In what I imagine will be our final narrator swap of the series, we have a Paxton-centric episode, which means the return of Gigi Hadid’s disembodied voice. Gigi does a fine job, but the change is noticeable enough that I’m reminded what a goddamned delight John McEnroe has been throughout the series! Can we take a second to appreciate this? He’s been a surprisingly expressive narrator and elicits lols regularly with his line readings. I love that as a famous hothead, he’s essentially Devi’s “spirit celebrity,” helping us contextualize her anger while also being tethered to her father’s memory (and I’m realizing his discernible if curmudgeonly concern for her comes off as sweetly paternal too). Finally, there’s something so genius about having a gruff, iconic, older white man as the narrator for a brown teen girl’s life; he presents cultural references and teen realities so matter-of-factly, which helps normalize them to a larger, potentially unfamiliar audience. All this to say, McEnroe was an inspired choice on multiple levels.
From one jock to another, let’s now catch up with Paxton, who’s helping with the swim team tryouts! Among the hopeful swimmers is Eric, who’s been fruitlessly trying out every chance he gets. What a trooper. Unfortunately, the poor guy’s technique of bellyflopping and flailing doesn’t make the cut this year either. Paxton is newly sensitive to what it feels like to be a failure, so he tries to cheer Eric up, only to get roped into training him.
Trent makes plans with Paxton to Oculus later that night, and when some swim team members overhear, they ask if they can swing by too. You can see where this is going! Paxton’s hospitality gets taken advantage of and suddenly he’s hosting a rager. Okay, it could be worse … and then it is! When a drunk student calls the school helpline for a ride home, Lindsay shows up to realize her very own colleague is hosting this party full of booze-chugging teens.
On Monday, Paxton tries to clear the air — and his name — with his coworker. The thing is Lindsay’s cool, so of course she won’t narc. But she also tells Paxton to get his shit together, reminding him that he’s an adult with agency and responsibilities. This interaction is soooo telling. Paxton’s the reigning king of avoidance and passivity, so having Lindsay challenge him on that feels significant (and deep down, maybe is a bit of a turn-on?). After all, we’ve seen courtesy of Devi that he’s at his best when dating someone who pushes and holds him to a higher standard. I see smooching in their future.
But not right now! Feeling beaten down, Paxton takes his frustration out on a charged-up Eric at the pool. Why keep going for such an unlikely dream? Eric says he doesn’t care if he fails as long as he tries. “And maybe I don’t fail, and then I’m really proud of myself,” he explains. Seeing how driven Eric is, Paxton steps up: “Then let’s make you a jock.”
Coach Paxton had already given Eric some basic tips on his form and breathing, but this time he’s more invested in his improvement. At one point, he even offers to get in the water and goes so far as to peel off his shirt — presumably one last time — SPECIFICALLY FOR US. We’ll always remember you this way, Pax.
Devi’s had a front-row seat (lucky girl) to the extra work Paxton’s been putting in with Eric, and you can tell she’s heartened by it. She tells him so, but as she congratulates him, they get stuck in a storage closet with a broken doorknob and no phones.
As they wait for someone to find them in the world’s lamest escape room, Devi stresses about possibly missing a call from Akshara. As someone notorious for having good game, Paxton suggests she play it less thirsty, more cool. Devi presses him about what really happened at ASU, and he says nobody there liked him (which is an exaggeration, but obviously how he felt). This shocks Devi: “I’ve been working so hard to be this cool, sexually-successful senior, but maybe I’ll have to glow back down before I go to college.” Paxton’s blown away to learn Devi’s had sex with Ethan and Ben freakin’ Gross. Devi admits she thought he would’ve been the one to take her virginity. From anyone else, this would sound like a come-on, but we know the truth: girlie offered it up on a platter in the pilot AND he said yes. Devi then brings up Paxton’s reasoning behind their break-up — that they couldn’t be together until she liked herself — and how she still thinks about it. But now she feels they’re finally equals. Paxton denies this, saying she’s way too good for him (now that sounds like a come-on), and they start to kiss (it’s a good one) — only to be interrupted by Coach Noble.
