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A flashback shows what makes Danny and Mindy work (and not work)

Illustration for article titled A flashback shows what makes Danny and Mindy work (and not work)
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So after last week’s episode and a LOT of comment and Twitter discussion on whether or not The Mindy Project was massacring the character of Danny Castellano, I went back and rewatched a handful of episodes from season one, some of which I hadn’t seen since the first time they aired (although I always love “Josh And Mindy’s Christmas Party”). And here’s the thing: Even though TMP offers us even more Mindy and Danny backstory tonight, in case we’ve forgotten, their relationship was always like this, from the very first moments of the series. Especially before they got together for real. They were blunt with each other, and antagonistic, but when it came down to it, Danny was the one who watched TV with Mindy in the doctor’s lounge. Who tried to buy her a drink at the club. Who stayed with her at that Christmas party after she found out that Josh had another girlfriend. They’ve hardly ever agreed, but their differences drew them together, with Danny’s solidness balancing Mindy’s flightiness, and Mindy’s sparkle tempering Danny’s somberness.

I usually love The Mindy Project Christmas episodes, because I suspect that Mindy Kaling, like myself, is a total sucker for the holidays. But far from the fun and flirty “Christmas Party Sex Trap,” this episode ends with three-and-a-half minutes without dialogue, practically silent except for Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.” Mindy sitting on the floor of her apartment crying, because she’s received a sign from the universe indicating that she needs to move out after a series of arguments with Danny, is heartbreaking.


What makes the decision so difficult is that Mindy knows it’s the right thing to do. The flashback so pointedly highlights what’s wrong with her current situation, and it’s Danny himself who says it to her: “Don’t ever let anyone stop you from doing what you want. Not even me.” Likely, he’s forgotten that conversation, or it means something else now that their lives are entwined. But we all know when something isn’t right, when we feel like we are being diminished, that this person who is supposed to be our partner doesn’t feel like they are on our side.

The flashback also highlighted what we absolutely love about Mindy. She’s like a less-perfect embodiment of Mary Richards from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, who, let’s face it, was too perfect. Mary started her first day on the job being credited for having spunk, and having her boss telling her, “I hate spunk.” Mindy on her first day is nothing if not spunky, popping up to tell the whole staff about her recent romantic troubles, manipulating various computers to get to do Danny’s C-section, trying for a trickier natural delivery and then pulling it off. She defends herself against someone who calls her a joke and says he’d rather work with “any other doctor on earth,” and uses her personality to demonstrate her technique and charm the couple during the delivery. (Danny’s weak contribution: “I love comedy movies.”) Sure, Danny’s leap from wanting to get Mindy fired to begging her to stay seems a bit sudden, and there’s no real reason for that first picture to be on a Christmas ornament. But these are small gripes compared to the magnitude of emotionality on display here, as we witness the bickering breakdown of a couple we’ve come to love, and can pinpoint when the sniping switches from banter to bitter.

What if these same differences that drew Mindy and Danny together and intrigued them about each other, are now the very differences that are pulling them apart? We have seen Danny compromise—deciding to get over his fear of remarriage at the start of this very season—so it’s maddening that the two of them can’t come to some kind of agreement over childcare. It’s not just the black and white of stay-at-home/working mother: There are a lot of gray areas available.

Still, it looks like this relationship, which, make no mistake, the show has been crafting together from the very first episodes, is now at an impasse, if not a complete unraveling. If the show returns without Danny in the spring, we will be watching Mindy Lahiri, single mother with at least three jobs that I can count, instead of the starry-eyed romantic we were introduced to a three years ago. This show has also excelled at playing the long game—remember Danny and Mindy’s breakups in season three—so maybe Mindy goes along with her life and Danny’s the one who realizes he has to change. Maybe that takes a few seasons: Likely the only one who knows for sure at this point is Kaling herself.


At any rate, this half-season finale only highlights the amazing emotional highs and lows that The Mindy Project has brought us with its fourth season so far. A hilarious, inspired sitcom childbirth. A tough, unwavering look at parenthood and the conflicts it can bring to a relationship. Babies named Sriracha and Gratitude. At almost every turn, The Mindy Project has zigged where most other shows would have zagged—especially in season four—and has only been the better for it.

Stray observations

  • Was fun to see the early days of Shulman And Associates, with dashing Jeremy, drunk Beverly, and Dr. Shulman himself.
  • Who doesn’t eat gingerbread men crotch first?
  • Great description of Jeremy: “Very handsome in a Sunglass Hut kind of way.”
  • The backstory comment about Wicked was a bit obvious.
  • But, the red glasses origin story = brilliant.
  • Mindy’s best outfit: In her three costume changes on her first day of work (four if we’re counting scrubs), I love that purple dress with the lace on the sides (outfit number two) so much, I may have to hunt it down.
  • And that’s The Mindy Project for 2015, friends. Thanks for reading, and commenting, on this show’s nimble jump from network to streaming. I remain impressed with the show, enough to follow where the next half-season will lead us, even after the saddest Mindy Christmas ever. But I may need to watch “Christmas Party Sex Trap” again asap. Have a wonderful holiday, and I’ll see you in the new year.

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