The last episode of Master of None to zero in on the Dev and Rachel relationship (“Nashville”) was the worst in the series so far, reducing Noël Wells and Aziz Ansari’s chemistry to a series of in-jokes. “Mornings” gives the Dev and Rachel dynamic another go, and, this time around, their relationship is painfully believable. It’s still too narrowly-focused of an episode to be Master of None at its best—the show usually does better with more supporting players in the mix—but as a darkly funny portrait of a struggling couple, it’s solid.
“Mornings” tracks Dev’s relationship over the course of a year, from those initial pet peeves, to the day they move in together, and, eventually through their first major hurdle, namely Rachel’s job offer in Chicago. The opening of the episode, which follows the couple as they grow progressively more annoyed with each other’s bad habits, feels a little too mechanistic: a shot of the date on a clock radio, a brief vignette in Dev’s tiny apartment, rinse, lather, repeat. But gradually, it becomes clear that the episode’s narrative is subtler than this framing technique might suggest. More on that soon.
First, it should be said that “Mornings” improves the Dev-Rachel relationship by substituting naturalistic dialogue for the cloyingly witty banter of episodes past. Hearing the couple make mock orgasm noises (Wells gets a special nod for her delivery here) and watching them come up with names for each other’s genitals does a lot more for their characterization than the more writerly dialogue of “Nashville.” It’s a shame that Ansari and Wells only settled into their onscreen relationship in the same episode that opens the question of its permanence, but it’s still rewarding to see one of the season’s longest-running plotlines be realized.
What’s especially accurate about “Mornings” is the way in which the Dev-Rachel honeymoon period doesn’t implode all at once. Sometimes, things are bad (like when Dev tries to incentivize Rachel to keep her clothes off the floor with an oral sex-based bet) and, other times, things are good (like when Dev makes good on his bet, in what may rank as the funniest cunnilingus scene this side of Inside Amy Schumer). Their fights feel almost alarmingly realistic, too, with Dev trying to use humor to resolve conflicts that result largely from his own selfishness. In a lot of shows, a joke would signal the end of a fight but, for Rachel and Dev, laughter isn’t a cure-all. The two have deeper issues—career dreams, varying attitudes toward commitment, cross-cultural differences—that a punchline can’t resolve.
Letting Dev’s humor fall flat during these fights is also one of the surest signs of the show’s maturity. It’s so easy for Ansari to crack a smile and be instantly lovable again, which means that it takes restraint to construct scenarios in which Dev can try that same tactic and fail. It’s a testament to Ansari’s increasing skill as an actor, too, that he manages to make Dev genuinely unlikeable throughout much of this episode, whether he’s being obnoxious about Rachel leaving her clothes on the floor or minimizing the importance of a serious conversation about Chicago.
But it’s the episode’s closing moments that cut the deepest. Dev and Rachel are in bed together doing something every couple has done: Retelling the story of their relationship as a fairy tale. Suddenly, Dev is sweet again, referring to the Plan B pill as a “magic potion” and using their code names for their private parts.
At the end of the story, Rachel asks, hopefully, “Did they live happily ever after?”
“I don’t know about ever after but they’re pretty happy now,” Dev says, and the credits roll.
After a year of dating, that’s not a good answer and Master of None knows it. But as the closing line for an episode about the pain of growing apart, it’s the right one.
May Saunders is a professional dog walker living in Minneapolis and an occasional freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, who does not need to be walked. Follow her on Twitter.