How ‘Master of None’ Rebels Against Millennial Pressures to ‘Overachieve’ and ‘Settle Down’
Warning: Spoilers Ahead.
I just finished the first season of “Master of None.” The last episode is neither happy nor hopeful—none of the words we associate with conclusions. Especially with comedies, we look for stories to gracefully fit inside a vacuum and make us smile at the end, warm with feelings of fiction’s possibility. As Dev boards a plane, Aziz Ansari doesn’t give us what we expect: a romantic scene—maybe a proposal—on the other side of the flight. Instead, Dev jets off to Italy to learn about his one true love: pasta.
I like that ending. I like it very much.
“Master of None” is progressive in many ways, most of which have been written about at length by others. Ansari wittily explores parents, diversity in Hollywood, texting etiquette, Nashville, vegetarianism, misogynistic micro-aggressions, the best tacos in New York City—too many subjects to enumerate here. The series has similar appeal to his standup, but tucked inside a script filled with laughter also lie poignancy and honesty about the world around us. For example, Ansari speaks to something I’ve often struggled over: how do those of us who have grown up with every opportunity, reaping the benefits of our parents’ labor, ever understand the encounters with racism, sexism, etc. they went through before we were born? These questions mandate a sense of humor like that embedded in “Master of None,” for without it, we might choose to ignore them for their jarring realism.
But the theme I relate to most appears in the finale, when both Rachel and Dev escape on their own separate wanderlust journeys. Ansari considers a uniquely millennial problem—we’ve been pushed and pushed, all our lives, to practice Beethoven’s third movement of Moonlight when our fingers are already aching from exhaustion, to cram for tests because we won’t get into an Ivy without a 4.0, to fight for that internship so we can have a career one day. We’ve been pushed to be mini-professionals in any field we try; even playing with American Girls when we were seven was a formal lesson about history, not just time with dolls. And since we were kid robots, we were told that soon, we’d get to live. We just had to pay our dues, work hard and go through the paces. When we graduate, then that’ll be our moment to experience—to adventure. Right? But even before we turn 20, the pressure’s on to find our soul mate, or at least someone who’ll do the job of being a life-long companion. “Who are you dating?” adults ask. “The clock’s ticking,” they say.
Yes, it is, so when do we get to live?
Whenever I check out my Facebook newsfeed, it seems like someone I grew up with is getting engaged or married or having a baby. Meanwhile, today I tried to make cereal and spilled milk everywhere as people watched and laughed (thank goodness for liquid-proof raincoats). Sometimes, when you’re like Rachel and Dev and have spent a lifetime chasing ambition, you can feel constantly behind on both a professional and personal level. You’re trying to grab onto your dreams, or at least a title that sounds nice and important. Meanwhile, you realize you’re half a fully formed human and have the maturity of a Pikachu plush toy. You want to run around the globe, taking in every corner from Tokyo, to Venice, to the new Chinese restaurant down the street. But you’re not supposed to do that—it’s irresponsible. You’ve been striving your whole life to “make something of yourself,” and now that you’re almost there, people want you to “settle down.”
That’s why I’m obsessed with “Master of None.” It rebels against the “ticking clock,” and the “making something of yourself,” and the “settling down.” It reminds us that maybe we’re selfish, but that’s okay because sometimes we need to hop off our rockers for a while and try something spontaneous. Forget about chronology. Forget about expectations, and the vacuumed stories we’ve been conditioned to want for ourselves.
Just live, because the moment is now. What are we waiting for?