Still crying over a fictional character’s death from a movie you saw years ago? Having trouble letting go of that one episode of your favorite series? Grieving a gone-too-soon show? We are, too — so with this column, EW staffers pay tribute to something in the pop culture world they’re still not over. This time, Maureen Lee Lenker remembers the rom-com magic of The Mindy Project‘s season 2 finale.
When it comes to Mindy Kaling and romance, I’ll have what she’s having.
We’ve all heard it — the sounding of the death knell of the rom-com. With “Danny and Mindy,” The Mindy Project‘s season 2 finale, creator and star Mindy Kaling dispelled that notion in a mere 22 minutes.
Now entering into its sixth and final season, the show has moved in a different direction and Danny (Chris Messina) and Mindy (Mindy Kaling) are no more — but I’ve never recovered from the confection that is this 22-minute rom-com wrapped in a glittery package with a pink bow. I love it so much I asked for Mindy’s Kate Spade earrings that Danny keeps in his desk drawer for my birthday just so I could literally own a metaphorical piece of the episode.
Mindy Lahiri has had many suitors, but nothing can match her and Danny’s crackling will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry, which comes to a perfect head here. In less time than it takes to make dinner, The Mindy Project delivers all the hallmarks of the pinnacle of the genre, while also crafting a meta wink to all of Kaling’s favorite romantic comedies. It is uniquely Danny and Mindy’s story, as well as a swoon-worthy Nora Ephron love-fest. (Plus, Mindy’s wardrobe alone, which features a staggering 23 outfits — seven of which are featured in a sub-60-second montage — is the aspirational closet of every rom-com heroine’s dreams.)
References range from overarching plot points — Mindy’s email exchange with a mysterious suitor who is actually Danny (You’ve Got Mail), meeting on top of the Empire State Building (Sleepless in Seattle/An Affair to Remember) — to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nods, like the Washington Square Park arch (When Harry Met Sally) and the prospect of Mindy’s email beau being a serial killer that will land her in the Post.
From Danny’s echo of Deborah Kerr’s “Which way is the Empire State Building?” in An Affair to Remember (and his subsequent, less tragic run-in with cab) to a shot of Mindy and Danny under the Brooklyn Bridge that looks suspiciously like Manhattan, the episode oozes appreciation of the genre’s greats.
Yet the seemingly endless stream of references to Kaling’s favorite films doesn’t overwhelm the episode. The signature wit and sharp voices of the characters still shine through: Mindy declares she’s a “hot, smart, woman with an ass that doesn’t quit”; Danny attempts to dress like Bradley Cooper and opines to his mirror, “You’re killing me Bradley Cooper, what is this, a 20-piece suit?!”
When the two finally do unite, their kiss isn’t a modest movie clinch; it’s a sexy tumble on the disgusting ground of the Empire State Building Observation Deck (and who can ever forget Danny’s signature “butt grab,” a move Messina lovingly and sheepishly bestowed on the character).
All of this is tied together with a one-two punch of perfect song selections at the episode’s close. Danny, who for the first time gets his own voiceover, is a well-documented Springsteen fan. When you worship the Boss possibly more than your own God the way
I do Danny does, there is only one song that can start the fire of your last-chance power drive to win the woman you love: Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”
The first time I saw this episode, I literally jumped off the couch, screamed, and turned the volume up on my television as loud as it would go. The song makes you want to get up and do something — run, dance, what have you — so it’s the perfect accompaniment to Mindy’s stair climb and Danny’s dash.
While the lyrics are ideal for the characters (a world-weary man looking for a “love reaction” after dark), overall it’s more about how the song stands in for what Danny loves and values and how Mindy has come to be that. “Bruce Springsteen is to Danny as Tom Hanks is to Mindy,” Kaling once told Vulture. She knew the song was so crucial for the moment, she sent Springsteen a handwritten letter begging him to let her use it (he’s notoriously picky about licensing his songs).
When Danny finally reaches his destination, we think he’s missed his chance — but then just as we hear the harsh sound of Mindy’s labored breathing, the strains of the Cars’ “Drive” start in, and we have the perfect ’80s cool-down to go with the adrenaline shot of “Dancing in the Dark.”
If that song doesn’t have you swooning (and weeping), Messina’s acting will. The wordless moments when he first hears Mindy, fears he’s hurt her and ruined things, and then can’t help but burst into a crooked smile at the sight of her is a master class in itself. Straight to the feels!
If Nora Ephron’s a martini, Kaling is a cosmopolitan chased by a shot of whiskey — and somehow this episode serves you all of those things at once without giving you a hangover. It’s that rare burst of perfection from a romantic comedy, something that is touching, romantic, and truly laugh-out-loud funny.
Danny and Mindy may have called it quits, but they (and this episode) will live in my heart forever.
The Mindy Project returns for its sixth and final season Sept. 12 on Hulu. All five previous seasons are currently available on the streaming service.
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