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The Mindy Project Recap: Boom. Fireworks.

THE MINDY PROJECT: Jaime (guest star B.J. Novak, L) and Mindy (Mindy Kaling, R) double-date on Valentine's Day in the "Harry & Mindy" episode of THE MINDY PROJECT Tuesday, Feb. 5 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

You know how sometimes you find exactly what you were looking for, and then you don’t realize it, or maybe network executives mess with it or something, and then you realize you’d had it all along, and you live happily ever after? Either The Mindy Project just went through this exact scenario with its approach to making a show, or it’s playing a long-game, super-meta trick wherein its own narrative mimics the plotline of a billion romantic comedies, which happens to be the very form it is satirizing.

Either way, the “Harry & Mindy” episode could very well be the happy ending we’ve been praying for. While also itself having the very plot referenced above. For the Valentine’s Day episode, the exact perfect moment for all of this to come together. Oh, the mind reels with postmodern thoughts.

I submit that we are back to the greatness of the pilot episode, with the exact formula that it set out: Almost every scene was a perfectly crafted twist on rom-com tropes, and almost every funny line had that Mindy Kaling–patented extra turn.

To paraphrase When Harry Met Sally: Mindy, we love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. We love that you stalk the Empire State Building in hopes of meeting your dream leading man there. We love that you think Danny’s garbage man was a little too pretentious. And we love that you can be better than a standard sitcom with a standard heroine who shows she’s quirky by doing adorable pratfalls and lacking self-confidence. Thank you for bringing that Mindy back.

Now, to some specifics …

An Opening Scene to Remember, or “Homeland security? That’s a cool show.”

As soon as we saw Mindy hanging at the Empire State Building, scoping out the romantic-movie staple for her dream guy to just show up, we knew we were in the right place, at last, with this show. But Mindy took it to another level with the scene in which she thought security officer Common was hitting on her, when he was in fact questioning her as a terrorism suspect. We got the standard toss-off lines filled with Mindy’s bizarre level of confidence: “Hey, it’s cool if you’re into me. Kevin Garnett once bought me a Coke at a PF Chang’s.”

And we got wonderful farcical dialogue. From the security officer: “So you come here regularly to monitor the base of the building … You understand why what you’re telling us would cause us serious concern?” From Mindy, who, we learn, is carrying three cell phones and a passport: “I can’t help it. I am a true believer. … Is there a Mrs. Confederated Security Solutions?”

Danny & Mindy

Danny grew into his reluctant possible-prince-charming role nicely in this episode, after a few false starts earlier this season. His breakup with Jillian delivered him to a place of vulnerability we haven’t seen before. That is, the place where Mindy says, “You can’t just spend the night in your office drunk, playing weird Bruce Springsteen songs on your tiny piano.” Love that the little habit that seemed like his secret indulgence during the Thanksgiving episode isn’t much of a secret at all, and only worthy of a passing mention at that.

The rapport between Mindy and Danny blossomed here, from mere banter to real friendship — with the suggestion, but not the inevitability, of something more. They’re building a will-they-won’t-they that might truly go either way, and that’s fun to watch. They seemed genuinely invested in each other’s happiness, in addition to trading funny, surprising, only occasionally insulting lines. (On Danny’s recent attempt to set her up: “Your garbage man? Okay, he was smoking hot, but a little pretentious.”) Danny helped her pick out something to wear for their Valentine’s double date when he found her wearing this weird, half-shiny red dress thing. She snarked, “It being on me implies that I want to wear it,” but she then took his advice anyway. If this wasn’t a direct reference to Harry telling Sally before a date, “I think you should wear skirts more. You look really good in skirts,” then it was a nice coincidence.

The undeniable homage took over with the double dinner date, where Mindy set Danny up with Jaime’s too-close female best friend, Lucy. Even Danny’s fish freak-out — the salmon mounted on the wall reminded him of Jillian’s oceanography — had shades of Harry and Sally. Remember when Harry’s date reminded him of his ex-wife, Helen, because she went to Michigan State, and Helen went to Northwestern, and “they’re both Big Ten schools”? Am I reading too much into this?

In any case, instead of the setup being a disaster, as in When Harry Met Sally, this one went, ahem, swimmingly. The ex talk actually sparked an empathetic conversation with Lucy, and the two started feeding each other food in no time. When Mindy force-fed Jaime and he choked on a fish bone, things got decidedly un-Harry-and-Sally-like — in a great way. I’ve never seen anyone try to Heimlich himself on a parking meter before.

Morgan & Jeremy

For some reason, this Jeremy character has struggled to find his place in the cast, even though he’s perfectly likable and funny. Morgan provided the perfect foil for him this week as the smoothie doctor helped the bumbling, ex-con nurse woo a fellow medical center staffer for Valentine’s Day. Jeremy calmly explained that asking a girl out by writing it on her toilet paper is not a good plan. Nor is surprising her in a car. In fact, he explained, “That’s a felony.”

Then it was time for the standard Lesson in Seduction scene, though they pulled it off. “Okay, you look like Joe Biden,” Morgan accurately observed. “That is awesome.” In another twist, Jeremy did not approve of the practice move wherein Morgan pulled a doll head that he’d found in the toilet out of his pocket; but it believably worked later when he showed the woman in question the doll body he had in his pocket. He hooked up with her in a supply closet, much to his dismay — he’d wanted to take her on a date to the batting cages. Yep, another Harry/Sally reference.

Finally, a B-plot has landed, without the assistance of Mindy.

B.J. & Mindy

I feared B.J. Novak’s Jaime character would leave me as heartbroken as I was when Josh squashed Mindy in the excellent Christmas episode. I love Mindy and B.J.’s comic chemistry so much, it was hard to imagine letting this Office pro of a special guest-star leave. But his character worked some serious magic on a show that was wavering between great highs and serious weak points. He came in, charmed us, and left us in better shape than when he arrived. Because of that, I didn’t mind seeing him go. Serious credit goes to Mindy, of course, as well as the uncredited writer of this episode: Nora Ephron.

In any case, this Mindy-Jaime arc worked beautifully. Novak delivered a great performance full of toss-off lines. (When Danny wanted to switch seats so he didn’t have to look at the fish: “Sure, I wouldn’t want to look at something I didn’t like.”) He seemed visibly rattled when Danny and Lucy got along so well. And the whole thing came together when he tried to salvage the date with a romantic gesture — taking her to the Empire State Building! It got even better when Mindy insisted he figure out his feelings before entering the world’s most romantic place on the world’s most romantic day.

That was when she helped him realize he was in love with Lucy, and the crowd around them cheered, and she explained she wasn’t Lucy, but that was okay, because it wasn’t like super-traumatic or anything, just … yes, the Mindy we love. Or, as she said to Jaime, “I’m the Joan Cusack character in the romantic comedy of your life.”

The clincher came when Mindy and Jaime found Lucy and Danny making out on Mindy’s front stoop. (Plot finagle: Danny left his gloves at Mindy’s.) Jaime declared his love to Lucy, and off they went. And Danny taught us all an important lesson by taking Mindy to the pizza place where he’d carved his and his ex-wife’s names into a table: Any place can be romantic, not just places in “some dumb movie with Tom Hanks where he’s hugging in the rain and there are no umbrellas.”

Swoon.

To talk more Mindy, follow me on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong

Photo: Beth Dubber/FOX