Back in his office, Coach Noble says that if he had walked in there two seconds earlier, he’d probably have to fire Paxton, but lets him off with a warning. These are a lot of close calls, Paxton! At home, he talks to his mom about feeling like a fuck-up. She reminds him he’s only 19 — way too young to be a failure. She tells him that bumps in the road are lessons, and maybe this one’s helping him let go of the old Paxton in order to figure out who he wants to be. Growing pains, you know?
Sure enough, Paxton’s next step becomes clearer when Eric makes it as a … (drumroll please) … JV alternate! Pax realizes how rewarding it is to help someone reach their potential and wants to become more involved as a staff member — which means he and Devi definitely can’t be making out anymore. But Devi’s okay with this; as much as she enjoyed it, their moment in the closet felt to her like a closure kiss. I’ll admit, I began this season as a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist convinced that Daxton would end up together, but after watching them interact this season, I’m not surprised this is where we are. They’ve been affectionate and playful and generally really sweet with each other, but their romantic chemistry has dwindled.
On the other hand, as Ben and Devi exchange insults in passing in the hallway — and then each hides the piece of clothing they were ridiculed for — it looks like Bevi is still very much alive and kicking. Even Paxton sees it; why can’t they???
In episode eight, Devi seems more willing to consider Ben might just like her. Especially after he randomly sends her a WYD message one night (they’ve been texting ever since). But Devi’s not the only Vishwakumar girl getting her flirt on. Nalini and Andres are exhibiting all the tell-tale signs of being into each other, which Devi notices and then takes a day to process. But instead of deciding to sabotage this spark — like she did last season with Chris (Common) — Devi realizes she’s … okay with this? She even wants to help it along so her mom isn’t alone while she’s at college. Growth!
Devi tells Nalini she senses the vibes between her and Andres. Why not invite him to Nirmala’s birthday dinner? But, despite Nalini’s killer décolleté (seriously, wow), Andres regretfully turns her down. Given the animosity between Devi and Margot, he doesn’t think he should come.
Devi goes on the charm offensive to get back into Margot’s good graces. She’s upfront about wanting their parents to get together and notes that Nalini is a hot, smart doctor, who’s much more level-headed than her daughter. She tosses in the mental image of a sad, lonely Andres, and then some In-N-Out to sweeten the deal. Margot begrudgingly agrees. Sure enough, when Andres sees Margot and Devi acting chummy, he changes his tune about dinner.
And boy is dinner eventful! While Nirmala stockpiles items to regift at her birthday meal, Andres thanks the Vishwakumar clan for their hospitality. He says this has been his longest job, but — while gazing at Nalini — also his favorite. SWOON! Nalini shoots him a very telling look, but how she doesn’t dissolve into a puddle, I do not know.
Len’s phone goes off and he goes upstairs to answer it, which doesn’t quell Kamala’s fears. At the expense of her work, she’s been spying on Len, still convinced he’s a gold digger with a secret mistress. After hearing Len tell his conspirator that she can’t stop by, Kamala takes matters into her own hands. Channeling her inner Devi, she takes his phone and fires off a text to a contact named “Baby,” asking them to come to the house.
Remember how Devi and Margot were pretending to be friends? Despite some initial tension, they end up bonding and even acknowledge that they probably would’ve been real friends if it weren’t for a Ben-sized wedge between them. Speaking of which, Devi finds out Ben has also been texting Margot, who’s not over him. And a quick look at their messages has Devi feeling like she’s been firmly slotted into the friend zone.
