Spoilers for Master of None on Netflix are ahead. “On paper, everything sounds like a terrible idea,” Master of None co-creator Aziz Ansari told Indie Wire in the lead-up to the season 3 premiere of his Netflix comedy. “Oh, I’m not going to be in the show anymore!” Another article on the site plainly reads “Ansari does not appear in Season 3.” The creator, writer, frequent director, and star of the Emmy-winning series' purported on-camera exit from the show following 2018 sexual misconduct allegations has been the subject of a major publicity push ahead of the May 23 return of the streaming show. “Aziz Ansari Steps Out Of The Spotlight,” reads USA Today’s headline about the trailer. The promo video itself focuses heavily on Naomi Ackie and Lena Waithe as season 3’s newly minted leads, Alicia and series breakout Denise, respectively. Ansari’s Dev Shah pops up in the trailer for a single second-and-a-half blip that appears so quickly you would legitimately miss it with a blink.
Yet, neither Ansari nor Dev is not missing from the Master of None season 3 narrative — subtitled Moments in Love — no matter what the Netflix marketing machine tells you. Ansari and Dev’s presence acts as a major lynchpin of the series, which may alienate some unsuspecting viewers following a complicated sexual consent controversy.
You hear Ansari as Dev before you see him in season 3’s premiere, “Chapter 1,” Master of None’s first new episode since 2017. At this early stage of the story, Denise and Alicia are enjoying wedded bliss. Now equipped with a shelter magazine-ready farmhouse in upstate New York, they’re prime candidates to host a woodsy couple’s double dinner date. On one such evening, their doorbell rings. “What’s up? How are you!,” someone joyfully yelps off camera, as viewers look down an empty, earth-toned hallway. Cheery pleasantries are exchanged for a few prolonged seconds until Dev bounds into frame. I gasped when I realised what was happening.
Ansari had admitted as early as 2017 that Master of None may not have a future with Dev as its protagonist. In May of that year, he told Vulture, "I don't have anything else to say about being a young guy being single in New York eating food around town all the time," while considering the possibility of a third season. In 2018, the pressure to avoid depicting Ansari as an affable romantic leading man and modern love expert increased when Babe.net published the story “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life.” In the article, a woman called “Grace” details her experiences on an “uneasy” date with Ansari, where she claims he made repeated sexual advances towards her and “ignored clear non-verbal cues,” according to her texts. Ansari apologised privately to Grace in screenshots from their conversations, and publicly recognised the Babe story (he never publicly apologised for the in-depth details of the piece).
While Grace’s story did not include allegations of sexual assault or rape, it did reveal an evening where boundaries were poked and prodded, reminding many people of the uncomfortable dynamics that exist in a society that values male pleasure and gratification above all. Ansari’s central place in Grace’s tear-stained experience soured his carefully built image as a feminist nice guy — which Master of None was instrumental in creating. Ansari then spent his first comedy tour post-scandal decrying the danger of “wokeness” going too far. While Ansari doesn’t deserve death threats or violence, it makes sense that former fans would feel unsettled by the resurrection of Dev on their screens after the events of the last few years.
Master of None could have grappled with what it means for its Good Guy protagonist to learn he isn’t immune to the darkness of dating under patriarchy. It does not. The result is a jarring and distracting appearance for Dev. This is particularly true because Dev is awful to his (admittedly rude) girlfriend Reshmi (Aysha Kala) in his inaugural season 3 episode. Dev and Reshmi’s section of “Chapter 1” unveils the speedy disintegration of a relationship in real time. First, Dev digs Reshmi for buying “too many purple carrots” at the local farmers market. Then he criticises her for listening to audiobooks instead of reading — and ignoring the audiobook in favour of shopping. Finally, Dev admits he doesn’t even like Reshmi, saying, “I think we’re just scared to go back out there cause we don’t have shit goin’ on.”
To prove that Reshmi doesn’t “have shit goin’ on,” Dev loudly mocks her plant-sitting business idea, telling his girlfriend, “You and your clown car of friends [are] not gonna figure it out.” Then Dev accuses her of spending her day “working on a cheap magnum of chardonnay” instead of her business plan, adding, “Maybe that should be the motto: ‘We got wine breath.’”
It’s cruel and demeaning. Out of everything Ansari could look like after the allegations around him, “cruel and demeaning” is gutting to watch. The person Dev apologises to for this mean display is Denise, at least on-camera. Dev and Reshmi’s terrible visit spurs Denise and Alisha to pursue parenthood, which eventually causes the implosion of their own marriage.
To make matters even more fraught, Master of None reminds us at the close of each chapter that this is exactly how Ansari wanted viewers to experience Dev, and the story at large. Ansari directed all five episodes of the season and co-wrote it with Lena Waithe, who has been embroiled in her own controversies. Ansari’s name is the first and possibly only one you’ll see in the credits in the seconds before Netflix urges you to “Watch Next Episode.” That means you’re reminded Ansari’s fingerprints are all over season 3, even if Dev does not feature in an installment. And, for the record, he does reappear in “Chapter 3” for a cameo conversation about breakups so abrupt it will likely take you out of the narrative.
Ansari may want you to believe you can enjoy Master of None without thinking about him — but he was never going to master that impossible feat.