Originally, I had no plans to write about The Mindy Project’s Season 2 finale, titled “Danny and Mindy.” The show took a marked turn for me when Danny broke up with Mindy, not because of the breakup itself (it was played very realistically and contained emotional nuance that had come to define this show) but because of the fallout — or rather, the lack thereof. The subsequent episodes found Danny and Mindy acting largely unaffected by their failed romance, which seemed incongruent with the relationship as it blossomed. Danny kissed her, and Mindy immediately admitted that she’s had deep and long-standing feelings for him. When the relationship ended, I expected to see the battle scars from that. What we got was Danny chasing Peter’s sister and Mindy wandering around listlessly, swearing off men and essentially letting Danny off the hook for breaking her heart.
I could handle the story at that point, because Danny is gun shy about relationships and Mindy is not a vengeful person. Sure, I would’ve liked to have seen her hold Danny accountable, especially when he had the gall to expect her to fall back into their old friendship, but this is the same Mindy who took it upon herself to ruin Josh’s wedding even after he was horrible to her. She’s the same Mindy who scrambled to fly back to New York after Cliff dumped her for a lame reason.
Then we met Charlie, the sweet and handsome single father of one of her patients. Just like in any good romcom, Mindy and Charlie butted heads, but they grudgingly came to like each other and eventually dated. Charlie ran a narrative that we really haven’t seen for Mindy yet: He encouraged her to have self-respect and self-esteem. He didn’t do it condescendingly, as if he saw Mindy as a poor helpless woman who needed a man to pick her up. Instead, he saw her as a beautiful, smart, and perfectly capable woman who, for whatever reason, tends to get down on herself. His incredulity that she gets the men she’s dating to do her housework was followed with a comment about his daughter: “I wouldn’t want my Jenny waiting around for some guy to do something she could do herself.” There are exceptions, of course, like when Mindy asks Charlie to kill a spider for her, but it’s the first time Mindy seems to consider that she’s capable of doing more than she thinks.
Charlie later forces Mindy to put out an oven fire on her own, and she glows with the triumph, only to be interrupted by Danny. The scene ends with Charlie magnanimously excusing himself, because he doesn’t want to get in the middle of any romantic entanglements. He correctly read the situation and tried to bow out, but Mindy (possibly growing to like the way Charlie made her feel empowered) calls him for a real date. And that was when Danny tried to kiss her and win her back.
That scene is one of the best from this show, and one of the reasons I get so upset about how the finale turned out. Mindy rightfully points out that Danny only wants her back now because she’s about to go on a date, and Danny insists that’s not true. Honestly, for Danny, it’s probably not true. Sure, her impending date with Charlie gives him a deadline, but he’s been coming to the realization for two months that he’s made a big mistake. For Mindy, it’s all about bad timing and poorly-concealed jealousy, but for Danny, it was about his last chance. The scene is played perfectly between the two actors, but unfortunately, due to the inconsistent writing for Danny (he went from loving Mindy to relentlessly and unapologetically pursuing Sally, Peter’s sister, in one episode) the scene ended with him coming off as the jerk in this situation.
All of this is important to cover before I talk about the finale because the characterization has been lacking. For Danny, it’s been lacking since the breakup. One second he’s morose and standoffish, the next he’s happily dating a new woman and seems to have forgotten about Mindy, and then in another episode he’s missing her friendship and acting like a kicked puppy when Mindy doesn’t have time for him. It reeks of Danny expecting Mindy to wait for him, and again, it’s important to remember that he was the one who ended things because he got scared.
Mindy was more consistent, because we got to see her grieving process. She swore off men and tried to embrace singlehood, and then Charlie just sort of happened. He was refreshing and nice, and as a fan of Mindy, I found myself wanting him to stick around longer. When the season finale opened with Mindy exchanging flirtatious emails with a stranger she’d met on the subway, I was a bit disgruntled. Luckily for all of us, Charlie let Mindy off the hook pretty easily; he was never in love with her, and just like Mindy, he never really saw a future with them. (“And I’m pretty sure you took $20 off my nightstand.” “I believe I earned that money back, with the stuff I did to you later that night.” “You’re describing yourself as a prostitute again, you’ve gotta stop that.” “I know, I know.”) It was a respectable end, but it wasn’t great to watch Mindy be emotionally unfaithful to Charlie. As someone who has been cheated on in the past, I would’ve expected Mindy to be a little more considerate in that position.
In the finale, a lot of the bad character choices stemmed from the show’s quest to fit in as many romcom homages as possible. I’m a big fan of romcoms, so I was excited to see what this show would do. What I didn’t expect was three specific romcoms, which were twisted and bent until they fit perfectly into three acts. The problem isn’t the romcoms themselves — romcoms actually track very well on this show, remember Jamie and Lucy? — but the fact that this episode tried so hard to in the romcoms so specifically that it came at the expense of its characters.
