Never Have I Ever
After its emotionally explosive penultimate episode, the Never Have I Ever finale has a lot of work to do. All of the relationships central to the show have been severely damaged over the course of the season. Devi moves out of her house and in with unexpected ally Ben, leaving Nalini and Kamala alone. Fab and Eleanor are still on a “friendship break” from Devi, still hurt by the ways she didn’t show up for them when they needed her most. Despite their kiss, Paxton is pulling away from Devi. The finale starts with everything in disarray and then gradually pieces things together, repairing some relationships and making way for new ones. It’s an episode that’s low on jokes, but it still finds humor in unexpected places. And the finale impressively tackles complicated things like grief, forgiveness, and familial trauma with all the depth and poignancy of a serious drama. Never Have I Ever is at its best when it digs into grief.
On the surface, Devi’s life at Ben’s looks pretty nice. He has a big house and pool, and she has a room to herself. Kamala brings her some stuff at school and tries to get her to come home, but Devi remains firm. She won’t return home unless Nalini promises not to move them to India. She even asks Ben’s dad for help with emancipating herself, which is of course a ridiculous request since she doesn’t have a job or even know how credit cards work. Ben realizes how serious the whole situation is when Devi’s little run-away-from-home stint starts to look more permanent.
She goes so far as to call up Rebecca and try to get a job at Old Navy, which prompts a sweet scene between Rebecca and Paxton. His sister fully calls him out for being a douche when he suggests that he can’t be with Devi because she isn’t cool enough, but buried beneath that, there’s also his insecurity about what her mother said about his intelligence last episode. The rom-com through line in the finale—which ultimately sees Devi choosing Ben over Paxton—is honestly the least interesting bit, but it sets things up for a pretty straightforward love triangle, and Mindy Kaling certainly knows how to craft one of those.
Nalini has an emotional breakthrough when she visits Dr. Ryan, her initial resistance to therapy eventually relenting. Dr. Ryan gently suggests that moving a kid across the globe isn’t exactly good for grieving, and Nalini shares that Devi said she wished she was dead. But she softens, lets down her guard a bit, and admits that she knows she’s tough on Devi but that it comes from a place of fear. She was the tough parent, but now that Mohan is gone, that means all Devi gets is the tough parent, which isn’t fair to anyone involved and just creates more tension. Dr. Ryan encourages her to let Devi see her break a little. Devi needs to see her mother’s weakness in order to embrace her own. Maybe she wouldn’t be so in denial and quick to deflect if she had permission to break down, and Nalini letting down her strong facade would do just that. Nalini reaching for a ceramic vase on Dr. Ryan’s table and fiddling with it as she reveals that Mohan’s birthday is the next day is a lovely touch. This show is consistently good at making the emotions of its characters fully seen and felt through little details.
Nalini having to awkwardly explain that Mohan passed away to her realtor when she calls her up to tell her she’s thinking about putting the house on the market also evokes a specific side of losing a loved one: Nalini and Devi constantly have to relive their trauma by having to explain the loss to others. Memories of Mohan crop up all the time for Devi and Nalini, and they’re not necessarily wholly sad or wholly happy; they’re both at once. Nalini remembers buying the house with Mohan and how thrilled he was. Sendhil Ramamurthy is truly so freaking charming in this role. The specificity of Mohan hearing the song “Beautiful Day” by U2 and taking it as a good sign is excellent writing and has a huge payoff at the end of the episode. Devi, meanwhile, is just casually scrolling through Instagram when her phone gives her a memory notification for her dad’s birthday with photos and videos from the year before. Phones really do love to remind us of traumatic things, don’t they?!
Nalini makes an initial attempt to reach out to Devi, showing up at Ben’s house and saying she doesn’t want to fight anymore. She’s still initially stern with Devi, and Devi shuts down a bit because of that. Nalini says she wants to spread Mohan’s ashes on his birthday, but it prompts a bad flashback for Devi to the day he died. She tells her that she and Kamala will leave for Malibu at five if Devi wants to join.
Devi does not want to join. Devi is stubborn. She’s quick to anger and slow to apologize. This show unearths the messiness of grief through Devi, a wonderfully flawed character. She sees her mom’s attempt at getting her to spread the ashes as emotional manipulation. But there’s more to her hesitation. She isn’t ready to say goodbye.
Ben has to tap in some backup, reaching out to Eleanor and Fab. Even though Devi wasn’t there for them, they end up showing up for her, because they’re good friends and they know how much Devi will regret it if she doesn’t go to Malibu. Master deflector Devi uses it as an opportunity to address Eleanor’s recent personality change and get her to reconsider her acting dreams. She even apologizes to them. It’s meaningful and genuine, but it’s also yet another attempt by Devi to avoid her own problems. Still, with things mended with Fab and Eleanor, they urge her to go. “I’m not ready,” Devi says through tears, but Eleanor and Fab convince her of her own strength.
Then the finale uses a pretty common rom-com trope, albeit in an unexpected context: a race against the clock to meet up with someone to confess that you love them. In this case, it’s Devi rushing to her mother. Ben volunteers to get Devi to the house, but he drives terribly and slowly in his father’s Porsche, so they miss Kamala and Nalini. Then he offers to drive her all the way to Malibu. She gets there with no time to spare, and she tries to call out to them on the beach, but they can’t hear her shouting.
So John McEnroe shows up. It’s a satisfying gimmick that leans into some of the weirder parts of the show’s voice, and it’s surprising how organic it ends up feeling to have him here. Devi’s “Oh fuck” moment is also perfectly executed. She explains to him the situation, and he uses his signature McEnroe yell to get Kamala and Nalini’s attention. It’s funny and weird, and then the scene crashes into a true emotional whirlwind.
Devi apologizes to her mother, and her mother apologizes to her. They both know they said hurtful things, and they both love each other despite any of it. Nalini finally does have her breakdown, and admits that she herself sometimes wishes she had died. It is all so brilliantly written and acted, making for a perfect emotional climax for the series. “Beautiful Day” plays, and it’s the best musical cue of the show. More flashbacks to Mohan reiterate his role in their lives as a constant source of joy and light. Never Have I Ever pays tribute to loss and grief with such earnestness and specificity. Devi and Nalini’s relationship arc ends up being the show’s finest.
But Devi kissing Ben in the car while Paxton tries to call her does feel like the appropriate bookend for the series, given that Devi poured so much of her time into her romantic prospects in the beginning, hoping for a distraction. She has implicitly learned that you can’t force romance, though. Instead, what has unfolded between her and Ben is something she never could have planned or predicted. But it’s really the show’s handling of grief and trauma, rather than young romance, that makes Never Have I Ever a special show.