This episode might have the least Mindy of any Mindy Project ever. It felt almost like the real Mindy was on maternity leave this week, except, of course, she isn’t. Just taking a well-deserved break from carrying most scenes. It worked reasonably well, since the two strongest characters, Danny and Morgan, anchored the episode with a road-trip sequence. Who doesn’t love a road-trip story? The switch from Fox to Hulu this season hasn’t resulted in massive shifts for the show, but Hulu’s Mindy Project has been both more consistent (on the character and quality fronts) and more freewheeling with its approaches to individual episodes. I suspect this is a result of less network-executive meddling, though this might also be occurring in tandem with Mindy Kaling gaining confidence as a creator/executive producer/star. Both of those new-ish qualities were on display in this episode.
In any case, this week’s outing has Danny and Morgan driving across the country to see Danny’s ailing father in California. This idea has a lot of plot holes, like: Suddenly Danny doesn’t like flying, even though the memorable episode in which Danny and Mindy first got together was on a plane, with no evidence of him having a problem with it? And: If he’s so worried about getting to his dad, why take the impractically long way? I guess this is explained by Danny’s “secret mission” on the trip, so we’ll go with it.
Danny is adorably bereft about being away from Leo and Mindy for so long. He’s even made Mindy memorize the Lord’s Prayer to say to Leo in his absence. (“Halloween thy name.”) And Mindy has made Leo a mobile with dangling photos of Danny’s face. Chris Messina’s dramatic-acting skill serves him so well in selling what is often a pretty ridiculous (-ly wonderful) character, and you could see this on display in his departure scene. He seemed genuinely choked up about leaving, and we got a bonus flash of the sexual chemistry between him and Mindy that brought us fictional baby Leo.
The setup is that Mindy has asked Morgan to accompany Danny on the trip because she thinks it’ll be safer driving through the middle of the country that way: “Everyone’s got guns. And they’re all fat from fried food. Maybe I should go.” Because Morgan makes any Mindy story line better, I’m on board with this. At this point, we sorta know when one of his great, reverse fake jokes are coming, but they’re still funny because of his delivery: “I have an internal compass. Literally. When I was six I swallowed a compass. Missed all of first grade.” He’s also now got the exact same glasses that Danny wears: the red-framed ones that connect in the middle via a magnet. I thought this would become an actual plot point somehow, but, no, it’s just one more sign of Morgan’s bizarrely touching obsession with Danny and Mindy. Only Ike Barinholtz can do Mindy gags like this as well as Mindy herself. Yet another case in point: When Danny tries to drop Morgan at a hotel in New Jersey so he can continue on with his secret mission alone, Morgan accuses him of having an affair in a very Mindy-like rant. “You think she can just lose the baby weight like that? We’re in the middle of pie season, Jack.”
In other words, Morgan is not getting out of the car. Among other reasons, he wants to visit the grave of Eddie, the dog from Frasier, in Catoosa, Oklahoma — which is a blessedly real place. Sadly, I can find no evidence that Eddie (actually named Moose in real life) is buried in Catoosa, though he did die in 2006. When Danny ditches Morgan at the grave, I’m legitimately in suspense: What could this secret mission be? I thought it might be a stripper dance competition in homage to the excellent Magic Mike XXL, or … something else? A slightly late nod to the pope’s recent U.S. visit with a pilgrimage to see him in D.C.? In classic sitcom world, it couldn’t be as bad as it seemed; it couldn’t be an affair, or a secret child …
Well, it could be that second one. In fact, it is! Morgan follows Danny on a presumably stolen children’s bike and gets to his destination just in time to hear a teenage boy say, “Dad, is that you?” Turns out this kid’s mom and Danny hooked up at a Billy Joel concert in 1999. (Of course they did.) We’re also rolling with the coincidence that Danny’s secret maybe-child lives in Oklahoma, also the fictional site of Eddie’s grave.
It’s too bad we’re all the way in Oklahoma, because the kid who plays Danny’s maybe-son Eric, Justin Prentice, is also particularly adept at Mindy’s unique comic rhythms. It’s unlikely we’ll see him again since we soon learn, thanks to Morgan’s killer instincts, Danny is not this kid’s dad. (As much as I like the actor, I’m relieved. Season four is too early to introduce secret children as new main characters!) Justin’s petulant kiss-off, upon learning that his mom lied to him just before his 16th birthday party, is perfect: “If anyone asks where I am, just tell them I’m up in my room Googling how to do drugs!”
Danny, of course, sees himself in Eric; he had an absentee father and suffered for it. So he pretends to be Eric’s dad for the party, and everyone ends up happy. Danny even gives Eric his car as a gift! Because this whole trip is wildly impractical, so why not?
So it’s onto a bus for Danny and Morgan for the remainder of the trip to California. I hope, for their sake and ours (one week is enough without Mindy!), they decide to hop a plane back to New York after the visit.