Compared to Devi’s cheater arc at the beginning of the season, this particular mess she’s gotten herself into is far more believable. We’ve all at some point had the experience of saying something malicious about someone that eventually comes back to bite us in the butt, especially in high school, where students love nothing more than to gossip and throw each other under the bus.
Devi tries her best to throw everyone off her scent by insisting that she lead the school administration’s effort to track down the individual who started the rumor (which turned out to be factual) that Aneesa has an eating disorder. At first, she insists that working backwards by asking each student where they heard the rumor from is a bad idea, despite everyone else’s objections, because she knew all roads would lead back to her. Aneesa, skeptically, follows her new friend’s lead. When it goes nowhere, Fabiola and Eleanor hop on the case and insist they work backwards, a.k.a. the most logical thing to do.
As her friends get closer and closer to the culprit, Devi’s anxiety skyrockets. Finally, they’re interviewing Shira and her best friend, the two people Devi had originally made the “Aneesa is anorexic” comments to. To her absolute surprise, neither of them remember where they heard the comments from. For once, Devi being incredibly forgettable worked in her favor. The school principal tells the two girls that they are kicked off the winter dance committee, and Devi has completely evaded any consequence for her actions, or so you would think.
Devi’s guilt eats her up as she watches Aneesa sink deeper into a depression. Finally, at a sleepover with her three friends, Devi fesses up to starting the rumor. As a result, Aneesa tells the school principal, who informs Devi that she is suspended. Devi looks to her mom and begs her to do something, to which Nalini tells her that her actions have consequences. As she’s leaving school, she begs Aneesa to talk to the principal, but Aneesa tells her off for being selfish, calling her worse than the girls at the private school she transferred out of.
Devi is like pretty much every other main character in a sitcom with a cynical lead character: reckless, destructive, sometimes even downright cruel. The thing that differentiates Never Have I Ever from those shows is that Devi is not able to wiggle her way out of it using charm and charisma because, frankly, she doesn’t have either of those things. When she demands to know why she got suspended when the two other girls got a slap on the wrist, her principal lays it out for her: She purposely sabotaged an investigation, lied to everyone, and let two (comparatively) innocent girls take the fall for it.
Also unlike those aforementioned cynical sitcom protagonists, Devi doesn’t have that one friend who insists she’s right and sides with her on everything; her friends and family don’t stick up for her or concoct some crazy scheme to help her find an easy way out of this. Everyone around her firmly reiterates that she is at fault and needs to find a way to apologize to Aneesa. It’s refreshing and even a little bit endearing. For once, a protagonist feels the full weight of repercussions.
The B-story focuses on developing Nalini’s forthcoming romance with rival dermatologist Dr. Chris Jackson. Initially pompous and stand-offish towards him, she begins to soften when, at a retirement party for a former mentor, they bond over being single parents. Nalini confides in him about how she struggled after losing Mohan, and he tells her about how difficult it was to bond with his son after his wife left him. She begins to look at him differently, her annoyance slowly replaced with fondness and warmth.
Kamala’s storyline this season, much like her Indian accent, feels forced at times. That being said, it’s a topic that TV shows rarely explore, and Never Have I Ever deserves credit for its continued foray into atypical subject matters. Kamala continues struggling at her Ph.D. clinical lab rotation. To her excitement, her supervisor tells her she has earned some time with Dr. Peters, the scientist who oversees their department and the revolutionary STEM cell doctor who inspired her to pursue a Ph.D. It’s not long before she finds out it was a red herring to distract her from the fact that her name has been left off of their scientific journal, despite her having done most of the work behind the dissertation. When she speaks to Dr. Peters, she asks him what she should do. He curtly tells her he doesn’t get involved in the politics of the lab before launching into a long-winded diatribe about his career.
Nalini’s storyline is really the only glimmer of hope in this otherwise bleak episode. We don’t often get to watch single mothers explore their sexuality on TV in a guilt-free manner, let alone an Indian woman. Nalini’s character continues to be among the strongest in the show: she is allowed to grieve while also craving companionship from someone who understands her experiences. I can’t wait to see where this relationship goes — and how Devi is going to react when she finds out about it.