Grading the Season Finales 2014: The Mindy Project

danny and mindy

Title Danny and Mindy (2.22)

Written By Mindy Kaling

What Happens? When Mindy believes she’s having an email romance straight out of You’ve Got Mail with the cute stranger she saw on the subway, she breaks things off with Charlie to pursue “Andy,” who is actually Danny, desperately trying to be the kind of romantic man he thinks Mindy wants in an attempt to win her back. On her way to meet “Andy” at the top of the Empire State Building, Mindy makes a stop at Danny’s apartment (to get gum out of her hair). While Danny frantically tries to keep her from seeing him dressed up to meet her, Mindy reveals that she’s happy the two of them decided to call off their relationship because she remembered Danny saying that guys don’t break up with girls they really want to be with.

Thinking Mindy has no interest in him anymore, Danny doesn’t show up at the Empire State Building, so Mindy waits hours there for “Andy,” catching a cold. Danny brings her soup to help her recover, and the two of them begin spending more time together, seeing New York through each other’s eyes. However, a chance encounter with the guy Mindy thought was “Andy” forces Danny to confess that he lied to her and ultimately stood her up. When Mindy asks why he pretended to be someone else, he tells her it’s because he loves her. Mindy says doesn’t believe him because he was so quick to run away the last time they tried a relationship. When Danny begs her to meet him that night at the top of the Empire State Building, Mindy replies that accepting his offer would make her “the stupidest person alive.”

Later that night, the entire Shulman and Associates crew finds Mindy still working instead of meeting with Danny. They all try various ways to convince her that Danny really does love her. But the only one to get through to her is Peter, who shows her a memory box Danny keeps in his desk, which now holds a pair of her earrings. Mindy then goes to the Empire State Building but finds out she’ll have to walk up the stairs the whole way thanks to a broken elevator.

Mindy’s late arrival and slow ascent had Danny convinced she wasn’t coming, so his coworkers find him eating pizza instead of waiting for her. They tell him that Mindy really is on her way, so he begins a mad dash through the New York City streets to reach her (including getting hit by a car). Once at the top of the building, Danny finds Mindy sprawled out on the ground, exhausted from her trek up the stairs. He tells her he loves her and is “all in” in terms of their relationship. They decide to go on their first real date, end up arguing about the number and names of their future children, and seal the moment with a kiss.

Game-Changing Moment The Mindy Project started as a show about a woman obsessed with romantic comedies whose own love life was the antithesis of a Meg Ryan movie—aka a disaster. For two seasons, we watched Mindy Lahiri cycle through an endless parade of attractive hookups, boyfriends, and fiancés. Even her first attempt at a relationship with Danny was short-lived. But “Danny and Mindy” fundamentally shifted the show’s direction with three little words, “I’m all in.” Danny knows what those words really mean, and he knows what a huge step this is for him to say those words (and Mindy knows it, too). This is a character who—even in marriage—had trouble investing all of himself in a relationship. But Mindy wants something real, and she deserves nothing less. So with three words, Mindy’s string of short-term relationships might finally be over, ushering in a new era for the show—an era of telling the story of what happens after the characters in a romantic comedy get together with a kiss at the top of the Empire State Building. Mindy and Danny were already talking about kids by the end of this scene, so we know these aren’t just empty words. There’s a chance that The Mindy Project could be finally ready to go all in on telling not just a “will they/won’t they” story but a “they did, now what?” story. I am eager to see what comes next and hopeful that it will be handled with care, which is exactly what a good game-changing moment is supposed to make a viewer feel.

