This post discusses that big plot twist at the end of last night’s episode of The Mindy Project. Be warned, spoilers abound.
Mindy Lahiri got a lot of big news last night. A professor at her Stanford fellowship offered her the opportunity to start a fertility clinic in San Francisco, a city she’s grown to love. Her boyfriend, Danny, bought a place in Harlem so they could live together “in a brownstone in Manhattan, like you always wanted.” Her best friend, Peter, is moving to Texas, an ill-advised decision to chase a woman who cheated on him that only makes sense because Adam Pally’s contract with Mindy is up.
Oh, and one more thing: she’s pregnant.
Usually, I am not a fan of pregnancy plots on TV shows. They tend to do a bunch of things that are at best unfunny and at worst offensive and idiotic: a female character will have “baby brain” and start stashing the remote control in the fridge; a female character who used to be central winds up getting sidelined; her pregnancy becomes her entire identity, and all stories involving her revolve around that fact.
But Mindy has handled what is usually after-school-special territory with aplomb, whether she’s dishing out hilarious wisdom to teenage girls about contraception or inspiring a high school girl to have sex only when she’s ready and only on her own terms, not her boyfriend’s. And while she said in an interview that she didn’t think The Mindy Project was the right space for a storyline about abortion, she later walked those comments back, saying that “We haven’t found a hilarious take on abortion that has been done yet — but we might. I have faith in us.”
Mindy Lahiri is an OB/GYN. She is literally an expert on the female reproductive system. Knowing how to help women get pregnant or help women prevent pregnancy is the biggest part of Mindy’s professional life. So having this character experience an unplanned pregnancy isn’t just a compelling choice within the world of the story; it’s a thoughtful commentary on how Mindy, or women like Mindy, go through this experience, too.
So often, women who become pregnant unintentionally are shamed for their mistake, their poor judgment, their bad choices — never mind that, obviously, they are not the only person responsible for that pregnancy. Even though more than half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, there’s still a stigma surrounding women (and girls) who find themselves in this incredibly common predicament. This victim-blaming notion that the only people who accidentally get pregnant must have been careless, or stupid, or lazy, or slutty somehow persists.
But Mindy is brilliant. She crushes her competitive Stanford fellowship. She’s a successful doctor in a thriving practice in New York. At the same time, she’s a bit of a reckless person. There have been a handful of jokes over the years about her carelessness, particularly with birth control. She uses a dopey rhyme to remind her to take the pill — “When I need to take a pill, I look upon the windowsill” — and, even then, forgot to take the contraceptive for two weeks; fortunately a nurse, Morgan, has been grinding up her pill every day and putting it in her coffee. All of which is to say: she is really freaking smart, but she is not infallible. She is significantly more aware of how pregnancy works than the average person, but she’s not perfect. At the “Power of Story: Serious Ladies” panel at Sundance last week, Kaling said she doesn’t care if her character is likable but needs her to be relatable. And this plot twist certainly checks that box: the 18 percent of women who use contraceptives the way that Mindy appears to — inconsistently — account for 41 percent of unintended pregnancies.
Another interesting piece of this is Mindy’s boyfriend, Danny. Danny is Catholic, maybe one of the most openly religious characters on a sitcom today. He goes to church every Sunday. By his own admission, “I’m so Catholic, I don’t even trust this new pope.” But he is, to borrow a phrase usually reserved for Judaism, culturally Catholic. He got a divorce. He has premarital sex. Clearly he is not of the mindset that there’s anything wrong with birth control: if he did, for one thing, he’d have a particularly difficult time in his profession. Besides, he and Mindy are obviously using contraception for their hook-ups. In this way, he’s like the overwhelming majority of observant Catholics; only two percent of at-risk Catholic women rely on natural family planning. Danny is Catholic like Schmidt on New Girl is Jewish. (In a funny coincidence, both of these religious-ish white guys have been or are currently in serious relationships with Indian women. One more makes a New York Times trend piece!)
Next week’s episode will presumably get into what, exactly, happened, and whether this pregnancy is grounded in a real-life contraceptive failure or some sitcom-y trickery, or if the whole thing is just a misunderstanding that will be used to reveal cracks in Mindy and Danny’s foundation or bring them closer together. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kaling said “All of next week’s episode is Mindy’s challenge to tell Danny.” She also said, in so many words, not to expect a pregnancy to derail her character’s medical career:
The pregnancy actually motivates Mindy more, professionally. That is something I observed to be true of a lot of women I know. It gives Mindy even more reason to succeed.
She also (inadvertently, I guess) spoils the result of the pregnancy, saying, “Parenting brings out sides in them we have not seen, and we get to learn more about their families as a result.” So we already know the baby is for keeps, it’s just a matter of what that means for everyone involved.