Saturday, July 12, 2014

In Defense of Danny Castellano: Part 1 [Guest Poster: Ann]

In the first of what is sure to be more collaboration, I've invited my extremely articulate and passionate The Mindy Project fandom friend Ann to guest post at Just About Write. This is the first part of her guest post titled 'In Defense of Danny Castellano.' Please welcome her to the blog and check out her brilliant commentary regarding our favorite fictional doctor below (and subscribe to her Tumblr while you're at it)!

Hello everybody! I am Ann (overanalyzingtelevision on Tumblr) and I love TV and I love writing and I love talking and I am so excited to be talking about my most favorite of characters on my most favorite of shows.

When the title of the majority of the writing you do about TV is under the name OVERANALYZING TELEVISION, the two assumptions most people make is that you’re a) a television sage or b) a television snob. Neither of those are true. I just love TV. I love tropes and I love seeing how writers on TV shows tell the story they want to tell, and I love seeing actors rise to the challenge of stepping in a character’s shoes and help tell that story, too.

A show is nothing without its characters. No plot is good enough that lame, inconsistent characterization can carry it. And when a show has great characters—with help of the writers, and with help of the actor in charge—it’s the difference between Pizza Hut pizza and pizza from Italy. Like, you’d still eat them both, but which one are you going to Instagram?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Danny Castellano is one of the best characters on television.

To begin my discussion on why a character is great, I want to make it clear that the answer isn’t goodness, or even likability. If we’re being honest, goodness can be boring. What if Hannibal didn’t like killing people and was, like, a dentist?

It all boils down to texture. Realness. People are parts likable and unlikable. People carry conflict and they start conflict. They have idiosyncrasies. They fall in love. They get pissed. They have vulnerabilities and hopes and fears. And memories! The best characters are people, not vehicles for jokes or underdeveloped shells.

A half-glance at Danny Castellano gives you only a shell: a divorcée with daddy issues who begrudgingly falls in love with his banter buddy and best friend. If I had a shot for every trope I just listed, am I right? But he is above and beyond this basic description.

I am a writer—like, the story kind—and I have always viewed fiction storytelling as the construction of an elaborate lie. A good writer is a great liar, and the reader (or, in this case, the viewer) is the one administering the polygraph test. The best readers will be skeptical and the best writers will expect and prepare for this skepticism.

The three questions a writer should prepare for: Why, how and so what? What motivations did a character have to do something, what was the process to lead to an outcome, and what effect does that have on the story?

‘Danny Castellano is a divorcée with daddy issues.’ Both of these were true of Danny before the events of the Pilot. And while ‘daddy issues’ isn’t Danny’s fault—it’s purely, at least to our knowledge, reactionary—the divorce well could be.

Why are things the way they are? What do we know about the divorce that is interesting? We’ve met Danny’s ex-wife—we know she is a dramatic, impulsive, manipulative woman who cannot keep things private (whether she’s asking for Danny back, breaking up with him, or displaying a collection of pretty hot nudes to all of Manhattan). And we know that after the divorce, Danny was devastated—going to Suze Orman conferences, writing letters with drawings of imagined children (in 2008!!), and missing his wife 5 years after she’d left.

Maybe it’s unfair of me to love a character so much based on speculation of why he is the way he is, but it fascinates me the picture these facts, dropped sporadically throughout the 2 seasons, paint before we even consider what Danny does in the present day.

Because here’s who Danny Castellano is, all things considered: he’s a man who has an enormous capacity to love. Enormous, for his devastation to last so long and be so strong. Enormous to try to heal—heal from his dad with Christina, and heal from Christina with Suze Orman.

If we know this as we watch Danny be a complete asshole to Mindy Lahiri in the Pilot, it’s clear that for all the efforts Danny made to find love, he failed. Not because he didn’t want it enough, but because the cards he was dealt were so bad that he lost hope.

How does that manifest itself in Danny? He’s a smoker. He thinks work should be for work only, and he doesn’t mind spending Thanksgiving alone. And, most importantly, the problems in the past have made him terrified—and absolutely doubtful—of love itself.

And then there’s the second part of our statement, the falling-in-love part. How does a man who has shut himself away fall in love with a woman who thinks of romance in the exact opposite way?

You can’t start a fire without a spark, and that tension between Mindy and Danny is the conflict that drives the relationship and the show. Mindy is a person who gives everyone a chance. Danny resists warmth because he’s been burnt before—but the reason the show keeps moving and these characters keep growing is that Danny keeps coming back because despite everything—everything!!—he has been through, and despite his best efforts, he can’t help himself from wanting love. And Mindy sees that potential within him.

