The Mindy Project midseason finale: Hulu series takes a detour from the traditional rom-com
The midseason finale ended with a cliffhanger that left us questioning the fate of Mindy and Danny's relationship
The Mindy Project has always prided itself on being a romantic comedy. When movie theaters were lacking in quality girls-night fodder, we could at least count on the show to pay homage to a Nora Ephron classic. And few are more vocal about their love for rom-coms than creator, EP, and star Mindy Kaling.
“What I’d really like to write is a romantic comedy. This is my favorite kind of movie,” Kaling wrote in a New Yorker essay. “I like watching people fall in love onscreen so much that I can suspend my disbelief in the contrived situations that occur only in the heightened world of romantic comedies […] I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world.”
When Hulu picked up the sitcom following its Fox cancellation, Kaling touted that season 4 would be different. Sure enough, we got longer episodes and some dirtier jokes, but we never predicted that there would be an alteration to the fundamental makeup of the show. The Mindy Project of the last several weeks is drastically different — there’s no longer a need for suspension of disbelief, because the show feels all too real.
The season started strong with a While You Were Sleeping/Sliding Doors-inspired episode that epitomized what The Mindy Project was all about. But one episode later, Mindy gave birth, and the show began to shift from the superficial, lighthearted problems that used to plague our heroine to an ongoing debate between Mindy and Danny about how they should raise their son. Mindy, after trying out the stay-at-home-mom routine, wanted to continue working, while Danny believed the only way Leo could have a healthy childhood was if Mindy took care of him full-time. Before they could properly work through their issues, their relationship troubles were compounded when Danny left for California to take care of his ailing father, leaving Mindy behind for months to work two jobs and raise a baby on her relative lonesome.
The show presented the issue through a humorous lens, of course, but uneasiness started to creep in with each passing week Mindy spent without Danny. His return in episode 11 was expected to have been a relief for Mindy, but instead resulted in her frustration with his ignorant comments and stubborn behavior. Even more alarming was watching the normally confident and outspoken Mindy turn passive, holding back just to avoid confrontation. You know it’s bad when even the quirkier supporting characters — including Morgan — are giving Mindy and Danny food for thought about their obviously problematic relationship.
The premise of the midseason finale seemed to provide some hope. Entitled “When Mindy Met Danny,” it’s a flashback to their first day working together. Perhaps the hate-at-first-sight story would serve as a reminder of how far the two had come.
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But the last five minutes took the episode in an entirely different direction. In a pivotal scene, Mindy returned to her old apartment and removed the “For Sale” sign after she realized that Leo’s crib can fit inside, thus paving the way for a potential breakup.
The revelation that Mindy and Danny’s relationship might be over is a startling one, especially for a show so unapologetically loyal to its rom-com roots. According to the rule book, the main couple should be getting into funny, inconsequential scrapes that last the duration of one episode, not battling it out over issues that make or break relationships in real life. But the rose-colored glasses came off in the last few episodes, and it’s obvious that Danny’s flaws are no longer cute.
Danny Castellano has always been grumpy and rude, but up until now, it was just part of his charm. Mindy and Danny were an odd couple that worked; a conservative, crotchety curmudgeon opposite an over-the-top, messy personality. No matter how frustrating Danny got, he redeemed himself with his grand romantic gestures. Who can help but sigh when he dances to Aaliyah or sprints across Manhattan to meet Mindy at the top of the Empire State Building?
Looking back, it seems that our love for them as a couple stemmed from those watercooler moments, but now, it’s the everyday difficulties that will determine whether their relationship will last. In that last scene, we see the moment when someone entertains the idea that things might not work out after all. When — after vehemently denying the possibility — they allow a seed of doubt to sprout in their minds.
So even while the romantic comedy-obsessed part of me yearns for the happily-ever-after, I can’t help but appreciate that these were some of the best episodes of the show to date, brilliantly executed by Kaling and Messina. While the previous years relied on Messina to play the romantic hero, this season excelled most during those instances when Kaling embodied both the vulnerability and anger plaguing Mindy.
After all that Mindy and Danny have been through, it’s tough to accept that the great love story and the grand romantic gestures aren’t enough to sustain a relationship. Maybe they’ll work hard to reconcile. Maybe they’ll part for good. But the show that has made us laugh and swoon for the past three seasons is still there. It’s just getting a reality check.