Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but it’s hard to ignore a pattern happening on Never Have I Ever: Devi ends up bleeding in every episode. In the pilot, she falls and skins her knee. In the second episode, she gets stabbed by a trophy in Paxton’s garage. Now, in episode three, she gets mauled by a coyote because she drunkenly approaches it thinking it’s her dad trying to communicate with her.
It seems too specific and extreme for this to merely be a way of establishing Devi as a clumsy person. She might be awkward, but clumsy isn’t really part of her personality (I mean, look at the way she slays that TikTok dance with Eleanor and Fab at the top of the episode, which she posts as a thirst trap to try and get Paxton’s attention … it does not work). Since all of these injuries are genuine accidents, I wouldn’t go so far as to classify them as self-harm, but they might signify yet another way that Devi’s grief is manifesting. She’s being reckless with her self, particularly with her body. She’s so desperate to believe that a coyote could be her dead dad that she puts herself in harm’s way. (The beers she chugs after being rejected by Paxton at a house party probably don’t help.) Devi’s denial and suppression of her real feelings is an ongoing emotional through line for the series, and the coyote encounter suggests it’s more than just damaging — it’s dangerous.
Because she’s still not ready to confront her feelings, Devi keeps bailing. Like she bailed on orchestra practice last week, this time she storms off when Nalini asks her to tend to Mohan’s garden. The tomatoes are rotting, and Devi flashes back to a more vibrant time when Mohan showed off his vegetable haul to her. These flashbacks have really become the emotional backbone of the series, rooting us in the feeling of loss that Nalini and Devi are experiencing, and retroactively developing Mohan and his relationships with each of them. He might not be actually present in the current narrative, but his presence is still fully felt in the ways his wife and daughter miss him and remember him.
This is the first episode of the series in which the non-Devi B- and C-plots are actually more engaging. That’s not to say that there aren’t stakes to Devi’s quest to impress Paxton while working with him on a school project (the running gag of the history teacher trying way too hard to be hip hits an all-time high when he has them develop apps to mitigate violence during World War II), but the plotline hits all the expected beats and doesn’t add much new. She reaches a new place with Paxton by the end: He shows up at the hospital after the coyote attack and posts a selfie of them to his actual grid rather than just his Instagram story, suggesting that he might care about her a little more than just a ticket to an easy A. But it’s really the stuff unfolding on the periphery of Devi’s life that gives the episode its color.
When Eve, the girl who Fabiola was ogling last episode, joins Fab, Eleanor, and Ben’s group for the project, Fabiola’s burbling feelings about her sexuality start to boil over. Eve sweetly invites Fab to a fundraiser for queer youth, but the vulnerability of the moment only pushes Fab deeper in the closet. She doesn’t like being singled out by Eve, isn’t sure what to make of any of these new feelings. Then there’s her mother, who doesn’t necessarily say outright homophobic things, but places so much value on Fab having a boyfriend. She’s thrilled when Fab mentions Alex Gomez, says that she has been dying for her to finally get a boyfriend. Little comments like these can absolutely keep someone from coming out, even to themselves. (I speak from experience!) Fab’s mom assumes straightness as the default, and it makes it harder for Fab to imagine another possibility. It’s so difficult for Fab to imagine it that instead of speaking the words out loud herself, she programs her robot Gears Brosnan (lol) to say “I’m gay.”
Kamala similarly grapples with familial expectations when it comes to relationships. Steve tries to persuade her to continue their relationship. He wants her to have a choice, and Kamala says that she does: a choice between honoring her family or betraying them. The ways Kamala and Steve miss each other are funny: He goes to the Cheesecake Factory and orders their favorite — loaded baked potato tots, hold the bacon — and she sees a couple riding a tandem bike, which makes her think about the fact that he doesn’t know how to ride a bike. But the specifics of those jokes also make the relationship feel real and lived-in. We might not get much of Steve, but it’s clear that Kamala cares about him, especially as doubts about her future creep in.
Then Never Have I Ever makes the wild and absolutely delicious choice to have a character’s arc hinge on … a Riverdale marathon. Television characters talking about characters on other television shows always has a certain thrill to it, something that directly connects their world to ours. Who among us has not settled in for a Riverdale marathon and emerged a little unhinged? Kamala settles in for Riverdale with Devi, utterly perplexed by the show’s structure and lawlessness (there are lots of fun jokes about Riverdale here as well as some jokes about Bollywood movies), but then one scene between Betty Cooper and Alice Cooper genuinely strikes a chord.
Never Have I Ever doesn’t merely include Riverdale in the episode for the sake of jokes about an easy-to-dunk-on show. Watching Betty stand up to Alice about her relationship to Jughead legitimately encourages Kamala to do the same. There’s something simultaneously absurd and hyperrealistic about this. Television and pop culture can have a profound impact on the ways we see ourselves and our lives. To bring it back to Fab, just like she has to use her robot to express her sexuality, before I came out, I clung to coming-out scenes on television, needing something from them. Perhaps Kamala needed to see Betty Cooper in this moment to really realize that she could choose a different path. Suddenly, the Riverdale tie-in goes from silly to meaningful. Never Have I Ever has a lot of tricks up its sleeve, especially when it comes to revealing the deep, sometimes dark emotions beneath its jokes.