[The following contains spoilers for Master of None Season 2.]
In "First Date," the fourth episode of Master of None’s second season, Dev (Aziz Ansari) goes on a lot of dates. During one, his date’s eyes remain glued to her phone — she says it’s an emergency. But when her phone chimes, he realizes she’s been busy swiping on the very dating app they met through, looking for more available men.
“That’s just kind of shitty, right?” he asks her. “We’re on a date.”
“Kind of,” she replies, but adds that it’s only 10 p.m. — there’s still plenty of time to go out with someone else. He’s offended, but then, reluctantly, he leans over to help her decide whether the guy she’s looking at is hot. She says, as a half-apology, “I really like swiping.” The app makes dismissal easy: After one date, Dev is as disposable as he would have been had she swiped left before.
Master of None understands what most shows don't: how social media and technology function in the lives of twentysomethings. This episode captures the reality of dating apps’ monotony, such as the identical first-date structure: Though Dev goes out with different girls, he presents the same “perfect” date: the same wine bar, the same rooftop bar, the try at a kiss in the cab. One girl has a boyfriend; one, already a friend, won’t kiss him; one kisses him back. Ansari’s exploration of technology-paired dating culture is wholly personal and relatable; it showcases blind effort compounded with a blind hope, the premise that so many of these meet-ups rely on. And no character is more hopeful than Dev, swiping not mindlessly, but in near-desperate attempts at connection. For some, swiping is fun (a study shows women on Tinder have a 10.5 percent matching rate, compared with men’s 0.6 percent). For others, like Dev, it’s an effort to reach out and find someone. And even girls he connects with, like Priya, don’t come with guaranteed compatibility. Master of None doesn’t let date culture go crazy or spiral into a series of sexual misadventures — a one-night stand ends with Dev criticizing a racist statue at the woman's bedside (from which he earlier pulled a condom). She tells him to leave. Swipe-dating creates opportunities, and it can feel like a game to pick people, but all of the players become real once they sit around the same table. After he comes home from the one-night stand, Dev flops on the couch and pulls out his phone, opens the app. What other options does he have?
There are all kinds of strategies to get a girl’s interest. Dev’s best friend Arnold sends out a barrage of “hi cutie” messages, paired with a GIF of him eating in Italy. He tells Dev it’s a technique: The GIF shows that he loves travel (and eating), and implies that he has a sweet temperament, and that he sent it shows he’s thinking of her. Of course, the women don’t know he’s sending out multiple “hi cuties,” just like Dev’s matches can’t know his opener to all of them is: “Going to Whole Foods, want me to pick you up anything?” What would suffice in person — a “hello” — isn’t enough here. The need to be witty to be recognized on a dating app is a good fit for Dev’s personality, but for most people it's an overwhelming task.
Working with these strategies is great escapism too: purveyance of all that is possible in avoidance of what is accessible. Dev is trying to forget his ex Rachel (Noël Wells) post-trip, and Arnold isn’t only looking for dates — he’s occupying himself to forget that his former girlfriend of 11 years is getting married. A match can be a validation when life otherwise offers none. Master of None perfectly captures the excitement of a match and its initial flirting, as well as the brusqueness afterward when technology falls away and that first meeting takes place.
When Rachel emails Dev to say happy birthday, he twice starts to reply, then closes the window each time. For this generation, tech is not dramatic or dangerous — it’s commonplace, simply a way to communicate and a wellspring of memory. After all, your camera roll is never far away. When Francesca, who may or may not leave a 10-year relationship for Dev at the end of the season, watches a video of them together, she sees how the moment’s meaning has mutated into the new kind of memory: a bittersweet video, saved on her phone for as long as she wants to remember.