Mindy Kaling as Mindy, Kristian Kordula as Neel.
After four-and-a-half seasons, Mindy Kaling has finally addressed a longstanding critique of The Mindy Project by sending its titular character on a blind date with a nonwhite character. It’s noteworthy that the guy is Indian, which focuses the premise of “Bernardo & Anita” even tighter on Mindy’s relationship with her race and culture. Mindy tells her date, Neel, that he’s the first Indian guy she’s gone out with — and furthermore, she doesn’t know any other Indian people. He asks where her parents originally grew up in India. “I wanna say there’s a river there,” she answers, “And some tigers?”
Alas, this is not a turn-on for Neel. He declines to kiss her goodnight, explaining, “Being Indian is a really important part of my life. More than Crossfit, even!” Then he drops a bomb on her, calling her a “coconut” — brown on the outside, but white on the inside. Jody later concurs, saying, “Honestly, I think of you as a white man, largely because of your entitlement.”
Just as Mindy struggles with the ramifications of this new insight into herself, Danny announces he’d like to take Leo on a trip to Italy so their child can learn about his heritage. He already got the kid a very cute passport! Mindy agrees quite easily to the trip, which is another interesting insight into her character: On some level, she believes Danny’s heritage is more important than her own.
Mindy’s return to dating — and the choice to mostly ignore the brewing romantic tension between her and Jody — makes “Bernardo & Anita” feel like a throwback to season one. The A-plot about her dating life is pretty straightforward, and the B-plot concerns her officemates’ dating lives. In this case, the latter is about Morgan and Jody, who both hit on the same woman, Ashley. Morgan tells her that her eyes are beautiful: “That left one, in particular, it’s a great eye.” She reluctantly agrees to give him her work email. Jody, on the other hand, immediately charms her. And thus, we have a momentary love triangle to keep us occupied.
In short, Jody goes on a date with Ashley and finds out she’s saving herself for marriage. When Morgan goes on his date with her, he’s fine with her celibacy — or at least he claims as much in his “erotic announcement” to the office staff. (Jeremy: “I told you, we’re not doing those anymore.”) “I think it’s thoughtful of Morgan not to have sex with this woman,” Tamra says, “Especially considering sex with Morgan is not that bomb of an experience.” But Morgan ends up slipping on his attempt at celibacy and has sex with Mindy’s friend/former neighbor, Chelsea. Jody makes Morgan confess to Ashley, then asks her out again himself.
In more interesting news, Mindy’s crisis brings back her brother, Rishi. He doesn’t split hairs when explaining their relationships to their race: “You think you’re white and I think I’m black.” With that, Mindy decides to call Neel for help getting in touch with her Indian heritage. He invites her to hit up Bed Bath and Beyond for humidifier shopping and a little cultural primer. As they roam the aisles, Neel asks Mindy if she’s ever been to India. Her response: “What? And get eaten by a snake? No way.” A worker at the store mistakes them for a married couple, prompting an interesting discussion about assimilation. “Immigrants are supposed to assimilate,” Mindy insists, “Like Barack Obama when he came from Kenya, or Ted Cruz when he came from Canada.” Mindy concludes that she and Neel are like an Indian version of West Side Story, hence the episode’s title. She’s an immigrant who wants to embrace her Americanness, he’s the one who wants to keep running with a crew just like himself. Despite the West Side Story analogy, however, there’s no lingering romantic vibe when Neel invites her to a dinner party with his Indian friends.
The previous romantic tension between Mindy and Jody is turned way down, too — even though she brings him as her date to the dinner party. He’s there mainly to do an impression of an Indian voice when everyone else starts imitating their own parents, only to be firmly told he doesn’t get the same voice-impression privileges as the Indian people in the room. At the party, Mindy is also reminded of the Mundan ceremony, in which a Hindu baby’s head is shaved to signify freedom from past lives.
Mindy decides to have a Mundan for Leo and gets the highest-rated Hindu priest on Yelp to do the honors. But she’s embarrassed when he screams through the ceremony and doesn’t even make it to the end of the head-shaving. Her parents — more of them, please! — reassure her that “the baby always cries.” It’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, they tell her, she said the F word during her own ceremony and bit the priest during her brother’s.
Danny, of course, didn’t come to the ceremony. This seems like an important step for Mindy in her journey — both as an Indian woman and as a single mom. Let’s hope we see more like it before the season’s end.