Spoilers for Season 1 and 2 follow.
Season one of Netflix comedy show Master of None introduced Dev, a 30-something second-generation American Indian: charming and socially fluent, with a healthy network of friends, yet adrift when it comes to romance and his career. The first season ended as Dev’s long-term relationship with his girlfriend Rachel came to a painful close. Rachel wanted out so she could finally pursue her dream of living in Tokyo. Dev impulsively packed up and left the country as well, in his case to study pasta-making in Italy.
Second-gen identity often relies on trying to reconcile all the disparate influences in your life to find your own place in both the proverbial and literal sense. Season 2 of Master of None tackles the issue head-on. The third episode “Religion” is particularly relevant, interrogating the ways religious values seem to become diluted once children are transplanted from their parents’ culture. “You guys have your interpretations, right?” Dev complains when his family confronts him for not adhering to Islam. “Why can’t I have my interpretation where I’m just nice and eat pork?”
Dev’s parents are secure in their faith, jobs, and marriage, but especially their identities as Indians first and Americans second. Dev’s left trying to piece together an identity out of the mix of influences from an increasingly globalized world, neither fully immersed in Indian culture nor fitting perfectly into the white majority of America. The shift to Modena reads like Dev is testing out other cultures, seeing whether they give him a better shot at understanding who he is than his aimless life in New York. “So should we just become Italians?” questions Dev’s friend Arnold in the second episode. “I mean, I’m so America’d out right now.” Even after Dev returns home, the temptation of Modena still lurks behind the scenes; Season 2 is littered with references to classic Italian films.
Dev’s flirtation with Italy turns literal in his attachment to Alessandra Mastronardi’s Francesca, the love interest of the season’s main romantic arc. Francesca is the opposite of Rachel’s girl-next-door character, criticized by Anna Silman for being devoid of most personality traits except “European.” Although I would argue Mastronardi’s chemistry with Ansari holds up regardless, most of Francesca’s conversations with Dev do noticeably focus on their cultural differences: she asks him to define English words, speaks in a beautiful Italian accent, and shows innocent joyousness at the variety of American pharmacies. Out of the impressive mix of ethnicities we see Dev go on dates with, Francesca is the only one whose culture is exoticized―she’s the very fantasy of Italy.
Of course, eventually the illusion has to crumble. The very qualities that draw Dev to Francesca also separate them. Dev wants to her move to New York to be with him but she, like his parents, already has a strong connection with her place of origin.“A month ago I knew everything about me”, says Francesca in the emotional climax of the season. “I knew I was going to marry Pino and we would have kids and we would probably made a happy family over—over there in Italy. In Modena.”
In the case of being second-gen, often we miss out on such tidy, secure identities. Our roots are sprawling, but not always as deep. It’s liberating, certainly, but also intimidating; for Francesca it means losing the certainty of who she is and what she’s meant to be. Unfortunately for Dev, he never had that sense of assurance in the first place. And if, as the season ending hints, Francesca really has given it up to be with him, he might find the allure wears off when she fits herself into the mould of an American.