Now Devi might not be psyched about being in Ben’s friend zone, but Trent sure is. After spotting Ben studying despite having Columbia in the bag, Trent convinces the tightly wound teen to learn The Act of Chilling from a certified master. The next thing you know, they’re waiting to get high off some gummies. Trent says these experiences are ideal for sharing truths. Without delay, he asks who Ben loves. Ben details a sexy dream he has where he’s dominated by Devi, who’s scantily dolled up in a black lingerie set, complete with a garter belt and rhinestone bra. I’ve written about how this show allows brown girls to exist in spaces and roles we don’t often see on TV, and this is a perfect example! Seeing Devi fantasized about as an object of lust is so fun (and fitting — she’s a babe!).
“I had that exact same humiliating dream about Eleanor, which means you really love her,” diagnoses Dr. Trent. The remedy? Ben must confess his feelings immediately! And so he shows up at Devi’s house with flowers(!) but is thrown off to see Margot there too. Devi assures Margot they’re just friends. And that’s when the drugs hit Ben like a freight train. (Ben’s high face is very funny.) Devi writes off the bouquet as a gift for Nirmala and rehashes how Ben had told her they should never be together. She also says he was right: “He’s too mean, and I’m too crazy.”
Speaking of crazy, Ben hallucinates that Nirmala’s surrealistic “Apple of My Eye” birthday cake blinks at him (is the eye a nod to the Never Have I Ever logo?) and accordingly slams it into Len’s chest. With the cake destroyed, next on the menu is humble pie: Kamala learns that Len’s alleged mistress is actually a real estate agent named after Dirty Dancing’s lead. “My parents were quite stupid,” explains Baby.
Once everyone has left, the Vishwakumar ladies sit in the living room. Nalini frames the evening in the kindest light possible: “The running theme seemed to be that you two, however misguided, were trying to look out for us.” She’s happy that Devi’s okay with her dating — it means they’re all moving on — but there’s no need to worry about her being lonely. Meanwhile Kamala apologizes and admits she used Len to distract her from regretting turning down the Johns Hopkins job. She says she only passed it up because she couldn’t imagine living without family. But Nalini continues her streak of sensitive, sage advice: she’ll never lose her family and maybe Kamala ought to take the job; change is good and necessary.
At school, Devi apologizes to Margot, but Margot explains she’s just embarrassed; it turns out Ben only wants to be friends with her. Devi admits that she herself still has feelings for their mutual ex but also thinks they’re unreciprocated. The beauty of bonding over rejection! Margot tells Devi she’d be happy if their parents dated, but their blessing is just a perk; Andres shows up on Nalini’s doorstep and says regardless of what’s going on with their daughters, he wants to give them a shot! They finally kiss and everything is perfect.
For a few minutes, anyway. Devi logs on to learn she’s no longer deferred at Princeton. Nope, now she’s been waitlisted. And every single other school she applied to has flat-out turned her down?! Oof, Devi. This might be the most chaotic cliffhanger the show has ever had. So much for the beauty of rejection.
• It was great to see Paxton mature so much through the course of his episode, but it was also nice to see Eric get some time to shine. He’s had some pretty funny moments this season and now some touching ones too!
• Last season, Devi joked about hooking up with a professor at college, so I feel like Paxton gave her a taste of that (very inadvisable) fantasy.
• The cut from McEnroe’s interrupted narration to Devi’s “Hey girl” made me guffaw.
• “And that is how we are friends and we both like it.”
• Knowing that Len’s ringtone used to be MAGIC!’s “Rude” is so funny and perfect to me (maybe the show couldn’t get the rights for it?). I’d like to think it was his passive-aggressive way of telling Kamala off. He’s gonna marry Nirmy anyway, Kamala!! And blast reggae fusion at their wedding!
• Eleanor is unexpectedly reunited — and makes peace — with her flaky mom in the background actor-holding area of a movie. I’m glad they addressed this storyline because it was a major one for Eleanor and would have been a glaring loose end otherwise. The encounter also leads her to prioritize her relationships over acting and say yes to her bestie’s promposal.
• “Serialized TV is for society’s laziest workers.” That’s us, you guys! We got mentioned on the TV!