MINDY PROJECT Fall Finale Debriefing: The Fellowship or the Ring

mindy cast

It’s finally here, people: Christmas comes to New York, and along with it Mindy’s secret proposal deadline for Danny. Not surprisingly, Danny is freaking out a little, while Mindy throws him a curveball he definitely didn’t see coming. Shulman Health Associates are getting their Christmas wishes in ways they didn’t expect, and it’s leaving us in a heck of a pickle for the new year.

As we found out earlier this season, Mindy (Mindy Kaling) gave Danny (Chris Messina) an ultimatum in her diary about proposing to her by Christmas or else she would move on — only, she never actually told him about said ultimatum, so it makes you wonder just how Danny was ever supposed to know about her deadline. Still, given her voiceover, she’s expecting it to happen, and since Danny accidentally read said diary, he’s fully aware of her deadline, too. (It seems like all of this would be much easier for both of them if they actually, you know, talked about their plans for the future, but that’s a little too much to ask right now.)

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

However, her obsession over Danny’s credit card statements in search of any clue that he might be ring shopping is cut short when Dr. Fishman (Niecy Nash) drops a bomb on her:  she’s so impressed by Mindy’s teaching abilities with her interns that she would like to recommend her for a fellowship at Stanford, so that she can then teach those new techniques to her students. That stops Mindy dead in her tracks: she never thought she could do something that prestigious, but she’s conflicted because she’s expecting Danny to propose to her for Christmas, making any discussion of moving to California for eight months moot. It’s the shallow response that would have been typical of Mindy in the first season, but this Mindy is mulling it over, and despite the fact that we know Mindy went to equally-prestigious Princeton and Columbia, it’s nice to see Mindy flattered by the idea that her colleagues think she’s ready for the big leagues at Stanford.

Mindy actually seems excited about this opportunity — whether it’s from the idea that her boss respects her talents as a doctor, or from the idea that she’s going to be living her own version of Grey’s Anatomy, I don’t know, but in any case, I’m loving seeing Mindy take pride in her work. Yes, Mindy is shallow and self-centered a lot of the time, but she’s also obviously incredibly intelligent and competent at her job, and I’m glad that Fishman recognizes that underneath the vain exterior. (Hurray for female empowerment!) Danny is taken aback at Mindy’s desire to apply to the fellowship, because he never expected this would be something she’d be into. Besides, the proposal deadline is looming, and he’s freaking out about what to do about it.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Peter (Adam Pally) convinces him that Mindy doesn’t actually want the fellowship, but is pretending to consider it to put pressure on him. In other words, she’s using Stanford to force Danny into a “proposal trap.” I have to admit that with what we’ve seen of Mindy in the past, I considered that possibility for a nanosecond, too. Yet, when Danny tells Dr. Ledreau (Fred Grandy) that she’s not really interested and gets him to deep-six her reference letter, it rings false, and it becomes clear thanks to Danny’s guilt that Mindy genuinely wants this.

At their staff Christmas party, Mindy again voices her excitement over her application, and Danny instantly regrets his choices. Especially when she finally finds out that Dr. Ledreau didn’t write her letter because “others were more deserving,” thus making it impossible for her to send in her application by her own deadline. Danny tries to console her by assuming she didn’t really want it, anyway. But Mindy tearfully tells him that, “I wanted to go so badly that I was willing to be away from you,” not to trap him, but to underscore the sacrifices she was willing to make for this to work out. It wasn’t about manipulation, at all: “I was excited to show people what I was capable of.” I might be hard on Mindy a lot of the time, but I felt so badly for her in this moment. We rarely see her so passionate about something, especially when it’s career-related, but it’s obvious how much the opportunity to prove herself to her peers means to her, and for once her failure to do so has nothing to do with her schemes, but instead is due to her boyfriend’s sabotage. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for anyone, but I wanted this fellowship for Mindy as much as she did. The fact that she has no idea Danny is the reason for her rejection makes it even harder to watch.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