Finale M.V.P. The Mindy Project is Mindy Kaling’s baby, so it makes sense that the show’s finest hour would also be her finest hour—both as an actress and as a writer. Performance-wise, few women on TV make me laugh like Kaling. Her delivery is always outstanding. But where Kaling has really impressed me this season is in her dramatic work. The emotional scenes she’s shared with Chris Messina over the last few weeks have really brought out the best in her, and she outdid herself once again in “Danny and Mindy.” I was blown away by the subtlety she displayed in the scene at Danny’s apartment. There was something so heartbreakingly matter-of-fact about the way she repeated his words about not breaking up with a girl you really care about. Mindy isn’t used to being loved, so it made sense to her that Danny wouldn’t have actually cared about her enough to stay. And just thinking about that is devastating. But Kaling followed up that moment with another different but equally heartbreaking turn in the scene in the office bathroom. Her tears felt so real because you could see her fighting to keep it together, to be strong where she might have given in before. Mindy is her strongest self with Danny, and, in that scene, she showed her strength by walking away because she deserves better than to get hurt again the way he hurt her. The payoff of the episode’s final moments wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the emotional punch Kaling packed in that bathroom scene. Messina often gets the lion’s share of the praise for the acting on this show (deservedly so, I might add), but Kaling more than held her own in this episode; she matched him every step of the way.

While Kaling’s performance was one part of the episode’s success, her writing was an even bigger part of it. She wrote this episode fearlessly, daring a cynical viewing public to embrace her love for romantic comedies and the hope they inspire in women like her (and myself, if I’m being honest). This episode felt like Kaling’s way of wearing her heart on her sleeve as a writer, and the result was beautiful while also still being hilarious. She didn’t hold back when it came writing an episode of television that was smart, funny, romantic, and hopeful. “Danny and Mindy” was an episode that felt confident; it had a clear voice, and that voice was Kaling’s. There’s a special kind of bravery that comes from telling a story that matters to you, and I just wanted to take a moment to applaud Kaling to being brave enough to tell the story she wanted to tell the way she wanted to tell it. Because both the story and the way she told it were brilliant.

Most Memorable Lines
(Talking about When Harry Met Sally)
Danny: I’ll have whatever gave her an orgasm!
Mindy: You paraphrased one of the most famous lines pretty well!

What Didn’t Work The only part of this episode that left me scratching my head was Peter’s watermelon in the baby carrier. I think it was one of those jokes that might have seemed funnier in the writers’ room than it was in its execution. If a whole plot would have been devoted to Peter trying to prove he can be good with babies, it might have worked better. But in an episode that was essentially all A-plot, it felt shoehorned in and not all that funny.

What Worked “Danny and Mindy” was a wonderful examination of the original thesis of The Mindy Project: This is a show about a woman who is obsessed with romantic comedies but is living in the real world, which isn’t written by Nora Ephron; although that doesn’t stop her from trying to make her life like one of the movies she loves so much. It’s not often that one episode can work as a summation of everything that makes a show special, but this one did exactly that. It was two seasons of The Mindy Project in microcosm, and it would have worked as a great series finale. Thankfully, it didn’t have to serve that purpose, and it actually left me more excited than ever for the show’s return next season.

“Danny and Mindy” worked first and foremost because it was funny. The Mindy Project has become one of the funniest shows on television this season in its ability to blend physical comedy, pop culture references, smart humor, and silly jokes in a way that has something for almost everyone. One of my favorite sources for comedy on this show is Ike Barinholtz’s Morgan, and he was excellent once again in “Danny and Mindy.” From commenting on Mindy’s email address to protectively emailing her new suitor (from his smartphone…which he has), Barinholtz made me laugh so many times in this episode.

While “Danny and Mindy” certainly brought the humor, it wouldn’t be a true romantic comedy without also having moments that tugged at my heartstrings. And that’s where the magic that was Messina and Kaling came into play. The Mindy Project struck gold with Messina; the man can convey so much with just his eyes, and it has elevated Danny Castellano into a character with more depth than I think anyone expected. In one scene, he can go from making me laugh (by cursing Bradley Cooper) to breaking my heart (by silently reacting to Mindy using his own words to show him how much he hurt her). The scene between Mindy and Danny in his apartment was a gorgeous display of honest, understated performances from both actors, which was especially impressive because it was achieved with a door between them.

But the most heartbreaking scene—and the best in terms of its acting—was the scene in the office bathroom. Danny’s desperation and Mindy’s strength were shown in such a commanding way. I was so proud of Mindy as a character in that moment, and, as I said earlier, it made the ending of this episode feel even better.

