This week we talked about how Netflix is really vying to be one of the gayest networks out there. But the significance of one particular episode of Master Of None needs to be addressed.
The Thanksgiving episode of the Netflix original series does what so many shows try to do but Aziz Ansari and co-writer and star Lena Waithe achieve with ease – highlighting the specific to underscore the universal struggles in us all.
Let me say it another way –
Denise is EVERYTHING!
SPOILER (I guess people still announce this stuff but really it’s been a week, but we are talking reveals here.)
To understand the genius behind this episode is to realize a hard fact. We have not seen a Denise portrayed on television. Like ever. Yes, we talk a good representation game, but the ‘soft stud’ that is Lena Waithe’s character was a breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately, in Season 1 of Master of None we only got snippets of Denise’s character which left us wanting so much more.
Season 2 was like a black and brown bomb exploded over the set of “Masters”. All of a sudden we really got into the nuances of Black, Indian and a lot of other cultures that we’d been waiting for Anzari to really address.
But the Thanksgiving episode goes further. It pushes the character and the viewer to themselves and the stuff that is getting in the way.
The story follows Denise and Dev, two BFFs, bonding over their POC status and love of weed, video games, and 90’s R&B.
Denise experiences her sexual awakening as a young teen and confides in her bestie Dev. When she confesses to being “Lebanese” her friend just accepts it and offers support, and lets Denise handle the rest.
That is the brilliance of this episode. Dev is not the narrator of the story, he is not the nosey other trying to understand. He doesn’t need to understand, he just loves Denise. And now we get to see two black women fight through their own stuff to meet in the middle.
Master Of None smartly, bringing in heavyweight acting champion Angela Bassett to play Denise’s mom, Catherine. Bassett is one of those actor’s who walks on a screen and reminds you that there is a difference between stars and thespians.
Catherine carries the weight of her blackness, her womanhood, her battle to be seen heard and loved throughout each scene. She is both funny and angry and over protective of her daughter in a world that barely sees black men let alone black women.
So when Denise takes her mother out to dinner and tells her that she is “gay” Catherine bursts into tears. Because she is afraid for her daughter’s life. A life she knows is hard. A life she knows will be made more complicated by her blackness, her womanhood, and her sexuality.
Catherine’s evolution is also guided by Denise’s own confidence in herself. This would be the time you would expect Dev to start straight-plaining or mansplaining the situation. But Anzari knows the episode is not about him and lets the story unfold brilliantly.
The show has some of the funniest scenes played by Kim Whitley, but the fact that Denise gets to tell her story, and work it out without help from anyone but herself makes this episode a black Queer classic.
What did you think?