Never Have I Ever
A Great Gatsby–themed episode checks all the boxes for a teen-centric romcom: complicated love affairs, yearning for the attention of someone who doesn’t want you, having to watch the person you’re in love with be with someone else, etc. In this installment of Never Have I Ever, when her class runs a simulation putting Daisy on trial for the murder of Jay Gatsby, Devi is poetically forced to play the role of Daisy Buchanan. “She’s flighty and unstable and throws away a man for no good reason” Aneesa says of Daisy Buchanan and, indirectly, Devi.
Forced to work with Ben and Aneesa, the school’s newest “It” couple, Devi must find a way to keep her pent-up rage at bay while also being scholastically productive, but finds it impossible to ignore Ben and Aneesa constantly having their tongue down each other’s throats. In a hilarious and light-hearted attempt to help Devi out, Kamala brings their grandmother to Devi’s study session, forcing Aneesa to pull back on her PDA because she’s dedicated to maintaining the chaste and innocent view of herself that Devi’s family has. The solution is temporary but effective, and honestly? I’m taking notes, that’s a genius strategy. Ranjita Chakravarty continues to be a showstopper, the energy she brings to all of her scenes is unmatched. Even though she’s only on screen for a few seconds at a time, her charisma sucks you right in.
Devi pleads to her English teacher to change her group, insisting that she can’t stand to be around her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend, both of whom she is supposed to be on cordial terms with. Mr. Kulkarni instead challenges her to continue hanging out with Ben until she’s not in love with him anymore. As he says, “distance makes the heart grow fonder, and proximity makes the heart want to barf.”
To Devi’s surprise, it works perfectly. She embraces Ben’s annoyingness and feels herself falling out of love with him. This plot point is particularly endearing for the way it spins the advice young people typically receive about still being in love with their ex: cut them off, never talk to them again, if you falter then you’re weak, etc. etc. Mr. Kulkarni’s suggestion to Devi is more sensible: keep going back to your ex until you get tired of them. We as a society have been conditioned to dismiss the messy emotions of teenagers, but no one in Devi’s life makes her feel bad for how she feels about Ben; instead, they give her realistic solutions to deal with her feelings. Once again, Never Have I Ever’s unique approach to TV tropes pays off.
In an unexpectedly sincere moment, Devi apologizes to Ben for cheating on him. When Ben asks if it’s been hard for her to be around Aneesa, she tells him he deserves someone as cool as Aneesa. Something is different about the way he looks at Devi when Aneesa isn’t around, though. It’s the first tell that maybe Ben isn’t as over Devi as he seemed to be this whole time. Oof, messy!
Eleanor takes center stage in a B-story that highlights another pertinent issue for young people: emotionally abusive relationships. Her new boyfriend Malcolm has become increasingly verbally hostile, and when Fabiola finds suggestive texts on Malcolm’s phone, Devi and Fabiola confront Eleanor about her (potentially unfaithful) boyfriend. As is expected of hopelessly romantic adolescents, she makes poor excuses for his behavior. This culminates in Eleanor telling Devi and Fabiola off, calling them jealous and bitter, and declaring their friendship over. Devi and Fabiola perfectly capture what it’s like to be in the sticky position of watching someone you love suffer but not wanting to alienate them. What’s the right way to tell your friend that they are a victim? Is there one, even?
There are smaller subplots peppered throughout the episode that foreshadow what to expect down the season’s home stretch. Nalini starts sneaking off at night to god-knows-where, presumably to hang out with Dr. Jackson. Though she tries to hide it from her family, they start getting suspicious of her vague excuses and flimsy alibis. Mr. Kulkarni and Kamala seem to have a budding romance, which is inconvenient given that she has reason to believe Prashanth is planning on proposing to her soon. When Ben, Aneesa, and Devi lose their in-class competition after Aneesa loses the note cards for her speech, Ben gets visibly upset with his girlfriend, our first indication that there might be trouble in paradise. And Devi and Paxton have a solemn heart-to-heart in his car where she tells him, quite frankly, that he isn’t trying as hard as he could be in school.
As Paxton and Devi reach her house, Devi asks him to pull up by a fire hydrant. “You can’t see it from my house and I don’t want my mom to flip out that I rode home with you” she tells him. But, to their surprise, there is another car at the fire hydrant. When Devi looks over, she notices her mom sitting in the passenger side seat. With a GUY. Oh boy. It’s hilariously ironic that Nalini is hiding from her family behind the exact same fire hydrant that Devi hides behind. Then again, Nalini’s the one who decided to raise Devi in a household that stigmatizes dating and sex. She’s bound by her own parameters and therefore has to hide her new boyfriend, despite being a full-grown adult. This is how a lot of Indian matriarchs function: showing any sort of vulnerability is seen as weak and therefore discouraged. Nalini would rather formulate elaborate stories to relay to her family than have an honest conversation with them about her feelings and desire to date again.
Overall, this episode is strong but serves more of a move-the-story-along purpose. There are lots of plot points established in this episode that we can expect to play a central role in the last two episodes: Nalini’s new boyfriend, Kamala’s love triangle with Prashanth and Mr. Kulkarni, Ben and Aneesa’s seemingly imminent break up, Devi’s ever present Ben-or-Paxton dilemma, Eleanor’s romantic mishap, and the rift between Devi’s friends that romantic mishap has caused.