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The Mindy Project Recap: Danny of the Desert

THE MINDY PROJECT:  Mindy (Mindy Kaling, R) and Danny (Chris Messina, L) run into trouble, in the "The Desert" episode of THE MINDY PROJECT airing Tuesday, Jan. 21 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2013 Fox Broadcasting Co.

“When your love story ends,” Mindy tells us while watching Gone With the Wind in L.A., “all you can do is cry, listen to sad music, and drink wine you bought from a gas station.” Gas-station Malbec should be reason enough to send her back to New York and its endless amounts of civilized wine stores — sorry, L.A., we beat you on that — but she also draws inspiration from Scarlett O’Hara and decides to head home to win back Cliff.

And only one thing can stop her: a distraught Danny, who’s heading out to the desert to see his estranged father for the first time in decades. “I would love to be there to support you,” Mindy says. “You’ve never been this interesting.” But, she insists, she has to get to the airport and onto a plane to save her relationship. Danny gives in way too soon and agrees to give her a ride, stoking our suspicion.

As any TV-watching human would suspect, he instead is bringing her along to his dad’s. Once she figures this out, it’s too late, and Danny is claiming he wants her there only to set his hand after he punches his dad in the face. But, obviously, he simply needs someone there with him — and more important, he wants and needs it to be her. Luckily, he controls himself long enough for his apparent half-sister — named Dani Castellano! — to answer the door, and for his father, who is Dan Hedaya and also thus Cher Horowitz’s father, to greet them with an offer of potato-chip pie. “That sounds like it combines all my favorite things,” Mindy says. This is also a real thing, FYI.

Turns out the Senior Castellano has transformed himself into a great dad who cooks, a devoted husband to a woman who sells giant turkey legs at Renaissance fairs, and a respected barber for the local military base. It’s so cozy at the West Coast Castellano home that Mindy thinks they could have a reality show: “Real House Child of Desert City … I’m not real good with the names.”

Meanwhile, Peter’s melting down back at the office in New York after his failed and televised attempt to win Maria Menounos’s heart. This gets my interest mainly because when he hears Morgan yelling about being locked in the bathroom owing to a broken door handle, he says such useful words that will heretofore become my new mantra: “Can someone who’s not me please deal with that?” It gets even more fun when Peter later finds himself locked in there with Morgan after hours, and is able to hear Cliff singing Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me” in his office, through the vent. This is almost pathetic enough for me to root for him, until I remember we’re obviously rooting for Danny.

Peter and Morgan can’t believe that Mindy would dump him: “Does she think she can do better than Cliff?” Peter asks. A little mean, I think, until he adds: “No guy wants a chick that successful.” Still, they are moved by Cliff’s sadness, particularly when they finally escape from the bathroom and end up leaving in the elevator with him. He says his plans are to “probably just get into my PJs and hop into bed … dreams last so long.” So they take him out, get him drunk, find out he’s the one who dumped Mindy, and convince him to give Mindy another chance. She’s totally into him, they say, so much that they even know that Cliff’s mom’s name is Ellen but her friends call her Cookie! He seems ready to give it another chance, but …

It’s still not clear when he’ll see her again, since her drive to the airport is interrupted by a drunken Danny, who’s lost and wandering through the desert. She turns around, drives back, and finds him through fairly unclear means — I guess maybe phone-tracking type stuff? I don’t know, I don’t enable those things on my phone. But I guess social media can do a lot. In any case, now Danny is drunk and lashing out, snapping at Mindy that “Guys don’t break up with girls they secretly want to be with.” She snaps back that he’s “just mean and selfish and just like your dad.”

Finally, after a very testy walk through the wasteland, they come upon some sort of civilization — which, naturally, turns out to be the nearby military base. Mindy’s ID is a farce, listing her as blonde and blue-eyed and 110 pounds because, she says, “My philosophy is that an ID should be aspirational.” The officers are swayed, however, once they hear the Castellano name. Daddy Castellano shows up to vouch for them and kind of patches things up with Danny — thanks in part to a mention of attending Danny’s “dance concerts.” (Imagine how proud he’d be if he saw Danny’s “Try Again” choreography!)

We know something mushy is coming when, on the plane ride back to New York, Danny helps Mindy write the best reconciliation letter ever to Cliff, and even more so when he hits upon the line, “You know you’re right for someone when they force you to be the best version of yourself.” And then, oh my God, there’s turbulence when Mindy is up getting him a tonic water, and he obviously thinks about how he’d feel if something catastrophic happened and the plane crashed or whatever, and he’s suddenly back there in the plane kitchen with Mindy kissing her, and, wow, that’s some pretty hot making out in the galley.

This episode serves as the “winter finale,” which means we’ll have some down time to ponder the implications. I love the When Harry Met Sally … tag on the end interspersing them talking about how much they hated each other at first with scenes from their relationship, because, hey, wouldn’t you watch Harry and Sally even after they got together. It’s about chemistry and banter, and Danny and Mindy crackle with both. Besides, I’m not sure how many more short long-term relationships I can witness Mindy in.

So why not some, as the ending card says here, “happily ever after?”

Photo: Jordin Althaus/FOX