Warning: spoilers ahead.
For the most part, the sophomore season of Master of None, which premiered today on Netflix, is a successful follow-up to its Emmy-winning debut. Despite some issues I had with Dev’s personal romantic storyline, the show gives us its signature nuanced and comical approach to issues like race and gender, providing an inclusive, genuine crash course on allyship. One of the most perfect examples of this is the third episode of the new season, “Religion,” which not only looks at what it’s like to be a first generation Muslim who doesn’t really believe in religion, but injects a dose of normalcy into a conversation plagued with extreme opinions.
Dev’s religion has never really come up before, because, like many first generation children (or people in general), its rituals and traditions haven’t really stuck with him. And fortunately, the way Aziz Ansari addresses Islam isn’t the kind of ultra-positive portrayal that we sometimes feel we need to see just to balance out the heinously offensive portrayals of Muslims in the vast majority of media.
After a cute montage of kids of various religions telling their parents that they don’t want to go to church or (Jewish) temple or (Hindu) temple or a Scientology auditing session, we see childhood Dev eat bacon for the first time. He immediately falls in love, only to be told by his mother that Muslims aren’t allowed to eat pork. (Season highlight: watching a little Muslim child eat bacon to Tupac’s “Only God Can Judge Me.”)
But, as it turns out, his parents also have their own lapses. Throughout the episode, they, along with Dev, pretend to be more religious than they actually are to save face with their far more devout family. His parents get livid with Dev when he, fed up with pretending to be someone he’s not and also unable to resist a crispy pork special, announces to his very Muslim family that he does in fact, eat pork.
In the ensuing aftermath, Dev tries to explain to his parents that religion is “just not for him.” When they push him on what that means he brings up his issues with Islam to defend himself, like “What about all the stuff with women?”
His father shoots back, “What is this, Fox News? Why am I under attack?” And his mother reminds him that “some people have bad interpretations” of religion, but their family doesn’t, smartly addressing the complicated nature of how people practice Islam while very succinctly dismissing melodramatic Islamophobic criticism from non-Muslims. Dev continues to explain that while religion has cultural value for his parents, his relationship to religion is largely the other side of it: people calling him terrorist and pulling him out of airport security lines.
This conversation isn’t a total embrace of Islam in America. Nor does it assume responsibility for those who are more devout. It’s not saying what makes a good Muslim American and what makes a bad one. It’s not even about religion, really. The episode realistically and subtly comments on how our understanding of and interaction with religion changes and, most importantly, how that affects our relationships and families.
After a couple weeks of not talking, Dev and his mother reconcile after he texts her a verse from a copy of the Qur’an she gave him: “To you be your religion and to me my religion.” For him, it’s the beginning of a new conversation with his family. His mom is just happy he picked up a holy book.
The episode ends by juxtaposing Dev grabbing a drink with a group of friends at a bar with his father praying and chatting with his friends at the mosque. The episode refuses to make any large sweeping statements about Islam, only portraying it as the basis for community and family. And it is that nuance and authenticity that most other religions are afforded that makes it a pretty solid challenge against Islamophobia.