Warning: spoilers ahead for The Mindy Project series finale “It Had to Be You.”
Look, I knew it was going to happen. You knew it was going to happen. Mindy Kaling knew it was going to happen. Now, it has happened: The Mindy Project series finale is here, and the television rom-com ends with Dr. Mindy Lahiri (Kaling) and her series-long love interest Danny Castellano (Chris Messina) back together once again, seemingly for good. There are a lot of reasons the ending of “It Had to Be You” could be viewed as an upsetting wrap up to a pretty feminist comedy — Why can’t Mindy be a single and fulfilled woman?! Danny was a jerk! — but, I’m not grabbing my pitchfork to storm the offices of Hulu or Kaling International, Inc. Instead, considering it always “Had” to be Danny, as the finale title suggests, I’m simply pleased with how the Mindy Project found itself at its unavoidable end.
Mindy could have never sold viewers on a Mindy-Danny romantic reunion if it didn’t set the groundwork ages ago. And, it does as early as the final season’s fourth episode, “Leo’s Girlfriend,” which heralds Danny’s big reentry into Mindy’s world. The newly-bearded Danny is noticeably not the same unlikeable, judgemental monster he became in season 4, which was a transformation that seemingly only happened to manage his portrayer Chris Messina's move from a starring role to a recurring one. Season 6 Danny bristles when a rude principal (Phil Abrams) incorrectly calls Mindy an “absentee mother” and defends her against unnecessary shaming. The old Danny would usually pile on with the criticism to remind Mindy she is generally terrible and in need of a major personality overhaul.
This new-and-improved Danny, who seems like he’s simply been returned to his normal pre-season 4 self, actually appreciates Mindy’s idiosyncrasies. “How many preschoolers do you know [who] know all the words to Taylor Swift’s Red album?” he asks as a form of praise for “role model” Mindy’s mothering, rather than an exasperated lament about his ex’s pop cultural obsessions. As Mindy and Danny leave the principal's office, the latter adds, “I gotta get back to work, and so does she.” This is a far cry from the Danny who was trying to trick Mindy into being barefoot and pregnant for the rest of her life.
In the final two episodes of The Mindy Project it becomes strikingly clear the comedy believes its central couple can’t get their happy ending until Danny changes to the point where he could be worthy of Mindy. That’s why in penultimate episode “Danny in Real Life” he’s forced to realize his overbearing nature is the worst. This hard lesson comes by way of Danny dealing with his mother Annette Castellano’s (Rhea Perlman) breast cancer diagnosis. Danny can’t stop screaming the word “cancer,” because he’s terrified his beloved Ma is going to die, and everyone around the doctor reminds him his behavior is a major bummer. You know who handled all of this high medical drama pretty well? Mindy, whom Danny ran out of the hospital room due to her sunny disposition, baked goods, and Gilmore Girls DVDs.
Danny would usually stew in righteous indignation of his ex’s frivolity — “You want good writing? Let me show you JAG sometime” — but, this time, he heads to her massive apartment to apologize for overreacting and asks Mindy to be there for his Ma’s upcoming mastectomy surgery. “You have a good effect on her,” Danny finally recognizes. “And me.”
The finale gives us our final, big emotional 180-degree turn on Danny. This is the guy who once screamed at Mindy over her choice to take birth control pills and schemed to get her out of the fertility practice she created (by way of manipulated pregnancy) all in the same episode. The reason for both of those trash choices was Danny believed “flighty, indecisive” Mindy couldn’t do those things and still be a good mother; also, making us all hate Danny was a very easy way to explain why we wouldn’t be seeing Messina very much. In “It Had to Be You,” Danny admits, out loud, how very wrong he was. This obvious truth dawns on him when he sees all the babies Mindy’s fertility practice has brought into the world; a practice that is facing closure due to plot-moving reasons.
When Danny attempts to save the practice, we’re forced to reckon with how far he has come. Mindy immediately assumes her ex wants to buy into her flailing practice to “control” her, which is something Old Danny would definitely do. But, that’s not what’s going on here. This time, he simply wants to support Mindy’s dream, saying her career domination “hasn’t affected her as a mom.” He adds, “I didn't see it back then, but I was wrong.” This is some very obvious leading man rom-com behavior.
The couple’s official reunion drives this point home when Mindy and Danny literally kiss and make up to close the series with their unquestionable chemistry. Conservative Danny tries to posture and demand Mindy moves to TriBeca with him since her neighborhood has “too many cupcake shops.” The answer is no because Mindy likes the cupcake shops. Alright, the cupcake shops stay. But, is Mindy going to change her last name? She has no idea, but, seriously, they have their entire lives to figure out the big questions. Going forward, these two actually have equity in their relationship, and that’s all Mindy ever wanted. That’s why the series ends with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” a total Danny choice if I’ve ever heard one, but it’s sang by a woman, which Taylor Swift fan Mindy would prefer.
After this defense of reformed Danny, one could still ask why Mindy had to end up with anyone in the first place. There’s a simple answer: this is a Mindy Kaling comedy. No matter how feminist the series is, this is a show created, produced, and written by a woman who loves love, a fact that’s well-documented (and remember even Kaling’s Kelly Kapoor ran off with love-of-her-life questionable human Ryan Howard at the end of The Office). Kaling loves love so much, her next Hulu project is a straight anthology series reboot of rom-com classic Four Weddings And A Funeral. In a story built like the Mindy Project, our heroine was always going to get her version of a romantic ending. As Mindy admits in the finale to Danny, “I never stopped loving you, and I don’t think I ever will.”
So, it always had to be Mindy and Danny.
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