Season 2 of Never Have I Ever (created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher) picks up right where Season 1 left off — with one steamy makeout session and one momentous voicemail. It is official: Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), the “formally uneffable nerd,” now has not one, but two boys who are into her. Will she choose Ben (Jaren Lewison), her academic nemesis with a secret heart of gold (and sure, admittedly extremely hairy forearms)? Or will she choose Paxton (Darren Barnet), her unreasonably attractive classmate who fulfills all of her NSFW fantasies, (and okay, yes, a really bad track record of blowing her off)?
It turns out that no matter how smart Ben is, or how alarmingly hot Paxton is, Devi’s personal journey in Season 2 is much more compelling than choosing between two eligible bachelors. With the way Season 1 ended and the Season 2 trailer featuring the infamous Ben/Paxton Pro/Con list, it seemed like the love triangle would extend throughout most, if not all of, Season 2. However, Devi’s success at secretly dating two boys behind their backs is (thankfully) short-lived, as both Ben and Paxton quickly find out in episode 2 that Devi is in fact cheating on both of them. Even when it is packaged by a comedy queen like Mindy Kaling, Devi’s ability to bounce back and forth between Ben and Paxton with somehow even more nonchalance than a person trying to decide on a sandwich while waiting in line at Subway is hard to watch. But here’s the thing: Never Have I Ever wants its audience to see that Devi is doing something not just questionable, but downright mean, and that is where the real heart of this season lies—forcing Devi to do some serious soul searching.
The decision to sideline the boys works on two levels. First, love triangles are a worn-out trope, and it is difficult for that type of storyline to remain successful for very long. The love triangle between Devi, Ben, and Paxton works well in Season 2 because it is short-lived. Even though the last episode of the season clearly hints that the tension between these three is far from over, this season also makes the conscious decision to devote significantly less screen time to Ben and Paxton as romantic interests than they had in Season 1. Second, this decision works because it allows for the necessary space Devi needs to grow as not only a friend and a daughter, but as a young girl who just recently lost her father.
Devi’s sarcastic but lovable veneer started to crack in Season 1 as the tension between her and her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) quickly escalated, leading to a terrible fight during which Devi tells Nalini she wishes she were the one who died instead of her dad. The scene in the finale of Season 1 where Devi and her mother come back together to scatter Mohan’s (Sendhil Ramamurthy) ashes is a beautiful moment between mother and daughter that marks the beginning of Devi’s long and difficult road to healing.
At the beginning of Season 2, it is clear that while Devi has taken a courageous and brave step toward self-growth, she still has a long way to go. She immediately jumps right back into her boy dilemma, an all-too-familiar move that reminds us of Season 1 Devi: the ballsy nerd who “offered up her virginity to [Paxton] like it was a hummus sample at the grocery store.” This Devi is funny and determined, but stubborn to a fault. Her determination to get what she wants, whether that be a relationship with two different boys or proof that her mother has moved on after Mohan’s death, leads her to make poor decisions that hurt those she loves.
When the boys are taken out of the equation, it allows us to really see Devi, and what we see isn’t necessarily the most flattering. In many ways, Devi almost becomes the antagonist of her own story. Case in point: she accidentally, but thoughtlessly starts a hurtful rumor about new student Aneesa (Megan Suri) having an eating disorder simply because she is jealous of her, which leads to Aneesa’s decision to switch schools (again) because even though it is a rumor, it is true. She does have an eating disorder, and Devi has just made it public to all of her classmates. Although Aneesa does ultimately forgive Devi and decide to not transfer, the emotional damage that Devi has left likely won’t go away for a long time, if at all.
Devi still is coming to understand her identity as an Indian-American girl as well, evident from her rivalry with Aneesa, who from Devi’s perspective, is the perfect Indian-American girl — gorgeous, cool, and a model daughter who knows and respects the cultural customs that Nalini has always hoped that Devi would embrace. Devi soon grows to view Aneesa as a friend, someone who finally understands her experiences as an Indian-American teenager. But it is Devi’s jealousy and bitterness toward Aneesa’s blossoming romance with Ben that ultimately leads her to blurt out an insensitive comment that leads to the school-wide rumor about Aneesa’s eating disorder.
Not only does Devi show that she has a long way to go as a friend, she also has a long way to go as a daughter. Her realization that her mother may be dating Dr. Chris Jackson (Common), Nalini’s rival dermatologist, leads to her decision to follow her mother and spy on her date from the roof of Dr. Jackson’s apartment. Devi’s anger toward her mother for possibly dating so soon after Mohan’s death is understandable, but it’s not warranted, and it’s definitely not an excuse for intruding on Nalini’s privacy.
When Ramakrishnan recently spoke to Collider about Devi’s journey in Season 2, she talked about her connection to Devi and Devi’s struggle to be a good person, saying that:
Honestly, the thing I connect most with is Devi’s story, and this is actually more about Season 2. She wants to be this person that is good, but she’s really struggling. She’s trying, but it’s not working out. She’s not trying to hurt people. That’s something I definitely related to when I was younger. And now, in general, I’m always trying to be perfect, whether it comes to work or being a perfect family member or friend. Having that pressure, when it doesn’t work out, you really overthink it. You freak out about it and you don’t understand necessarily why things are happening and you have a little meltdown at the end.
Devi still has a lot of growing to do, but the show wants us to know that she is getting there. Sometimes trying to be better is the best we can do at the moment, and that’s okay. That’s what makes Never Have I Ever not just a feel-good rom com, but a compelling coming-of-age story. At its core, Never Have I Ever isn’t all about boys, even though they are a part of it. It’s also about identity and coming to terms with who we are, even the parts of us that may not be good. It’s about learning how to give our loved ones the space they need to be themselves and love how they need to and grieve how they need to. And lastly, it’s about learning how to identify ourselves without looking through the lens of peers, family members, or romantic partners.
Devi is not the antagonist in her own story, but simply a girl in the process of becoming someone better—a girl who embraces her identity and who can show up for others. The love saga of Devi, Ben, and Paxton will no doubt play a larger role in Season 3, but for now, the decision to make room for Devi to learn and grow worked for the better.
Never Have I Ever is streaming now on Netflix.
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