Saturday, November 21, 2015

REVIEW: 'Master of None' - Dev Struggles When It Comes to Understanding Subtle Sexism in 'Ladies & Gentlemen'

Netflix's Master of None - Episode 1.07 "Ladies & Gentlemen"

Rachel and Denise school Dev and Arnold about the difficulties of being a woman in a world of creepy dudes. Dev is inspired to embrace feminism.

One of the best things about Master of None is its willingness to embrace different perspectives to point out the bias that its main character, Dev, has. He is so curious about the world. He approaches things differently than the rest of his friends. His perspective allows him to view certain actions the way he wants to see them. He wants to understand how other people view the same action. But there's also a huge difference between noticing the big things and the small details. That quality is very much on display in "Ladies & Gentleman." Dev wants to be seen as a feminist who fights for female's rights. He knows what sexism looks like in an overall way. But he hasn't had the misfortune of having to see it every day for his entire life - like Rachel and Denise. They notice small things that he would never question. That's what's so great about this episode. It forces Dev into some truly awkward situations where he isn't always right. The show is much better for it as a result.

The episode has one truly inventive and chilling opening. It shows just how differently men and women view the world with something as simple as walking home late at night from a bar. When Dev and Arnold are on this walk, they are carefree. They are joking around about random topics like the weather. They go through an unlit park because it's a short cut to where they want to go. Their biggest concern is when Dev accidentally steps in dog poop. That's it. In severe contrast, there is Diana (Condola Rashad), a girl coming home from the same bar. She is on high alert. Any noise that comes from a guy on her way home could signal trouble. She is literally walking home with her phone in her hand with it dialed to 911. She then has to press call too because she was followed home by a creepy guy from the bar. He was upset that she didn't drink the shot that she never asked for but he got it for her anyway. He follows her up to the door of her apartment pleading for her to take a chance on the "nice guy." In this instance though, he isn't being nice at all. It shows just how terrifying this world can be for women. Men don't even seem to notice it. That's especially true in the sound design of this sequence. For Diana's adventure, it's tense and mysterious. It's a struggle just to get home. But with Dev and Arnold's walk, it's light and jaunty. This is just a continuation of a fun time. They don't even seem to be aware of just how dangerous this world can be.

Diana also happens to be Dev's co-star for a commercial for the Garden Depot. It's a relaxed ad that features Dev and another guy selling a grill while at a barbecue with a bunch of attractive ladies in the background. It's on set where Dev hears about Diana's incident from the night before. It makes him losing his favorite pair of sneakers (and needing to replace them) seem incredibly trivial. He needed to listen in order to hear the severity of what life is like for a woman. He shares this story with Rachel and Denise who counter with their own horrifying stories. Rachel was followed in the grocery store and wasn't able to lose the guy for an hour. Denise was at an empty movie theater watching a movie when a guy came in and choose to sit right next to her. These kinds of creepy behavior are all too common to Rachel and Denise. Dev and Arnold are shocked to learn that this happens regularly. They want to be seen as feminists. So they ask what they can do to stop such behavior? The only answer that can be given is to not be a creepy guy.

It's a lesson that Dev then takes out into the world with him. When he and Denise are on the subway, they see a guy just masturbating on the crowded train. They know that that is not right. It's not the first time they've seen it happen. But now, they want to do something about it. It's a really hilarious scene where the two of them decide to do a citizen's arrest. First, they argue if that's even a real thing and whether or not there is a conductor onboard the train. But then, they actually confront the man and get the support of everyone else on the train. Everyone is glad that someone said something and this man will be punished for his action. Dev did something great. He saw a creepy man being disgusting and stood up for everyone around him. It's an action that makes Dev a hero for a little bit. This story makes him very confident which leads to him partying at the bar with the rest of his female co-stars and talking even more about the fundamentally sexist society that he currently lives in.

Dev understands sexism. He knows it when he sees it. He knows all the facts. He knows that stalking and jerking off on the subway are wrong. But it's a much more difficult concept for him to tackle when it's much more subtle. He gets the director of the commercial to completely reverse the gender roles of the spot. That means Diana and her friends are the new stars of the commercial and Dev is put in a much smaller part - which is then taken from him. It's an action he's directly responsible for. The director only made this change because Dev said something. His female co-stars love that he stood up for them and got the director to change his mind. They show their appreciation by even giving Dev a cake that show him as the masturbation vigilante they believe him to be.

But the story also leads to a very personal and devastating final act when the director, Brad Honeycut, introduces himself to everyone near Dev at the bar except for Denise and Rachel. To Dev, that wasn't sexism. He wants to believe in the best of people. He just wants to see it as an honest mistake. Rachel and Denise point out just how wrong it is. Because it's subtle sexism, Dev struggles to understand just how important it really is and why Rachel is very upset at him. Earlier, Dev said he wanted to understand what Rachel has to go through simply for being a woman. But that also means he has to be open to listening. That's something he was bad at from the very beginning. When Rachel and Denise were sharing their stalker stories, he interrupted both stories because he wanted to know if the pet store was the one with the puppy cam and why Denise would go see Failure to Launch? So, it's not surprising that he interrupts Rachel again to tell her how Brad isn't a sexist. He doesn't want to believe that a man who just flipped the genders in his commercial would be capable of blatantly ignoring someone based on their gender. But it's also cruel because Dev is taking Brad's side over Rachel's. She is the person he wants to be with. That means he has to be aware of these issues and how she feels about them. That takes him a moment to truly grapple with. He admits that there will be things he'll just never understand. All he can really do in order to combat these sexist issues is to try and be a better listener for whenever something like this happens again to Rachel.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Ladies & Gentlemen" was directed by Lynn Shelton with story by Andrew Blitz and teleplay by Sarah Peters & Zoe Jarman.
  • The episode does go off on one weird tangent with Rachel and Arnold pairing up to go buy a Craigslist couch. But even it does a nice thing in flipping the gender roles of the characters. Rachel is the one negotiating while Arnold is the one who becomes too in love with the couch.
  • It's also great that Dev and Rachel are just openly in a relationship right now. It's stable. Sure, there is that fight between the two in the end. But it's also refreshing that she is just a part of the group now and is capable of just going off with someone other than Dev for a little bit.
  • Also, Rachel's Home Improvement impression was pretty wonderful.
  • It's great to know that Denise's celebrity crush is Sarah Jessica Parker.
  • The friend of Diana's who is anti-vaccination and anti-gluten was a little unnecessary. She existed solely for everyone to want to stop talking with her and her crazy ideas.
  • That image on the cake was really disturbing. One can only imagine what the designers of it were thinking when they were making it for this group of girls.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.