Major Spoiler Alert!
I am going to write about Master of None Season 2 Episode 8 “Thanksgiving.” If you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading, go watch it and then come back.
I love Master of None
I am a first generation kid of an Asian immigrant parent, half Jewish and a lesbian. This puts me in a situation where I directly relate to almost nothing I watch on TV. I’m not complaining, though. I don’t need to relate to characters on a personal level to get emotionally connected to and deeply invested in a show (obviously), but when it does happen it’s really intense.
This is what happened when I watched the “Parents” episode from season one. I was blindsided — I felt sad, guilty, angry, validated and some PTSD all at the same time. You don’t see the real story of what it’s like have a huge culture gap with an Asian immigrant parent told on TV. They have a level of expectation that you as an American kid don’t fully understand.
This scene sums it up:
Dev’s Lesbian Friend, Denise
Out lesbian actor Lena Waithe plays Dev’s (Aziz Ansari) lesbian friend, Denise. I was really hoping Denise would have a bigger role in season two. She wasn’t in a ton of episodes, but she co-wrote the Thanksgiving episode that centers around her, her family and her coming out process.
I loved this episode, and it’s a real testament to the effort Aziz Ansari puts into telling normally untold stories in a very real way.
Getting It Right
The episode centers around Thanksgiving dinner over several years at Denise’s house with her mom, grandmom, aunt and Dev who attends every year because his family doesn’t do Thanksgiving dinner. It starts in the 90s when Denise and Dev are kids and ends in the present day.
Over the years you see Denise and Dev grow older and signs of baby dykedom start showing in Denise. She eventually comes out to Dev who accepts her immediately and then comes out to her mom who takes longer to come around. The story felt very real to me and it was one I imagine many queer folks could relate to.
I listened to Aziz Ansari’s interview on Fresh Air and he said this when asked about Lena to co-writing the episode.
I know when someone that’s not you tries to tell your story, especially when you don’t look like the person whose story you’re trying to tell, you’re going to screw it up. And the only way to get it right is to have them be as involved as possible. And that’s why I told her from the get-go – I said, you need to write this with me. And I’ll help you, and we’ll get this in shape and make it feel like the show. But you’ve got to make sure we get this right.
This seems so simple — have people who are subject matter experts on their own lives tell their own stories — but this is often not the case and unqualified writers get it wrong over and over again. The effort Aziz puts into producing an authentic show is one of the things that makes it so great.
The Mythical Big Coming Out Speech
On screen, coming out is often this big moment accompanied by a speech, but that’s not usually how it goes down in real life. For me, my mom asked me an accusatory question I gave a short but honest answer and we didn’t talk much about it after that.
Denise comes out to Dev and her mom in the same way — during regular conversation that starts to go into relationship territory. She gives honest answers, not big speeches. Dev is accepting right away, her mom, on the other hand, takes a few years to come around.
Getting to Know the “New” Person You Always Were
When Denise comes out to her mom she says, “I’ve always been gay. But I’m still the same person.”
When we come out to our parents, one of the hurdles they face is feeling like we are suddenly a different person they don’t know. If they were tuned in, they would have known our sexual orientation could evolve in any direction and this does not make us different people after it’s revealed. Actually, we are the people we’ve been our entire lives but now more our whole selves.
Part of our parents’ acceptance of us is coming to this realization: you’re still the same kid, but now I know you even better, and the queer thing isn’t as big a deal as I was raised to believe. The episode is able to show this so well since it take place over several years.
More Denise, Please
I really hope Aziz gets a third season (and many more) to tell these stories. I’m a little nervous given the fact that Netflix cancelled a few shows lately with diverse casts and stories, but hopefully this show will be able to continue and give Denise a more prominent role.
I am going to leave you with an episode of the Nancy podcast, the awesome queer podcast produced by WNYC Studios. In this episode they interview Lena Waithe and she gives you more insight into Master of None.
This was my favorite scene in the whole episode. So funny.