Take the first act, for example. The strangers exchanging emails and finding common ground was an obvious homage to You’ve Got Mail, the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan classic from the dial-up modem age. The scenes were shot similarly, the voiceovers were the same, and the score made it feel like you were living in that sequence where Joe Fox says, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms.” I love You’ve Got Mail, probably as much as Mindy loves it. It definitely ranks as one of my all-time favorite romcoms, and it’s one of the few movies my dad will watch, so my siblings and I all know most of it by heart.
Unfortunately, The Mindy Project twisted the narrative of this romcom too much for it to work. At the end of the first act, it’s revealed that Danny is actually catfishing Mindy. He placed the ad and has been emailing Mindy as the handsome stranger, Andy, using his intimate knowledge of her as a way of getting her to fall back in love with him. In You’ve Got Mail, Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly spend the majority of their correspondence in total ignorance of the other’s real identity. Later, when Joe realizes just who Kathleen is, he panics and stands her up, both because of how much he dislikes her and because she would have done the same thing to him. He only starts emailing her back later when he realizes that she’s not such a bad person, but none of it is done in blatant manipulation of her feelings.
Danny makes himself sound so appealing that Mindy feels compelled to break up with Charlie and pursue a romance with a stranger. He purposefully sprinkles in some of her cliches, anecdotes, and various rants so that she is convinced he is The One for her. When Morgan figures out Danny’s nasty secret, Danny begs Morgan not to spill, even as he admits that he has no real endgame. Morgan, who is not the sharpest tool in the shed, doesn’t think to question that part of the plan.
If You’ve Got Mail had gone anything like how The Mindy Project portrayed it, it would not be one of the most enduring romcoms of the last 30 years. It would’ve flailed in the cesspool of The Ugly Truth and Something Borrowed and all of the other lackluster so-called romcoms that have descended on us since the early aughts. Watching Tom Hanks catfish Meg Ryan? That sounds like a Lifetime movie, not a romantic comedy. The show would’ve been better off trying to homage You’ve Got Mail by having Danny and Mindy unknowingly corresponding with each other for a few weeks. It’s not a ridiculous premise: online dating sites are the perfect platform to set such a scenario.
The second act had Mindy dumping Charlie and then telling Danny (as he got dressed up as Bradley Cooper, twenty-piece suit and all) that she thinks he was right about them: they don’t belong together.
“You said that guys don’t break up with girls they secretly want to be with. And then I knew, for certain, that you didn’t want me. It was fine, though, because I learned in time that you weren’t right for me, either. We are who we are, and that won’t change.”
Danny is so shaken by this speech (a speech that he brought on himself by dumping her) that he proceeds to stand her up, as Andy, at the Empire State Building that night. Mindy isn’t destroyed by it, but she does get sick, because she stood up there all night in the freezing rain waiting for him.
He brings her soup (okay, zuppa) and offers to watch a romcom with her, and that’s when the episode flows from You’ve Got Mail to When Harry Met Sally. It includes a gorgeous montage of Mindy and Danny visiting “every place Meg Ryan ever laugh-cried,” but it also included the unfortunate omission that Danny did, in fact, catfish Mindy. It’s a jarring admission in an otherwise sweet montage, and though it did get a laugh from me, it was more of an uncomfortable chuckle than my usual loud, obnoxious laugh. Danny’s voiceover continues, “Until one day, Andy was a distant memory.” Mindy’s gazing at Danny adoringly, and it would’ve been very sweet and swoon-worthy if it hadn’t been born out of Danny’s manipulation of her feelings.
Then Mindy spots not-Andy on the train and attacks him for standing her up at the Empire State Building. Danny is forced to come clean about the whole thing, and it goes about as poorly as any sane non-Castellano would expect.
“You-slash-Andy made me break up with Charlie! And then you stood me up, at my favorite place in the entire world!”
“I didn’t want to tell you, because I knew this would happen. I knew it would push you away. I love you. Mindy, I love you. I want to be with you. Look at me, I want to be with you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Yes you do!”
“Because you love me until you don’t, okay. I’m not gonna do that anymore. I want something real, Danny.”
“This is real. It’s real. I can prove it to you. Tonight, eight o’clock, meet me at the top of the Empire State Building. I don’t care if you say no, I will wait all night for you. Please, please, please, just give me another chance.”
“I can’t go.”
“Because I have plans.”
“To do what?”
“To not be the stupidest person in the world.”
That scene was hands-down the best scene of the entire episode, and it’s the only one that doesn’t derive straight from a romcom. It’s one of the few scenes that just lets the characters be themselves, and the emotion is raw and real. We could feel Mindy shutting down, her pain and humiliation as she yelled at Danny, and we could feel Danny’s regret and earnest pleas for another chance. This is the sort of scene that deserves to be followed up with a grand, romantic gesture, it deserved a good resolution, but instead, we got more twisted romcom plots that resulted in both of these characters being shortchanged.
The third act was definitely the Sleepless in Seattle act, which even casual fans should’ve expected. Mindy has repeatedly referenced that movie, plus it’s just a Meg Ryan sort of episode (and Innerspace doesn’t fit with the other films). Danny set the scene perfectly: he would wait there all night for her, just as she waited for him, and they would meet at the top and embrace and kiss and go on to live happily ever after.