What’s that? Hearts in your eyes? Me too.

In the first season, the conflict between Mindy and Danny is primarily about friendship (with a dash of somethin’-somethin’). Mindy is the initiator most of the time. She seeks him out for advice, she texts him, and she challenges him. And Danny, who underneath the gristle and icy exterior a warm heart beats, responds. He goes to the club because of her. He picks her up from school jail. They’re not friends, but they are familiar, and with each episode increasingly so.

The first big turning point between Mindy and Danny, to me, is in Josh and Mindy’s Christmas Party, which is the first time Mindy is vulnerable around Danny. In the previous episodes it was on her to support him, and this episode provides the checkpoint that these little gestures have meant something to Danny, whether he admits it to himself or not.

Here’s a metaphor, Hazel Grace: personality is a tree, with a trunk and a branches and fruit. And if the trunk of Danny’s personality is that he has a high capacity to love (a personality trait my dad would just call ‘emotional’) the branches are that he is protective, caring, selfless, and sweet. And the ‘Josh and Mindy’ fruit is juicy, man. Protective, like telling Ellie Kemper that it’s ‘uncalled for’ to call Mindy chubby? Caring, like going after Mindy when she just wants to cry in her room and close herself off? Selfless, like ditching a date to help a friend (ha) in need? Sweet like a GINGERBREAD HOUSE WITH COTTON CANDY INSULATION?!?! Above and beyond. Danny Castellano is just gross.

Danny’s first deliberate moment of vulnerability (‘Harry and Mindy’) comes not far after ‘Josh and Mindy,’ and it’s as adorable as you’d think it would be, but it’s on the same trajectory. Mindy pushes and Danny responds.

That trajectory is disrupted, however, with ‘Pretty Man,’ as Mindy and Danny and the audience has to question what we’ve seen develop between the two of them but especially within Danny and question what will develop next.

Why is Danny so interesting in ‘Pretty Man’? Because the episode is so much about Danny—all of Danny, the raw, the mean, the suspiciously not platonic. For the first time, Danny expresses to Mindy the fear that everyone hates him (to her shock, having not expected him to react so strongly). Which is cool, but then he keeps going—he is jealous of Brendan, and then loving (“He’s an idiot for treating you badly”) and then that shower seems awful small all of a sudden.

Mindy and Danny as a romantic possibility, from episode 1, is something I could talk about for eons—and something I really believe is palpable from the beginning of the show—but the writers are a lot more conservative than Chris Messina’s eyeballs. I think ‘Pretty Man’ … take a deep breath, this is linguistic acrobatics … ‘Pretty Man’ clues us in on the underlying romantic tension that explodes in ‘Santa Fe,’ an episode which then sets in motion the tension building to the big moment in ‘Take Me With You.’

Stay with me here! So in ‘Pretty Man,’ Danny is vulnerable, which we as an audience have become used to, but then we get a peek of something more from him (‘potential to love,’ you know?) .

With the end of ‘Pretty Man,’ and the end of Danny’s resistance to Mindy’s friendship (in light of deeper feelings), a cycle with increasing stakes begins, where Danny and Mindy come closer—and almost connect—but just miss each other. In ‘Santa Fe,’ Mindy and Danny hold hands, and Danny responds (grabbing her hand again), but then Christina comes in. The season closes with an almost kiss, but Casey and Christina are enough to stop Mindy and Danny, at least temporarily.

I love ‘Take Me With You’ because it juxtaposes the Pilot with itself so well. (It wouldn’t be a critical essay if I didn’t use ‘juxtapose,’ right?) Mindy and Danny are back in the doctor’s lounge, but now so much has changed.

Especially with Danny. Yeah, it’s called The Mindy Project, but in the course of that season Danny is the one that changes most. And though he doesn’t leave New York City or cut his hair to Ellen Degeneres lengths, he leaves the first season finally ready to fall in love with Mindy, the only person who believed In him enough to get to that point.

By the end of season 1, Danny Castellano is warm. Not only that, but the almost-kiss paves the way for season 2 and the advent of Danny Castellano love eyeballs. Not that they didn’t exist in season one—because MAN DID THEY:

But season 2 is a whole different animal, an arc produced as a result of the almost-kiss. The central conflict in the first season is whether or not Danny and Mindy can become friends. Though it’s hinted at in every single episode of the first season that there’s something more, it’s only in the final episodes that the tension is acknowledged by the show in a significant way.

As ‘Take Me With You’ ends in the same place, but with very different circumstances, as the Pilot, Danny is not the same person. He’s better. He’s awesome. And he’s more than ready to fall in love.


Part two will be coming soon so keep your eyes open for it! Until then, folks. :)


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