When she reveals her Secret Santa gift to him — a lovingly constructed Ken Burns-esque mockumentary about Danny’s life, complete with an actual Ken Burns cameo — Danny’s guilt is palpable, and he immediately leaves to fix it. Which Mindy misreads as him hating her gift, capping off a terrible day for both of them. Danny races over to his mom’s to ask for her engagement ring to finally pop the question as a consolation prize for his idiocy, but Annette Castellano (Rhea Perlman), the voice of reason, sets him straight. “You wanna make it right, you have to get Mindy what she wants.” (“A boob job? Nah. She’ll go too big.” Spoken like a true male.) No, dummy, she means fixing the fellowship situation — which sends Danny on a race against the clock to get Mindy her letters, including one from himself, to sing her praises. He submits her application himself, because he loves Mindy enough to lose her for half a year while she pursues her dreams. Mindy is touched by his gesture — though still unaware that he’s the reason she risked losing it in the first place. (That’s pretty emblematic of their relationship as a whole — but that’s another discussion.)

In the tag, we find out Mindy does get her fellowship, which sets up a bunch of fascinating issues in the new year — particularly now that the season’s original fifteen-episode order has been expanded. Is Mindy seriously leaving for Stanford, or is it going to turn out like her move to Haiti last season? Is Danny going to make some sort of grand declaration, RomCom-style, before she leaves, or is he going to be left stewing while she’s gone? (Also: he realizes he can hop on a plane and be in California in a few hours, right? They can make the bi-coastal thing work in the short-term.) We’ve gotten hints this season that while Danny is freaking out about the idea of marriage again, consciously or not he’s already moving in that direction — like when he decided to stay after finding out about Mindy’s ultimatum, or even considering proposing to her tonight to make it up to her. (His heart’s in the right place, but boy would that have ended badly.)

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

I admit that I’ve found the proposal subplot this season a little confounding, simply because I usually find these kinds of ultimatums immature — especially, as in this case, when the couple won’t even outright share their feelings. (So much confusion could be spared!) In the end, though, Mindy Project follows the great romantic comedy tradition of misunderstandings until the very end, which is what I assume this season will be about going forward. That being said, I’m loving the unexpected turns that have resulted from this “deadline”: Mindy’s unexpected career aspirations are a result of her faith in her relationship with Danny, while Danny’s crustiness is softening around the edges as he realizes how much Mindy really means to him. There was some terrific work by Kaling and Messina tonight, and I’m looking forward to seeing those nuances play out in 2015.

So, Mindy didn’t get what she initially wanted, but she definitely got what she needed. On the other hand, it seems like Dr. Castellano is rethinking what he needs, too: he might have had cold feet in the past, but could it be that Mindy leaving might be the impetus for him to realize just how committed he is to her? It certainly will leave us guessing in the new year.

Wreath Witherspoon. / Courtesy Fox

Wreath Witherspoon. / Courtesy Fox

Odds and Ends:

  • I haven’t said it enough, but casting Rhea Perlman as Annette Castellano is genius. She’s got enough spunk to bring the laughs, but she also grounds Danny.
  • Moreover, I’m really enjoying that they’ve evolved the typical “in-law hates new girlfriend” plot into Annette actually understanding what Mindy really wants, better than panic-stricken Danny. She calls it like it is, hilariously and thoughtfully.
  • I was surprised by how much I liked Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) and Jess (guest star Julia Stiles) as a couple. I expected a disaster after he pretended he was Peter, but they actually seemed to work.
  • Speaking of Tookers: Cousin Lou (Rob McElhenny) made a repeat performance! I love that he’s crazy enough to make Morgan seem like the normal one in their family.
  • Dr. Ledreau: “In my day we didn’t care about women’s feelings.” Some things never change, am I right?
  • “This is an elegant party. Riff raff will not be tolerated”: I feel like this needs to be painted on Jeremy’s (Ed Weeks) office door.
  • “Why are you wasting time in medicine? You could be a life coach on The Biggest Loser”: Ah, there’s the Mindy we all know. That is sweetly the highest form of a compliment to Dr. Fishman from Mindy.
  • Mindy’s description of Peter to Jess: “I’m gonna picture him without his personality– Whoa, Peter might be hot!” My thoughts exactly, Mindy.
  • “Wreath Witherspoon.” Genius, or genius? Never let it be said Mindy isn’t brilliant in her own way.
Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

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