The Mindy Project: What a Girl Wants

sad mindyAfter getting back from my holiday break last weekend, I checked my Hulu queue and realized that I was behind a combined 50 episodes of all my shows. Seriously guys, what happened to me these last few months? FIFTY EPISODES?? And that doesn’t even include the Supergirl or Jessica Jones episodes I’ve got to finish, since neither of them are on Hulu. (One day, I dream I will have access to ONE streaming program that has EVERYTHING.) So really, it’s more like 60 episodes. I’m out of control.

To start wading through this outrageous backlog, I plunked myself down on Sunday evening after spending the day cleaning (seeing as two weeks of vacation at your parents’ house = coming home to deal with mold in the fridge) and caught up on the last five episodes of The Mindy Project. A small drop in the bucket, to be sure, but it’s a start.

The Mindy Project has been absolutely fascinating to watch this year. I’m not sure if it’s the move to Hulu that facilitated the change, but Mindy has been on quite an evolutionary journey this season, especially when it comes to Mindy’s relationship with Danny.

Mindy and Danny’s relationship has always been a bit of a struggle. They’re the quintessential example of opposites attracting: two people without much in common, without similar values, who don’t understand each other’s drives and motivations, and who boggle each other’s minds because of it. And they were able to navigate through all of that to get from incredibly reluctant and antagonistic co-workers to two people who genuinely love and care for one another. It’s been quite a transformation for both of them.

The Mindy Project has always held itself to the standards of and taken its cues from classic romantic comedies. From day one, Mindy Lahiri has made it clear that that’s what she bases her life on: the beauty and the breeze and the easy, fun romance of When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle. That’s her aesthetic. That’s her vibe. That’s what she aspires to. And the show has continuously and gloriously modeled itself after those movies.

Until now.

This season, now that Mindy got the guy – now that Mindy’s engaged and had her baby – the veneer of the Rom Com is chipping away. Getting the guy, it turns out, isn’t the end of the story. Now you have to love him. Now you have to live with him. And that’s not as easy, as poor Mindy is figuring out. Those opposites may have attracted, but they’re still opposites. So what does that mean for their life together?

Right now, for Danny and Mindy, navigating his traditional, conservative values and her more loose and modern approach is proving to be increasingly difficult. Their ideals for their lives are clashing more and more often and Danny and Mindy are finding themselves in more and more conflicts.

The biggest example of that conflict is what to do now that they have a child. Danny assumes that Mindy will stay home and take care of Leo, but Mindy’s struggling with that decision.

I think it’s important to note – if for nothing more than to make it clear that I don’t view Danny as any kind of villain in this conflict (though I do think he’s very much in the wrong) – that Danny’s wants and assumptions with regard to the situation aren’t just coming from a place of misogyny or patriarchal superiority. I mean, they are coming from that, but there’s also a genuine reason for wanting his son to be raised by a full-time mom that stems from his own lacking childhood. Danny feels that he and his brother didn’t really have much in the way of a childhood because their father’s abandonment and their mother’s full-time working schedule forced them to be alone, to fend for themselves, so much of the time. Danny was forced into the role of caretaker to younger brother Ritchie at a much too young age. And because of that, he wants Leo to always, always be surrounded be family.

This is a totally valid opinion to have. It’s a nice sentiment to want your children to have more than you had. But the problem comes when the assumption is that it has to be Mindy that stays home. Granted it happens during a fight, but when she brings up the idea of him being the one to stay home with Leo, Danny just rolls his eyes and tells Mindy to be serious. He doesn’t even register it as a legitimate option for him. And so in Danny’s eyes it’s only Mindy being selfish for wanting to keep her career and abandon her child (and by abandon, I mean put him in daycare). It’s only Mindy who’s making the wrong decision to continue working. It goes without saying that Danny – the man – would be the one to provide while Mindy minds the children.

For me, the aspect of this story line that’s so fascinating – so important, so relevant – is Mindy herself and how long it took her to stand up for herself. It is so easy to say you’re a modern woman with modern, feminist beliefs and ideals, but putting those ideas into practice in a society so saturated in patriarchy we don’t even notice it sometimes (and I guarantee you, Danny would deny being misogynistic for assuming Mindy would stay home) can be so much more difficult. It was so quick, so easy for Mindy to just acquiesce to Danny’s demands. To just submit to Danny’s ideas of what their family should look like. Mindy struggled to get to a point where she could stand up and tell Danny she didn’t want the same things. And I think that’s an important thing to see. That struggle. That difficulty. That challenge to see where other people are letting you down and to admit where you’re letting yourself down. And then standing up.

