Thursday, November 26, 2015

REVIEW: 'Master of None' - Dev Forms a Strong Connection with Rachel's Grandmother in 'Old People'

Netflix's Master of None - Episode 1.08 "Old People"

An unexpected death inspires Dev and Rachel to visit Rachel's grandmother, while Arnold contends with a strange inheritance.

"Old People" doesn't really have a plot to it. It's an episode that largely lives in a mood and in conversations between two people. It doesn't really move the overarching narrative of the season forward in a significant way. But then again, most of Master of None's phenomenal first season has been about episodic storytelling. Yes, every episode moves the story of romantic connection between Dev and Rachel forward a little bit. But each episode is also its own unique thing in terms of structure, plot and storytelling. That's very refreshing. "Old People" is different than the rest of the season. But it's also just as powerful as the show is at its best. This show gets what real conversations look and sound like. That's very appreciated in an episode such as this one.

"Old People" allows Dev to understand what it means to age. He has always been a very inquisitive character. And now, he's actually listening to the stories that his friends' grandparents want to tell. He can't connect with these people as well as he can with his friends who are roughly the same age as him. When he and Arnold go to visit Arnold's grandfather, they make fun of him for still having a VCR player and not trusting a DVD player because of all the lasers. It's a piece of technology Dev and Arnold grew comfortable with a long time ago. They understand how this VCR works but they aren't interested in putting in much effort to fix it. They just see this visit as a brief checkup to see how Arnold's grandpa is doing and then leave as quickly as possible. It's their own selfish needs to want to embrace what fun means to them and not care about how other people see the world. And yet, when Arnold's grandpa starts telling a story about his time in the Korean war, Dev and Arnold are captivated.

So much of this episode revolves around these stories of the past that are unique and personal to the people who experienced them. Dev and Arnold aren't able to hear any more stories from Arnold's grandfather because he dies shortly after their visit. That affords the show to go off on a weird tangent with Arnold finding the same companionship that his grandfather did in his final days. But it also exposes just how selfish young people are capable of being when dealing with their older relatives. Young people just want to see things their way. They only care about the things they can connect with. It's not easy to connect with older relatives because of generational differences. But when one puts the effort in to want to listen and understand, it can truly be a rewarding experience.

Dev doesn't have a relationship with any of his grandparents. Three of them are dead and the one still alive doesn't speak English. That's a barrier that Dev puts no effort into overcoming. He sees her language as too complicated and doesn't even try to connect with her. He simply says "Hello" and then passes the phone to his father. That's the relationship Dev has with his grandmother. And yet, Dev is able to form a connection with older people. He wants to learn and listen to their stories. It's an experience that is much easier for Dev and his friends when it doesn't come to their own families. Dev is much more interesting in the war story than Arnold is while Rachel has to leave for a work emergency very quickly into her and Dev's visit with her own grandmother.

Dev started his day with Rachel's Grandma Carol not knowing if she would be a racist. Those concerns quickly go away and he just sits back and listens to Grandma Carol talk about her life. It's an experience that is sad but also joyous. Grandma Carol loves being able to share these stories with someone who is willing to listen. She may not connect with the same things that Dev and Rachel do. She prefers The Blacklist over Dev's explanation of The Sickening. And yet, both of them had a great time explaining their interests to the other. The show is able to peel back this history of a long life lived because of Dev's willingness to listen. He asks her questions in order to better understand. His visit with her is the most refreshing experience she has had in a long time. She fell and her family put her in a home. It's not an environment that she particularly likes. And yet, she is still capable of experiencing life. People don't need to treat her differently just because she is old.

It is questionable that Dev is able to break her out of the place so easily and willingly. But it also extends this connection between the two to the outside world. It's a world that Grandma Carol has experienced before and loves to be out doing it again. They go to her favorite Italian restaurant and continue to have a blast. Dev is able to learn so much about this woman's life. She opens up to him because he is so curious. It's a conversation that goes from a tale of hitchhiking to Atlantic City to see Frank Sinatra perform to a story of her stealing a car. Grandma Carol did have a tough life with needing to raise a family at a young age. But she has had her fair share of mischief as well. It's a conversation that is captivating to listen to. It's just this elongated sequence between two characters sitting down at a table talking. But it feels so realistic. Even when Dev starts talking about how he and Rachel started dating, it doesn't feel redundant. The audience knows that story but it's still compelling to listen to Dev tell it to someone who is curious and wants to hear it. It's an experience that both of them cherish in this moment.

Of course, Grandma Carol has to go back to the home eventually. Rachel calls in a panic because the nurses can't find her grandmother. But Grandma Carol is completely fine. Nothing bad happened to her just because she left her apartment. She actually has the best time she has had in a long time. Sure, Dev freaks out as well as soon as he learns he has lost Grandma Carol. But even that shows just how much Carol wants to keep living life. Just because she is old doesn't mean she can't offer something beautiful and captivating to the world. Her final performance is mesmerizing. In that moment, Rachel and Dev are no longer angry. They are just happy to see her perform again. It's a beautiful and happy moment that shows that great things can happen once an effort is made to understand another person. That's very inspiring.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Old People" was written by Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang and directed by Lynn Shelton.
  • The Arnold subplot with him connecting with Paro just like his grandfather did shows just how valuable companionship can be. It's a very simple story that never has a ton of dialogue but is compelling by just how quickly this bond forms between the two and just how strong it is by the time Arnold says goodbye.
  • It's actually pretty great and amusing that Paro is a real thing!
  • The show clearly has a thing against The Blacklist - saying it's both a show that reinforces ethnic stereotypes and is a show that old people enjoy.
  • Neither Dev nor Grandma Carol fully understand what Rachel's job is. That was a fun realization for Dev.
  • Arnold: "Can we not talk about the Golden Age of tennis either?"
  • Dev: "I'm in deep shit now, Grandma Carol."

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.