfection, it’s an impressive feat that’s worth the slower pace. Its flaws are notable, including the pacing issues and shortage of great observational moments. But they’re outweighed by its success at presenting a more mature depiction of love, and showcasing Ackie’s exemplary performance. It isn’t the same as past seasons, and it isn’t necessarily better, but it’s definitely worth the watch.
All five episodes of Master of None season 3 are now streaming on Netflix.