This has been an entire season, especially since Danny left on his trip to take care of his estranged father, of Mindy really and truly recognizing what she wants out of her life and what is going wrong with her and Danny’s relationship. She started in a place of passivity – not even able to tell Danny she was grappling with problems at home, unwilling to add her own troubles to those of him and his father – and simply accepted Danny’s plan for her to give up her career and become a stay-at-home mom. But little by little we’ve seen Mindy come to her own conclusions. While Danny was gone and Mindy had to both go to work and take care of Leo, she realized it was something she could do.

Her friends and colleagues had a hand in helping Mindy come to these realizations. Working with Jody on launching Later Baby brought to the forefront just how much Mindy loved her job. Just how good she is at her job. And just how important her job is to her right at this moment in time. And a visit from bestie Peter made Mindy face just how unfulfilling is the current manifestation of her relationship with Danny. With him gone – and with no idea of when he would be returning – Mindy ended up so lonely and deprived of their intimacy that she ended up (somewhat accidentally) joining a bereavement club just to have people who could listen and understand how much she was missing Danny. And though he initially tried to hide his feelings from her, Peter couldn’t go home without letting Mindy know he thinks maybe she and Danny have a bad relationship.

Maybe because you let him call all the shots. You’re moving into his apartment, you’re selling your sweet-ass place, you’re raising your son Catholic, and then Danny ditches you and now he’s not telling you when he’s coming back.

Now that Danny’s back home, Mindy’s starting to fight. Starting to stand up for herself and the life she wants. Merging your life with someone else’s comes with compromise, there’s no doubt about it, but compromise isn’t one person making decisions and the other person simply taking it. Mindy’s come to that realization and she’s doing her best to make Danny see that. But it’s not easy. It comes with a lot of fighting. And those fights are ugly and draining. But they’re so, so important. It’s so important to see Mindy not backing down, and pointing out to Danny that it’s not fair for him to be the one to choose the definitions of selfish (Mindy) and selfless (Danny). It’s not fair for him to make every disagreement a referendum on her character.

The end of When Mindy Met Danny, the latest episode, was heartbreaking. Seeing Mindy get up in the dead of night and take the measuring tape to her old, empty apartment and make sure Leo’s crib could fit (and maybe even see it as a sign that means she should move back in) and then sit down alone on the floor, taking some time to take stock and gather her thoughts, literally brought a lump to my throat. But as sad as the potential end of their relationship might be, those moments were also so very moving and empowering.

Mindy Lahiri is getting ready to take a stand. Even if it means being alone. Mindy, the woman who has wanted nothing but love and romance in her life – who has only ever wanted her life to be a romantic comedy, will stand alone if she has to and do what’s best for her. Because she deserves it.

2 thoughts on “The Mindy Project: What a Girl Wants

  1. This is a great post. I came to many of the same conclusions about Danny’s and Mindy’s relationship, along with Mindy’s progression. I have to wonder, though, if much of Mindy’s current plight is due to the fact that she never had a firmly articulated set of values.

    You describe Danny’s values as “traditional [and] conservative” and Mindy’s as “loose and modern.” I think that that is telling and the root of many of Mindy’s problems. Loose and modern says nothing. Mindy has never subscribed to feminism on the show and has mostly guffawed at the notion, but I believe she would be finding things much easier now if she had a strong set of core feminist values to rely on in this situation, from which to draw inspiration to articulate her views and stand up for herself. Instead, her long protracted struggle results from her loose and modern value system, which only now, in her mid thirties is she trying to reconcile into something meaningful.

    For me, it’s something of a cautionary tale.

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  2. ^ I love your comment, LOVE it – but just gotta squeak from the back row that there have been a few times where she has ‘subscribed’ to feminism on the show.

    My headcanon is that she’s been dressing Leo in that ‘feminist’ onesie she was given at her baby-shower that Danny didn’t like, while he was out of town looking after his dad. 🙂

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