Except remember in Sleepless in Seattle where Rita Wilson starts sobbing about An Affair to Remember? Deborah Kerr is on her way to the Empire State Building when she’s hit by a taxi, and she’s not able to make it. Meg Ryan and Rosie O’Donnell start crying about it, too, “God, I love that movie,” while the men are bemused by the tears. It’s an important moment in that movie, because it sets up the whole meet-at-the-top-of-the-Empire State Building scenario.
After waiting only an hour (during which Mindy is literally dragged by her hair into Danny’s office, where Peter shows her some of her earrings which means Danny loves her — because the catfishing and Danny’s open declarations of love weren’t enough to convince her, but the earrings somehow were?) Danny goes for a piece of pizza. Yes, that’s right, after only one grueling, humiliating hour of waiting, Danny gives up on Mindy for the second time in this episode, and the third time overall, and decides to go order a savory slice. This is the part where I seriously asked myself why I was even cheering for these two. If Danny’s going to be so quick to pull the cord at the slightest setback, won’t that have Mindy on constant pins and needles, waiting for the next time he tries to bail? Will they have any staying power?
His incredulous coworkers, who had just stumped for him despite their varying degrees of misgivings, tell him that Mindy’s on her way to the Empire State Building right now. Flustered, he starts running… and he’s hit by a taxi. That’s right: the only reason the storyline dictated that Danny leave the Empire State Building and abandon his second chance is so that they could get in the obligatory hit-by-a-taxi bit. And sure, it was funny (he runs away with a bloody nose and a “Show’s over!”) but was it worth the commentary that it puts on this relationship?
Consider how long Mindy stood on that same roof waiting for her dream guy. She waited all night, her heart breaking just a little more with each passing minute, but she stayed because she believed in true love. That’s what Danny broke in her by not showing up. She gave up the practical, comfortable life she could’ve had with Charlie to chase the sort of romance that she thought she’d lost when she broke up with Danny. She was allowing herself to believe again, so she chased it, one last time. Danny destroyed that hope twice over, first by not showing up, then by revealing that he was posing as Andy. It’s all too much for Mindy, and understandably so: the breakup, the distance, the jealousy when she starts dating again, and now the catfishing, it’s more than any single person should be able to endure.
The least, the absolute least Danny could’ve done, was to stand on that roof all night, too.
Instead, he comes off as a coward, or a weakling. He couldn’t endure waiting up there all night, knowing with each passing moment that Hey, you blew it, bro, or let the stark reality settle in on him. Mindy was the brave one, she waited, and Danny didn’t. That doesn’t sit well with me. I love these characters, and it just doesn’t jive for me that Danny, stubborn and opinionated Danny who confessed his love for Mindy mere hours earlier, would give up so easily. The only reason for it is the writing: they needed their romcom moment. They needed him running full-tilt through the streets as “Dancing in the Dark” plays, and for him to get hit by a taxi. They thought that would be the ultimate romantic sendoff, but instead, the entire scene is undermined by the fact that he’s even down in the streets in the first place. He should’ve been upstairs, stone-faced and full of dread, counting down the minutes until the observation deck closes and his fate is sealed.
What makes this even worse is the sheer work Mindy still had to put in to get there. First she had to make the unbelievable leap that Danny staring at her diamond earrings is a good enough reason to believe he loves her. That’s taking for granted that he won’t bail this time, that’s even taking for granted that he stayed up there all night. But since they had to get Danny back to the roof before Mindy got there, they decided she needed to climb the stairs — all 104 floors. Mindy climbed all those stairs to get to Danny, who couldn’t even wait for her up there. She’s wheezing and laying on her back when Danny finds her, and even though Chris Messina does some of his best face work in that final scene — even though Mindy looks radiant and gloriously happy as she smiles at Danny — the scene still doesn’t feel earned.
I really, truly understand what they were trying to do with this episode. I respect the attempt, and I appreciate the fact that this show is stomping so hard for romcoms. It’s a category that has been maligned (or worse, misinterpreted) for the last decade or so, and it’d be nice to see this sort of second-wave attempt at taking back the genre. I just think that this episode was a victim of the central problem with recent romcoms: They focused on the story and the trope rather than the characters. When your characters don’t make sense, that’s when a romcom becomes a dud. They were aiming for the ranks of While You Were Sleeping and You’ve Got Mail, but they ended up among such mediocre fare as The Bounty Hunter and 27 Dresses.
A Danny Castellano that waits at the top of the Empire State Building is something worth watching. Mindy running through the streets to “Dancing in the Dark” would have worked, too. What you need at the center of all romcoms is a couple to cheer for, and when we saw Danny sitting at that pizzeria, not looking nearly as devastated as he should’ve looked, he stopped being part of that couple. Tom Hanks would never leave after only an hour.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch You’ve Got Mail.