We all know that the heartbreak never lasts for long in a good romantic comedy, and that’s exactly what “Danny and Mindy” was. It paid homage to the genre while still being able to lightly poke fun at it in a way that could only be done by a writer who loves that genre as much as Kaling does. The abundance of references to the “holy trinity” of Nora Ephron movies (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail) made me, as a fellow romantic comedy enthusiast, smile throughout. I’ll save you the list of all of the brilliant nods to rom-com lore (instead I’ll link you to Vanity Fair’s piece about it), but I will say that the most fun references were the unexpected details: the scene with Mindy sick in bed with a cold and Danny’s angry email about Starbucks (both straight out of You’ve Got Mail).

All the great romantic comedies are also love letters to New York, so for them to have actually filmed parts of this episode (namely that Manhattan montage of Mindy and Danny) in New York proved Kaling’s dedication to getting every detail of this episode right. It added to the surprisingly cinematic feel to this half-hour episode in a really nice way.

In the end, my favorite thing about “Danny and Mindy” was that it was the former—not the latter—who wanted to make life like a romantic comedy. At first, Danny followed too closely to the rom-com playbook, and it blew up in his face as it should have (because in the real world, keeping secrets about your online identity isn’t as romantic as it is when Tom Hanks does it). But when his real-world, messy declaration of love collided with romantic gestures both small (the earrings) and grand (the Empire State Building), Mindy knew she’d finally found someone who wanted to give her what she’d been waiting for: a moment of romantic comedy magic in the middle of her messy life.

The climactic race to the Empire State Building was everything good about The Mindy Project. It proved that romantic comedy perfection can’t be attained in the real world: Sometimes you have to walk up all the stairs; sometimes you get hit by a car (in a perfectly executed nod to An Affair to Remember). But the important thing is, you keep going. Danny running down the street echoed Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, but it was his own moment; it was the show’s own moment. With “Dancing in the Dark” by Danny’s beloved Springsteen playing, I could feel myself starting to cry because I knew these characters were going to the get the happy moment they were literally running towards. And sometimes it’s just nice to know that things can end happy for once.

The final scene of the episode was perfectly imperfect. On the floor of the Empire State Building, with Mindy wheezing from walking up an absurd number of stairs, Danny told her that he brought her to this building because she loves it, and he loves her. That was the most beautiful line in the episode. It said that Danny isn’t going to fundamentally change into someone who loves romantic comedies, but he wants to make Mindy happy and will try to embrace things that matter to her because she matters so much to him. There’s a maturity to that statement that I believe from a character like Danny, and Mindy’s smile said she finally believes it, too. With a final kiss (excellent use of the hands again, Mr. Messina) and a cute bantering moment about future children, this episode ended on the most purely happy note I’ve seen so far this season from a finale.

That’s what I was left feeling after “Danny and Mindy” was over: happy. There aren’t a lot of good romantic comedies anymore, so it was fun to watch Kaling create her own in a new medium for the genre. The best romantic comedies are like comfort foods that I return to again and again when I need to feel hopeful and happy, and that’s what I know I’ll be doing with “Danny and Mindy” all summer.

Questions to Discuss All Summer How is this show going to deal with the fact that Danny and Mindy are all in, and everyone knows it? Was Tim Daly the most attractive guest star this show has ever featured?

Finale Grade A+. “Danny and Mindy” wasn’t just a great episode of The Mindy Project; it was the show’s best episode. It had a clear vision, and it was fully committed to honoring the genre that inspired it. In celebrating the great romantic comedies of the past, Kaling created her own great romantic comedy with a voice that was all its own.

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20 thoughts on “Grading the Season Finales 2014: The Mindy Project

  1. There is nothing else for me to say after this perfect review. You captured everything about this episode and the feelings that romantic comedies can inspire perfectly.

    • While I didn’t love him in this episode, Peter has been growing on me lately. I’ve been enjoying his scenes with Mindy because I think they soften him a little bit (like you, I found his “bro” antics off-putting for a long time). I hope they continue to develop their friendship because that’s when I like the character the most.

