‘Never Have I Ever’… Said Goodbye? – Review
By Ramya Kumar
Sitting down to write this review was emotional. Before watching the final season’s first episode, I took a moment to reflect on how much has changed in the past three years since the first season of Never Have I Ever was released. Millions of people around the world, including me, streaming and obsessing over the love triangles, deliberations on sexualities, cheating scandals, family squabbles, and questionable life decisions of the characters in our beloved corner of southern California, grew accustomed to seeing a Desi teenage girl live out a coming of age story. Stories once dominated entirely by white casts, an American teenage girl’s reconciliation of love interests, tense family dynamics, self-esteem issues, and so many other topics finally featured a Desi-American girl.
At the core of Never Have I Ever lies a deep and obvious fondness and appreciation for the Vishwakumar family, feelings that are embedded in every scene of this final season. My emotional attachment to this TV show has been made clear from the first season. However, my family’s attachment to the show is one I did not see coming. Every time we sat down to watch and rewatch every episode multiple times, I understood that Never Have I Ever is the first and only TV show my family – similarly, three South Indian women trying their best – has ever felt truly represented by; we have grown along with the Vishwakumars. I see my mother in Nalini and (lots of) bits and pieces of myself in Devi. With each episode, I learned that this is what true representation feels like. For those reading, if you and your family feel the same way I do about Devi, Nalini, and their whole crew, saying goodbye to them will be an emotional undertaking, to say the least.
The season begins with Devi coming to terms with her impulsive decision to use her “free boink” with Ben Gross. As Devi commiserates about feeling like the archetypical “pathetic” teenage girl who becomes emotionally attached to a boy she has sex with, she grows and learns from the experience in a way that is uncharacteristic of the once comically brash “hothead” we were introduced to in season 1. From the first few moments of the show, the writers make it clear that the Devi of this season demonstrates genuine maturity and remorse when addressing the aftermath of less-than-ideal decision-making skills- well, as much maturity as we can expect from a 17-year-old girl. Devi’s personality growth is handled perfectly; throughout this season, several characters reference their frustrations with Devi of previous years.
The screenwriters are self-aware enough to know that audiences have frowned upon Devi’s actions. From Devi’s closest friends to her principal and therapist, they all admit that Devi “drives them crazy…and causes mayhem,” but at the end of the day, they continue loving her and rooting for her. Throughout the show, Devi retrospectively examines defining moments in her high school career, admitting that she had a lot of maturing to do, and audiences get to see her on the other side of this change, productively managing her temper, proactively fixing her relationship before they unravel, and accepting what cannot be changed.
The most obvious case of growth is seen in Nalini and Devi’s relationship this season. From previous seasons with fights ending in screams, tears, and plans of running away from home, their relationship in season 4 starkly contrasts the often tumultuous one from previous years. Nalini is calmer and able to recognize when her anger at Devi is misdirected or a result of accidental miscommunication. In multiple tearful acknowledgements of how much they have overcome together, Nalini and Devi end this season continuing their journeys of resolving their grief and hardships as a family, with love, support, and the occasional necessary scolding. Beautifully and fittingly, in our last solo shot of Devi, we see her asking for the gods and asking for them to look after her mother, so her mother can feel as lucky as Devi feels at that moment, with her whole life ahead of her at her dream school and a support system who loves her unconditionally. This simple request, for our parents to feel lucky is what we all want for our immigrant parents, for them to feel as lucky as we feel that they sacrificed all they did to bring us to where we are today.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this new season was the infusion of the plot lines that are all-too-classic Mindy Kaling. Audiences get to enjoy yet another perfectly crafted enemies-to-lovers plot for Nalini, a groundbreaking move once again for the writers of the show, as a single Indian immigrant mother dating and finding companionship has never been before seen in Hollywood. Additionally, Fabiola’s plotline of coming to terms with the toxic masculinity of her robotics team is reminiscent of the plot of Mindy Kaling’s Late Night, a movie where a woman with a writing staff of entirely men realizes she must change her ways to make her team more inclusive.
The Vishwakumar women’s journey to find love – this season including Pati – resembles the plot of Sonali Dev’s novel “The Vibrant Years,” a beautiful story of three generations of women finding romance and chasing their life’s dreams. Both the novel and this season recognize the unfair cultural constraints placed on South Asian women. As Pati admonishes her behaviour when finding a romantic partner, claiming it is wholly inappropriate for a widow, the rest of her family endlessly supports her because “wanting companionship is not shameful,” a direct reference to a similar quote in “The Vibrant Years.” Coincidentally, Mindy Kaling will be adapting this novel for the screen, a project I can hardly contain my excitement for. In its final season, Never Have I Ever feels like an amalgamation of different aspects of Mindy Kaling’s legacy, with numerous easter eggs hinting at her work and the work she plans to uplift.
Never Have I Ever cements itself as another example of Mindy Kaling’s genius; the show’s writers and directors have transformed the landscape of coming-of-age stories. It will continue to live on as the first TV show to feature an Indian-American girl’s journey through high school, boyfriends, family issues, and “being crazy,” but I know it will not be the last. We might have said goodbye to the Vishwakumars, but I am excited to welcome and watch their inspired stories.