master of none, vulnerability & me
Earlier this year, the long-anticipated second season of Aziz Ansari's critically-acclaimed Netflix series Master of None premiered. At the end of the first season, we see a freshly single Dev (Ansari) on a plane headed for Italy, where he plans to live and learn how to make pasta. Season Two picks up right where we left off, with Dev living in Modena, and not long after the premiere episode he's back in New York City, ready to navigate not only the restaurant scene, but the dating scene. But trouble presents itself in the form of his engaged Italian friend, Francesca, visiting New York and spending time with Dev whenever her fiance ditches her. They spend a month exploring the city together and even take a trip upstate to Storm King Art Center, and the more time he spends with Francesca, Dev realizes that he is such a goner, despite telling his friends that he's fine.
"I can see you standing there outside
Where you going girl? You have no place to hide
You worry me
'Cause I can see you've lost your pride
And I can't let it happen to you"
When I first watched the second season back in May, I had a hard time relating to the main storyline of Dev being in love with Francesca, and grew annoyed with their developing flirtationship. Dev and Francesca's pivotal moments take place throughout the course of autumn in New York, and the cinematography picks up bright, warm tones that emphasize coziness and set up the complicated love story that unfolds before us.
At first I was mad at Francesca for leading Dev on, and immediately branded her as a Euro Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I couldn't help but feel sorry for Dev, too, but I was also angry at him. How can you have feelings for someone you know you can't have? Why would you let yourself live with that turmoil? I didn't understand it, because I'd never been in Dev's position, and I foolishly thought I never would be, at least anytime soon.
But cut to six months later, and here I am sitting at a wine bar with one of my best girlfriends saying "this fucking sucks so much" while she nods understandingly, our conversation almost mirroring Dev and his best friend Arnold's. Recently I've been rewatching the last two episodes of the season, "Amarsi Un Po" and "Buona Notte" with a pit in my stomach and an ache in my chest that can't seem to go away. Suddenly I'm even more appreciative of Aziz Ansari and his ability to translate something so messy, melancholic, and raw. Not only with writing and cinematography, but with music. Like Dev, I've been pacing my apartment listening to Skeeter Davis sing "I got along without you before I met you / Gonna get along without you now" as a way to distract myself.
Watching Dev show Francesca his favorite little corners of New York makes me think about the semester I've had exploring Cleveland, showing someone parts of my city that I considered parts of me. For the past month and a half I've felt like a character in a romantic comedy and have just wanted to laugh (and cry) at the ridiculousness of it all.
We're all human, and that means we can be selfish and self-destructive, especially with the way we feel. Sometimes when we have a connection with someone, we'll do everything and anything to keep that feeling alive, even if there are conflicting emotions in the way. We ignore all signs that it's not going to work out, and ignore our friends' warnings because it was nice to at least scratch the surface of something that seemed real, or could be real in the future. But when the excitement of connecting with someone for the first time in a long time (especially after getting out of a long-term relationship in mine and Dev's case) fades away and you realize the circumstances are probably not going to change in your favor, you're left feeling awful. And spending time with them is just adding salt to an open wound.
This is the feeling that the second season of Master of None captures so well: human connection is a mystery. Two people liking each other doesn't mean they're going to end up together; that's not how it always works on-screen, and off-screen as well. Sometimes it's about timing, sometimes it's about not owning up to insecurities you have about yourself or a relationship. We don't always end up with who we want to end up with, a painful but true sentiment. It's selfish to want someone to drop everything else just to be with you, but at the same time - why would someone drag you, and your heart, into their own mess? What do they expect to come out of it?
Of course Dev wants to be with Franchesca, but it's difficult on her end, too - does she really want to risk ending a ten-year relationship, an engagement, for a person and a city she hasn't known for very long, just because she's unhappy and confused? But there's also the counter-question that needs to be asked: why would you choose unhappiness?
"I have so many things in my head. I'm still trying to figure out what I think, what I want...and like, a month ago I knew everything about me," Francesca explains to Dev in his apartment in the season finale.
When she starts to dive into the whole "I care about you and I don't want to hurt you" spiel that we've all heard before, I wanted to laugh. But most of all, I wanted to cry when Dev sighed, sunk his head into his hands and said "Stop. Don't even bother."
"I don't want to be an idiot," I said earlier this month, in response to being told a bullshit version of what Francesca said to Dev.
Usually it's when we go back and revisit something at a later time that we catch things we didn't notice before. Now I'm not annoyed at Dev for falling in love with Francesca; I commend him for letting himself feel the way he did, and being honest, despite not knowing the odds. Being open and vulnerable is an act of courage, although it can be painful at times. When someone comes into your life and the emotional part of you that's been in hibernation mode for so long finally wakes up again, you tell yourself to be careful. But caution is being thrown to the wind even in the very beginning, and you realize what's happening to you when it's too late. I guess it's easier said than done not to focus on the unfairness of it all, but if someone isn't willing to meet you halfway, you have to do the hard thing and keep forging ahead by yourself.
The autumn I've had in Cleveland this year is so distinctively different from others that I've had, especially since I've been in college. I've been presented with a whole new set of emotions, and I'm glad I've gotten to experience them alongside Aziz Ansari's creation. I'm probably not going to be able to look at my city the same way anymore for a while - but thankfully everything is transitioning over from autumn to winter, and with that in mind, maybe I can leave what I've been going through behind.
A few years ago I came across a poem called "what did we even talk about?" by Warsan Shire, and these are the last few lines:
"last week, i walked through the part of the city i loved when i still loved you, our old haunts. you know, even the ghosts have moved on."