There’s an unspoken TV tradition where Valentine’s Day episodes aren’t exactly lovey-dovey. Much like the holiday IRL, there’s just too much pressure to somehow channel romance without being cheesy. So instead, the most memorable Valentine’s Day episodes are counterintuitive, focusing on non-romantic relationships (Parks and Rec’s “Galentine’s Day” episode comes to mind), the coping mechanisms of singletons, and other variations on the theme of love. And Never Have I Ever is no exception. This episode starts with romantic underpinnings (Paxton talking up the date he has planned for Devi), but it quickly becomes a testimony to the importance of self-love and self-respect.
Devi’s never had a real valentine — unless you count her dad — so this year, with a dreamy dude on her arm, things aren’t looking so bad. That is until she gets the results from the school’s compatibility quiz. Her best fit, according to Nobel Prize–winning MIT researchers? Eric Perkins. What’s worse is that Haley’s is Paxton. As if Devi needed more ammunition to feel threatened by the girl! She can find every hollow reason without problem, but now she’s also up against science?! If she becomes a flat-earther, I swear to God. Anyway, Devi brings up her disappointing results to Paxton, and he slyly brandishes a quiz card listing Devi as his perfect match.
Later that night, Paxton treats Devi to a romantic microwaved dinner at his place. But while he leaves to grab a block of cheese (seriously, is he the perfect man?!), Devi discovers that Paxton had actually shown her Eric Perkins’s card! His real match was Haley. Damn you, science!
Even though she had initially turned down the invitation to play, Devi rushes over to Paxton’s paintball game once she realizes her (self-created) rival is playing. She makes it just in time to join Trent’s team. Despite Haley being a killer shot, Devi manages to corner her and holds the gun to the back of her head, execution-style. But as Devi’s in the middle of her victory speech (in which she compares herself to the “noble cockroach”), Paxton shoots her, winning the game. But Devi doesn’t care about that part — she just cares that he saved his teammate Haley.
Devi confronts Paxton, asking why he lied about his quiz results. He points out that she’s not exactly taking it well and has been weird since he and Haley became buds again. Paxton reminds her that he’s with Devi and that she’s who he likes. But Devi clearly can’t just accept this, saying nobody thinks they make any sense. Paxton responds, “No, you don’t think we make any sense.” He says he can’t keep trying to convince her she’s good enough for him. “Look, Devi, I really like you, but I don’t think we can have a real relationship until you like yourself.” Move over, Iyanla!
And just like that, they’re done. Devi is crushed, and honestly, I’m bummed, too. I know Ben is very likely endgame (even the compatibility quiz matched him with a certain hotheaded Vishwakumar), and I’m not opposed to that. Still, I thought Paxton and Devi were sweet and had such great, flirty chemistry. Sure, in the interest of making good, plot-driven TV, it’s unlikely their coupling would ever be smooth sailing, but three episodes still feels short!
The saddest thing is Paxton isn’t wrong. Devi does need to learn to love herself. Which makes this breakup even harder to deal with — she only has herself to blame. She lets things outside of herself dictate and define how she feels about herself and her romantic life. Of course, this is to be expected: She’s a teen! The rational part of her brain isn’t fully formed (another reason why it’s easy yet unfair to critique these characters)! How can she have mature decision-making skills if she isn’t mature? But regardless of naïveté and normal physiology, the consequences are no less impactful or devastating.
While Devi gets broken up with because she needs to value herself more, Aneesa faces the opposite scenario. She loves herself too much to stay with Ben. We had seen inklings of Ben and Aneesa’s incompatibility — not to mention the fact that Ben is still into Devi — but it becomes all too apparent on Valentine’s Day. First, when Aneesa confuses 1984 as a reference to 1989, Ben makes the outrageously douchey comment that he ought to get her a “little library card.” (I would punch him.) Fabiola once again saves the day, arguing that T. Swift has more relevance than George Orwell. Things have been a bit awkward between Aneesa and Fabiola since their kiss — which Aneesa requests they just forget about — but this is a nice reminder of their connection.
Aneesa confronts Ben later about his condescension and says it’s okay: He doesn’t expect her to know everything he knows. (Have people ever made human sacrifices on Valentine’s Day? Can we start?) One thing’s for sure: Ben might be book smart, but he’s a complete dumbass in the emotional department. Aneesa cancels their Valentine’s Day plans and ultimately breaks up with Ben. She doesn’t think he respects her: “You make me feel stupid, and I’m not stupid.” Aneesa has had a pretty rough go since joining Sherman Oaks. First, there was the (true) rumor about her ED, started inadvertently by Devi, and now this. So it’s fantastic to see her not only stand up for herself but not doubt herself either. “I deserve someone who’s excited to be with me just as I am and who doesn’t wish I was someone else.” Let that marinate, Ben.
Aneesa rushes off into a classroom for refuge, and, yep, Fabiola’s there. (“Why are you in every room I enter?!” Oh, I dunno, Aneesa. Maybe because you’re soul mates?) Fabiola offers to leave but then notices Aneesa’s tears. She comforts Aneesa very sweetly, never taking advantage of the situation or her vulnerability. Aneesa’s eyes lock with Fabiola’s tentatively as she says, “I’m sure the right person is out there,” but she also thanks Fabiola for being “a good friend” — mixed signals galore! There’s bound to be more between these two, which is something to look forward to as we mourn the end of Daxton and as I burn an effigy of Ben.
• “Anytime someone says that to me, it always means great news.”
• Despite being on shaky ground and using each other for personal gain, Trent and Eleanor are the only couple to survive this Valentine’s Day. (And Eleanor even came out of it with a commercial acting gig!)
• Nalini and Rhyah’s slowly blossoming friendship leads to Nalini treating herself to a blowout. She looks gorgeous, and it’s cute to see her in such a bubbly mood, but honestly, her hair and style are always on point.
• Speaking of great hair, I appreciated Mohan’s fluffy coiffure during Nalini’s Valentine’s Day flashback — very reminiscent of old Bollywood heartthrobs. I also enjoyed his borderline yassified bobblehead (although can someone as impossibly beautiful as Sendhil Ramamurthy honestly be improved upon?).
• Watching Nalini comfort Devi at the end of this episode was so bittersweet; Nalini doesn’t allow Devi to date and knows she’s crying over a boy but hugs her heartbroken daughter wordlessly. (This shows real growth, considering how Nalini reacted to Devi just hours before Mohan died. I’m not saying he died partly to help them improve their relationship because that would be demented, but I’m not not saying that.) The evolution of their relationship — which has changed significantly but believably since the beginning of the series — is beautiful and arguably the most satisfying story line in the show.