Mindy Kaling Reveals How 'The Mindy Project' Pulled Off That Surprise Ending
The creator, executive producer and star also talks to THR about Danny's "metamorphosis" and a potential revival.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of The Mindy Project, "It Had to Be You."]
Rom-com fan Dr. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) finally got her happy ending on Tuesday's series finale of The Mindy Project.
In the final episode of the Hulu comedy, Mindy had both professional and personal crises to deal with in the form of potentially losing her fertility clinic and Danny's mother's mastectomy. After she learned that Danny (Chris Messina) had offered the money to keep her clinic open, Mindy realized she still had feelings for him at Morgan's (Ike Barinholtz) and Tamra's (Xosha Roquemore) wedding. She rushed (via bike, in a fitting nod to the pilot episode) to Danny's mother's bedside to see if he felt the same way but then left thinking he didn't. That is, until Danny ran to find Mindy and found her lying on the floor of the hospital break room with her arm up a vending machine. She told him she had never stopped loving him and likely never would and the two shared a passionate kiss.
Despite their many milestones together — their engagement, their son Leo — it was still a surprising resolution for some after the couple's tough breakup midway through season four: a move which coincided with Messina's decision to step down from series regular to recurring.
So how did the show manage to pull off that romantic reconciliation? Will it last? And what about a possible Mindy Project revival? THR spoke with the writer behind the episode, series creator, executive producer and star Kaling, about all that and more.
When and how did you decide that the show would end with Mindy and Danny together? Why was that the right move?
I was never exactly sure how the ending was going to be. [Co-showrunner] Matt [Warburton] and I both like to have a complete break from the show at the end of the season. Even if we have a cliff-hanger, we don't talk through it at all. It's very useful because I think we come back to the writers' room with a lot of different ideas. During this break, Chris had texted me and emailed me saying how much he would love to come back for the final season. We'd been in touch between the seasons and he's been in every other season. Talking about the ending and his excitement to come back really steered the ship into thinking, "Well, OK, if Chris is really excited to come back, let's see what that would mean for the two characters." We had a really big assignment because they're in such different places, they're at such odds, their breakup had been very acrimonious — how could those two characters work? I love acting with Chris, but is this something that is even plausible? They both had to move toward each other in order for it to even make sense. We didn’t want to tie up something in a bow if it didn’t make emotional sense, but we kind of found a way, over the season, to get them closer to the season. I'm really, really happy with the finale and I think people will like it.
Looking back at season four, some viewers had issues with Danny because of his expectations on Mindy to stay home and have more babies. How concerned were you that viewers might be still holding onto those feelings now in season six?
When season four came out and people had that reaction, Matt and I were always so surprised because to us, Danny was always this old-fashioned character. He loved the Mindy character, but from the very first episode, he told her she could lose 15 pounds. This was a guy who, at best, you could call him rough around the edges. He was really good at overtures and really romantic but they fought constantly. Then I look at all my friends who have babies and have children and that has been the end of some of their relationships. It seems to be the single biggest complication, so we were trying to write what we knew, which is that unfortunately a lot of relationships tend to get worse once there's a kid involved. We thought, "Let's just put that in the show." When we would do table reads with Chris, he said, "Wow, this feels really real," and it felt really real to us as well.
That’s my long-winded way of saying when people have the reaction like, "Oh no, we want wish-fulfillment Danny who just does dances and does all the romantic stuff." I felt like there was some willful ignoring of his emotional vulnerabilities. I am very happy with the way that the two characters grow in the final season so that you would believe that after such an acrimonious breakup, you could have a couple that end up trying to make it work and actually believe it might happen.
How do you think that Mindy had changed since that breakup to allow her to be with Danny now?
We were really careful about writing the finale so it's not just he makes an overture to her and she's like, "Great, let's get back together." She's very suspicious of him. There's a scene where she leaves the wedding and she feels very protective of herself and looks at what someone might call a romantic gesture and thinks of it as a control gesture, which only someone who has been through that with somebody would accuse them of something like that. An earlier version of Mindy wouldn’t do that. She would just accept it as a romantic gesture. She's a character that thinks she is so lovable that she should be the receipt of such a gesture and now she doesn’t feel that way because she has a child to worry about. I think we just made her warier, we made her older. She's learned lessons and it's kind of gratifying as a writer to be able to show that's she learning those lessons. We made sure that she had a super self-awareness about venturing back into a relationship with Danny.