  2. Ah, yes, perfect review! for a near-perfect episode. Thanks for the Vanity Fair link. I knew the episode was full of romcom references, but I am not quite familiar enough with all those films to nail each one down.

    The walk and talk was my favorite bit. I love the NY setting. And funny thing, when I saw the instagrams of their filming in Manhattan I actually had forgotten that they don’t actually film the show in NY. The New York streets of Hollywood studios are so New York to me, as a person who had never been there but grew up watching so many shows and movies set there, my suspension of disbelief had become full-on belief! I thought it was nice that they were filming all over the city, without realizing that they’d had to fly over there to do that. lol.

    I loved the final scene, lying on that filthy Empire State Building floor (as we have seen Mindy lie on other floors and pick food up off the urine-soaked streets), wheezing… and such a happy moment… talking about kids…!! and Danny gets to cop a feel again! hahaha! I love Danny.

    I am really hopeful that coming seasons will be about the two of them together. Dating. In love. Working together. Maybe not happily ever after. But choosing to work through their issues rather than relying on the will-they-won’t-they and pulling them apart. (ahem! New Girl!) If the relationship fails, I want it to be real and organic (and slowly evolving, not out of the blue). But I really hope that they respect the age of their characters, what they’ve been through apart and together, and how much time has passed in these 2 seasons and let this change the game.

    I’m so glad Mindy pulled this off. Both this episode, which is SO Mindy, and this whole season, which has taken this little show to a whole new level. Even though there was no cliffhanger or unfinished business, I can’t wait to see what happens next season! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Jo!

      As someone who has been a huge fan of Mindy Kaling’s for a long time, I am also incredibly happy for her success with this episode—both on a creative level in terms of its quality and on a popularity level in terms of how many critics and viewers have had nothing but good things to say about it.

      I am also hopeful that next season deals with them in a relationship. As you said, these characters are at an age where will they/won’t they doesn’t feel as realistic. And we all know how I feel about contrived breakups, so I hope this show continues to be brave and focuses on what happens when a rom-com ending turns out to just be the start of a relationship. There’s a lot of fun to be had there, and I’m excited to see it develop.

      I thought your comment on the real vs. TV NYC was hilarious, by the way. I’ve been to the real thing twice now, and it’s cool to see what it’s really like instead of how TV makes it look. I especially love when TV shows try to re-create what a NYC wardrobe would be like for a given time of year and fail miserably.

      • New Yorkers must seethe when they see the massive apartments everyone has on TV NYC!

        I love that idea of a rom-com ending turning into a relationship. What a fun idea to pursue. That’s what OUaT does with fairy tales. I love it!

  3. So I have to say as someone who isn’t a regular viewer and not particularly a fan of Mindy Kaling’s inherently your effusive response to the episode + it’s subject matter roped me into to watching it on-demand last night. I think you captured was was smart and special about the episode. I am a resident rom-com fan and When Harry Met Sally ranks among my all time favorite movies, so there was much to delight in throughout the half hour. But I think you zeroed in on why the episode worked so astutely, those two serious scenes and in particular the one in the bathroom gave balance to the lighter pieces. I have never found her compelling, but I thought Kaling struck a particularly strong tone of a woman who in spite of hope had been burned and was not prepared to have her heart broken in that way again. I believed her when she responded to Danny’s pleas with a stern, yet wanting “I don’t believe you”. I don’t know that it was enough to pull me in next season, but it certainly was 30 minutes worth my time this week. I could easily see why people invested in this show were excited and myself was more than a little charmed, especially during Danny’s ‘Bradley Cooper’ dress up scene.

    • I love hearing the opinions of people who aren’t regular viewers of shows because I think it helps me check my biases. So I’m happy that you also enjoyed this episode because it makes me feel like my effusive praise of it isn’t as overblown as I feared some might think it was. It was such a lovely tribute to one of my favorite film genres, and I think you were absolutely correct in your assessment of those two more dramatic scenes as points of balance in an episode that could have been too light. The Mindy Project isn’t a show for everyone (just like Mindy herself isn’t for everyone), but this episode was certainly one of the most charming half-hours of television I’ve watched in a long time.

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