4. Stuck in an Alley – “Le Nozze,” Episode 2
Directed by: Aziz Ansari
Written by: Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang
Arnold puts it perfectly when he says, “This is my worst nightmare, man!” The big man was just trying to follow directions, taking a small Italian car down an even smaller Italian alley, and look where it got him. Stuck — first in the alley, and then — in a doubly amusing twist — in the Fiat’s moon roof.
Not only did we feel for Arnold, but the scene is a perfect example of how Ansari and Yang capture universal fears and insert them into specific stories. We’ve all been stuck in a foreign land, nervous about getting the little things right, and this situation managed to encapsulate all the terror of a dreaded worst-case-scenario within a really, really funny scene.
Dev delays going for help to take a picture and, in doing so, yet again provides the ideal audience perspective: He’s in the moment, commiserating with his friend, but aware enough to take full advantage of a memory in the making. May we all learn from such observant behavior, especially if we find ourselves trapped in an Italian alley.
3. The Second Dance – “Buona Notte,” Episode 10
Directed by: Aziz Ansari
Written by: Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang
The risk vs. reward ratio on a scene like this leans heavily against success. Not only are beautiful romantic moments hard to come to with any kind of authenticity, but finding new, fresh ways to illustrate an age-old emotion is quite the challenge. Here, Ansari and Yang ask us to acknowledge the desire and restriction — that Dev and Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) have every reason to be there and every reason to leave.
But Ansari and Yang set up the couple’s second dance in Dev’s apartment (and third overall) so it could resonate on multiple levels. The couple had a fun, flirtatious dance scene in the same space during Episode 9, and it was then when they cemented their love for each other. Innocent as it was, there was no going back, but that they hadn’t given in to their attraction foreshadowed a scene in which they would.
And so it did in the finale, as the dance was recreated under openly romantic circumstances. Without specifically referencing what had come before — the pajama dance party or the awkward dancing at Arnold’s disco night — Ansari relies on that pattern while crafting a new tango for his twisted partners. The music. The door kiss. Francesca’s departure. It all has to feel just right, not only so we’re there in the moment with them, but so we can contemplate the consequences only outsiders can see.
2. Thanksgiving Dinner 2015 & 2016 – Episode 8, “Thanksgiving”
Directed by: Melina Matsoukas
Written by: Aziz Ansari & Lena Waithe
Lena Waithe’s episode is the best episode of Season 2 because of so many more reasons than its best scene: It’s the combination of stories, told over the course of 22 years (between 1995 and 2017), that chronicles a complicated relationship between a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality and her mother (Angela Bassett) who refuses to acknowledge the development. Denise knew she was gay since 1999, but she also knew about the complex perspective the black community has toward homosexuality: “Being gay isn’t something black people are allowed to talk about,” Denise told Dev. “It’s more intense for us [than other cultures]. Kids are like trophies. Me being gay tarnishes the trophy.”
Seven years later, she told her mom the truth, but even nine years after that, Denise’s mother hasn’t come to terms with it. And that brings us to the best scenes of the episode: two dinner scenes in back-to-back years in which Dev tries to play the clown to ease the tension in Denise’s family. In 2015, he yells across the table at Denise’s grandma after she said she couldn’t hear him. He does this so loudly and with so many words — “YOUR YAMS TURNED OUT REALLY NICE THIS YEAR. DID YOU ADD ANY NUTMEG?” — it begins to eat away at Aunt Joyce and Denise’s mom, until the former snaps at Dev to shut up.
Events all but repeat themselves the following year, when Denise brings a questionable date home for dinner. Dev, excited by the opportunity to embarrass his friend and tease her disapproving mother and aunt, won’t stop repeating the date’s Instagram handle, until they’re shouting it together: “NIPPLES AND TOES 23! NIPPLES AND TOES 23!”
Now, Ansari’s unique talent to be simultaneously obnoxious and charming is what carries the comedic side of the scenes, but it’s also the development between Denise and her mom that makes them meaningful. Denise’s mom goes from a silent, judging mother when Denise brings her first female date back to the house, to a protective mom who just wants the best for his child when Denise brings home an unworthy partner. It’s slow progress, but distinct nonetheless. Humanity wins out — and the shouting. The shouting wins, too.
1. The Long Drive Home – “The Dinner Party”, Episode 5
Directed by: Eric Wareheim
Written by: Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang
Another big risk, especially at episode’s end, was sitting in the Lyft with Dev throughout his entire ride home. For three minutes, we watch nothing but Dev’s face — in the same frame, uncut — as he agonizes over a perfect evening with a complicated ending. He chose to invite Francesca, an engaged friend, to a romantic dinner party instead of Priya, his single new lady friend, because he knew he’d have more fun with the Italian pasta maker.
But he may not have realized how much fun they’d have; not until she says goodbye and leaves the car with a friendly hug. Those three minutes emphasize the weight of his decision and are only broken up by a text from Francesca that both mocks his post-date text to Priya and insinuates a date just occurred. We feel the agony of that winking heart-face emoji immediately, but rather than cutting and turning it into a groan-inducing button, we’re asked to live with Dev, in the moment, until his date night ends.
Later, during the ninth episode helicopter ride when he confesses his love for her, Dev tells Francesca there were so many moments he wanted to grab her and kiss her. “I probably would’ve grabbed you and kissed you back,” she replies. This is the moment that embodies that missed opportunity. In the car, Dev wondered what could have happened. In the helicopter, he finds out. And after both, we’re still wondering what might of been; what future awaited a different decision. Like Dev, we’ll always be wondering. We’ll always be sitting in the back of an Lyft, on the long, regretful ride home.