Never Have I Ever Season 4 review: Too neat of an ending
Never Have I Ever Season 4 review: Mindy Kaling adorable show about Devi and her people gets an ending that is little too neat for someone like her.
We’ve all loved Devi Vishwakumar’s journey across the four seasons and three years of Never Have I Ever because she’s been a mess, a work-in-progress. She starts on the same note in the final season, but it’s bittersweet to see her neatly tie up all the loose ends by the series finale. How can she have it all, when we’re still making sense of our lives? (Also read: Queen Charlotte A Bridgerton Story review)
If there’s anything that’s been the most consistent in this series created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, it’s the pattern of Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) effing up one front of her life immediately after scoring on the one she’s been struggling on for long. Hell, she got grounded by her mom Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) for kissing Ben (Jaren Lewison) immediately after they enjoyed a family reunion over spreading her father’s ashes into the sea.
The narrative sticks as long as that pattern is in motion till the ninth episode of Never Have I Ever. But in the last episode, as things start to wind up, Devi suddenly transforms into the goddess she’s christened as. She gets into her dream college, finds true love and even has the best sex of her life. While one can be sure new challenges await Devi in college (because when Devi is there, can trouble be far behind?), but to see her check all the boxes even for a day feels like a narrative stretch.
Had the show ended an episode prior, it would’ve made Devi’s journey more relatable than aspirational. And hasn’t her journey been all about that — relatability over everything else? Her therapist, all emotional, telling her how she’s conquered her trauma feels more of a fitting end to Devi’s journey that’s really been about seeking internal validation than external. Her writing about the same for the qualification essay of her dream college and leaving her selection to fate would’ve made for a more logical ending to her story.
But again, let’s talk about the show we watched, instead of the one we wanted to see. If there’s anything Devi has learnt the hard way, is that you can’t have it all. That you need to live a life without judgement, without entitlement. If we look at the ending through that lens, sans any high-horse scrutiny, the series finale still doesn’t land without any bumps. Good for Devi as she conquers it all, but when she refers to her lehenga as a sari in a passing moment, it brings back the endless stereotyping of Indians that American shows have ignorantly embraced over the years. It then reduces all her triumphs to narrative tropes that feel more inserted than organic.
Never Have I Ever started off as a show that made us Indians feel seen in a saturated Western space. Much thanks to Mindy Kaling, who’s gradually scaled the sitcom steps from her humble beginnings with The Office. Before there was a Ms Marvel and a Pavitra Prabhakar, there was Never Have I Ever that showed how Indians enjoyed their own cool space in American pop culture.
To its credit, Never Have I Ever graduated into a show that normalized its Indian protagonist and didn’t zero in on the desi-ness as its sole USP. It really evolved into the story of any teen girl battling grief and its myriad claws in a highly competitive, self-critical Gen-Z world. Thanks to Maitreyi Ramakrishnan’s affable vulnerability, Devi became the screen equivalent of the warm hug that’s waiting for you every time you screw up and question yourself.
Devi’s Season 4 struggle of becoming a ‘sexy-successful senior’ is populated with her signature screw-ups. When she loses her virginity, she wonders if the sex was bad. When she puts all her energy into getting her dream college, she realizes she hasn’t prepared herself for leaving home. And when she is breezing through her ‘hornaissance’, she has a tough time distinguishing between ‘bad boys’ and just bad boys.
Yet again, the terrific humour helps keep the spirits high even if by now, you figure out how Devi is going to screw up next. Pop culture references galore again; most land (Devi’s friends telling her to think of herself as Kristen Stewart so that she doesn’t come off too needy after sex, or her wanting to listen to sad Adele after a breakup, or her wondering if Ben expected Euphoria sex), but some don’t (Devi claiming her high school goals include getting herself followed by Timothee Chalamet on Instagram; wut?).
Mindy Kaling strikes the sweet spot between self-deprecating humour and rebelling against the same. Sample Nirmala Mami this season: She dubs herself a GMILF when she starts dating a silver fox (whom she can’t help but introduce as “my white boyfriend” every time). She reinforces harmless stereotypes like “It’s a great present. It’d hurt to regift this” or “Nirmala mami is too trusting. She replies to all spam messages with sincerity.” But she also slides in a couple of sweet surprises: “I don’t suspect my boyfriend is cheating. I keep all my men very happy” or “Panditji chose this wedding date because he thinks it’s an auspicious time for sensuality.” Or something as random as referring to Paxton as “carwax.”
Wisecracks and screw-ups aside, what I’d really miss from the ride that Never Have I Ever was, is Poorna Jagannathan. She steeps the tropes of the angry NRI mom in such deep-rooted vulnerability of single parenting that you can’t help but go “aww” the one time she decides to blush, or turn teary-eyed when she says something as universal as “Change is good for us.” Now, that’s a spin-off I’d die to see, with the narration by a sardonically delicious Indian actor maybe?
- Mindy Kaling