Conversely, how had Danny changed since their breakup to allow him to be with Mindy?
They both have been through relationships that didn't work and they both, I think — and this feels really to me where I've been — were trying to fix the problems of the previous relationship in the next one and they were unable to do that. Having him see what Mindy is like as a mother, as a daughter-in-law to his own mother with her cancer, we gave him a couple years to reconsider his original decision. [At the time, he thought,] "I don't want the mother of my child to be working as much as my own mother did which ruined my childhood," which is Danny's whole psychology, right? And he had time to look back at it and think, "Well, she actually really loves her job. My mom didn't love her job. It's not affecting [Mindy] as a caretaker. Maybe I was too hasty to come down so hard on her professional life." He kind of went through a much bigger metamorphosis than Mindy did, frankly.
At the end of the day, what made Danny the right person for Mindy despite their differences?
I think what it ends up coming down to is there is history and chemistry. I think we as viewers and as writers want to see two people work things out or try to work things out if there is real evidence of pure and unequivocal love. The great thing about the end of the show is it doesn't necessarily mean forever. We know that these two characters are going to have to really work to stay together. Right now, Matt and I were just in a place, and Chris as an actor — we were all in a place where we thought that's an adventure that we'd really like to see her take rather than have her meet a new guy or be single at the end of the series. We just thought, "OK, they have great chemistry, they have a child and you want to see them try to make it work."
The finale also put Mindy's fertility clinic into question. Why did you want to include that obstacle for her as well?
Honestly, because I just felt like Mindy's character is often a victim of her own failings and her own mistakes, but it doesn't happen very often that she's kind of doing everything right and circumstances are unfair and that happens to a lot of people. It felt right at the end of the series to have something that was like, "Guess what, lead character in a sitcom whose life is going really well and wears great clothes and has a nice well-paying job? Sometimes shit happens and it has nothing to do with you." Having her deal with that, we thought it felt gratifying to put her in that circumstance at the end of the series.
How did you specifically choose that Bruce Springsteen song (The Chromatics' cover of "I'm on Fire") to use at the end?
We wanted something that represented both Mindy and Danny really well. When I heard that cover, I thought, "This really seems like a version of the song that both of them could get behind." And it's one of Springsteen's best songs, it's one of his most emotional, raw songs, it's very sexy, very meaty. [Laughs.] We just thought, "Wow, this is great," and with the Chromatics covering it, with women singing it, I thought it took on a new meaning.
Looking back at the finale, were there any scenes left on the cutting room floor that didn't make the finale? Was there anything you wanted to include but weren't able to?
I feel like we had a lot of closure for all of our characters in a way that made me really happy so there wasn't that much stuff. Also the episode is very long, it's 30 minutes long, which is eight minutes longer than a normal episode and also the longest episode we've done of the show. With Morgan getting married, he has been a character that has gone through so much on the show and he's such a funny character even when he's put in the most foolish of circumstances so…I really wanted him to look really handsome in a suit and be able to do a dance and get the girl. Ed Weeks' character and Fortune [Feimster], everyone has a nice moment of closure in the preceding episode or the finale itself, so we felt good about it. We didn't feel we left anything really on the table.
There's constantly talk about revivals and reunions today. Would you be interested in revisiting Mindy Project one day? If it was up to you, when would be the ideal time to check back in with this group?
It's so funny because we shoot across from Will & Grace and with the success of that show, it makes me look back on my career and think about The Office and this show, which just ended. It gives you a nice feeling as a show creator that goodbyes are never truly goodbyes. I will say I love the cast so much and feel so personally close to them — I'm going to Thanksgiving at Ike Barinholtz's house and I go every year, and I love Chris and we were texting about how much we love the movie Lady Bird last week, so I feel like I'm in touch with them a lot. But it would be nice in a while to come back in some way, shape or form 10 years down the line, 20 years down the line, because my friendships are so strong with the cast and with the writers that I don't think they're going away, which is nice.
Finally, what did you take from the set?
I think Mindy Lahiri's office is one of the best offices, particularly for an ob-gyn. All the crewmembers and castmembers have been like, "I wish my ob-gyn's office looked like this." It's so cheerful and colorful and if you had to hear tough information, you would want to hear it there. So I took some of her knickknacks on her desk and a couple of the throw pillows on her sofa. I was very happy that the studio generously let me take those.
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