Funny. Real. Heart-breaking. All of these words describe the excellent season finale of Aziz Ansari’s superb Netflix original series “Master of None.”
From the opening credits, the episode preoccupies itself with numbers. In a comic scene, Aziz and Arnold debate what to have for lunch:
“I’m starving!” Aziz complains.
“Me, too” Arnold agrees.
“Well, what do you want?”
“How about tacos?”
The next 2 minutes trace an experience made all the more hilarious by its all-too-real familiarity: determined to find the “best” taco joint in all of New York, Aziz frantically searches Yelp reviews and looks for input on Google. 45 minutes later Aziz is exhausted from too-much-information syndrome. Overloaded with information meant to aid the process of buying, consumers are ironically paralyzed by indecision when confronted with too many possibilities. The once relatively simple task of finding a place to scarf down a taco has now-with the advent of rating sites like Yelp and Google Plus- become a kind of art. One must consider average ratings across multiple criteria, assess the validity of reviews, a complex process indeed. And what’s usually the result? Like Aziz, we find the ideal taco haven only to show up at the food truck and find it’s closed 40 minutes later.
The rest of the episode concerns itself with similar issues of indecision and regret. After Aziz attends a friend’s wedding and witnesses their blissful, seemingly perfect romance, he begins to question his compatibility with his quirky, live-in girlfriend Rachel. “If you had to rate the likelihood of us being together forever on a scale of 1-100, what would you rate us?” he interrogates Rachel. When she responds with 70, Aziz is upset and hurt:
“What?” she defends, “It’s a high number.”
“It’s not as high as 80 the number I wrote.”
Though from an outsider’s perspective his request is so ridiculous it borders on the absurd (after all, how can you forecast something as unpredictable as whether or not you’ll stay with someone?), his desperate need for certainty is a desire most of us can relate to. In your late 20s and early 30s, doesn’t everyone have that lingering fear that “this is it”? that the man we’ve dated for 5 years out of habit will be the man we end up with? that the job we just “fell into” will be our career?
Quarter-life is a turbulent time riddled with anxiousness and self-doubt:
“You’re so indecisive!” Aziz’s father scolds, “You’re like the girl with the fig tree!”
“Huh?” Aziz wonders, confused.
“Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar. You need to read more…”
As Aziz strolls through an idyllic New York park pondering his life choices, images of all his potential lives flicker across the screen: a quiet, domestic life with a wife and family; a traveler’s lifestyle of excitement and adventure. Like Plath, Aziz finds himself tormented by the countless possibilities open to him and terrified he’ll choose the wrong one.
By forcing Rachel to assess the seriousness of their relationship, Aziz inadvertently inspires her to assess her life, ultimately leading to her decision to move to Tokyo. “I don’t want to be like my sister,” Rachel divulges, “She always wanted to live in Paris; now she never will. I’m afraid if I don’t do this, I’m never going to.”
Though this-at first-seems like a heartbreaking, too-soon end to an adorable love story (after all, who didn’t love Aziz and Rachel?), Rachel’s decision to end the relationship and pursue a life-long dream rouses Aziz out of the immobilizing, I-have-to-do-everything-perfectly indecision that has been plaguing him all episode. In the episode’s final scene, we see Aziz on his way to what we can only assume to be a plane to Tokyo. Just when we assume Master of None is going to settle into the predictable conventions of rom-com, the show violates our expectations and surprises us:
“Have you ever been?” a round-faced Japanese woman leans over and asks Aziz.
“To Italy? No, no,” Aziz shakes his head, “this is my first time.”