Saturday, August 30, 2014

In Defense of Danny Castellano: Part 2 [Guest Poster: Ann]

In part one of Ann's defense of Danny Castellano, she discussed his characterization throughout the first season. The second part of her discussion covers season two and - in particular - Danny's growing relationship with Mindy. Ann is passionate and so very smart; I'm fortunate to have her guest posting about The Mindy Project, so without further ado, welcome her back to the blog by reading the final part of her defense!
Wow, it’s been a while! Sorry for spending so much time away, but now that I am back at school and The Mindy Project returns in less than three weeks (!) I am ready to defend my favorite character ever, Danny Castellano, just in time for season 3.

In my first post about Dr. C, I talked about how his past made his present understandable. Because the show did such a great and quiet job of establishing the sadness behind Danny, we understood his flawed behavior in season 1—why he was mean, stand-offish, and resistant (though not immune) to Mindy’s charms. Everything he did had a greater context that could make him, even at his most despicable, a sympathetic figure.


With the end of season 1 and the beginning of season 2—and as you will see in this post—there’s little use in defending Danny’s actions through only his past. That is because the focus of season 2 is much different than the focus of season 1. Whereas season 1 cracks Danny’s “gristle and icy exterior,” season 2 is where that exterior shatters and we see where his “warm heart” beats.


I’ve always believed the two season finales could have operated very well as series finales, as they tied up their seasonal arc so well. Season 1 ended with two people in a doctor’s lounge who, with the other’s help, had opened up: Mindy to a serious and committed relationship, Danny to the possibility of closure. If the series had ended there, we would have felt secure that Mindy and Danny, at least, had bettered themselves in major ways.


But we would have also felt an underlying melancholy, or at least I would have. It’s ballsy to me that the show could have potentially ended on so subtle a sadness, of these two people helping each other so much but not quite being on the same frequency as the other. Someone wrote on Tumblr once a very, very long time ago about the song “Midnight City” and its use in this scene and how the repeating motif of the song (from Mindy and Casey to the actual climax of Mindy and Danny) makes you realize how connected these two people could be. “What are you waiting for?” the song asks. If the show had ended there, we would have never been able to see that they were really waiting for each other. It would have just been an echo from a failed almost-kiss.

I mention all of this because I want to make this point first: in the first season I could defend Danny without making Mindy the central focus. In the second season, this is impossible, because the second season takes that question—“What are you, Danny Castellano, waiting for?”—and explores it until we end up on the top of the Empire State Building. The first season was mostly about moving on from neglect and hate; the second season is moving onto love.


Another difference you’ll see in this defense is that, while I was defending a general pattern of behavior from Danny in season 1, in season 2 I am defending specific actions that Danny took. I’ll partition it into, I think, five parts: the opening arc (“All My Problems” to “Sext”), the pre-kiss (“Racist” to “The Desert”), the short-lived relationship (“French Me, You Idiot” to “Be Cool), the aftermath (“Girl Crush” to “The Girl Next Door”) and the finale, during which so much happens that there’s a lot of ‘splainin to do. Within these four parts, Danny does certain actions that can make sense with help of the surrounding episodes or scenes.

Let’s begin! Did you miss me?!

I spoke a lot about the finale of season 1, because I think season 1 leaves threads that season 2 draws on effectively—again, the repercussions of the almost-kiss between Mindy and Danny. That action cannot be overstated: it was a BIG MOMENT between these two people.


So when you look at the premiere, you might, if you are like I was, be so confused as to how these two people almost kissed and then never talked about it. (It’s as if it never happened!)

But the truth is that the dynamic between Mindy and Danny has shifted in a perfect way between the two seasons. A big way. As I said, the first season dynamic between Mindy and Danny is Mindy pushing and Danny trying to resist her, in any capacity. After they have such a close call, some part of Danny, I think, understands that if he’s going to resist her in the biggest way of all—also the way he’s most afraid of, the L O V E way—he can no longer pretend they aren’t friends. It’s like if you had an army and wanted to protect your most precious resource. The other army is gaining and you can’t control them, but if you don’t reallocate your resources you’ll lose the battle completely.

A war analogy! Love is a battlefield, according to Jordin Sparks and Pat Benatar, so I’m not surprised.

OK. So the first arc of the season—the “Danny realizes he has feelings for Mindy” arc—begins with both of them recognizing their friendship to each other. Another benefit of doing this is that it allows them to take their relationship to new lengths under false pretenses. Like, c’mon, writing letters constantly all summer? I can’t even get my friends to answer my text messages.

So they’re friends, and that allows them to move closer without having to face that they are—especially for Danny, who is so resistant to recognizing his feelings that the purpose of an entire episode—“You’ve Got Sext,” of course—was pretty much to get him to that conclusion. And while they’re acting under suppressed emotions for each other, they’re still unable to resist taking steps closer in any way they can—like kisses on the cheek, or jealousy, or lingering looks, or knowing very small details about each other. It’s friendly, but they’re not friends. Give me a break.


In an interview Ike Barinholtz gave in 2013 he mentioned that these opening episodes would bounce back and forth between Mindy’s feelings for Danny and Danny’s feelings for Mindy—how, with these collection of episodes, you’d have a good case that these two people are into each other. I agree so strongly with that idea. As we’re talking about Danny, let’s paint a cursory picture of his feelings from “All My Problems” to “Sext,” when he realizes he has feelings for her. (One of my favorite things is that—though their relationship is not always at the center of the A-plot—there is no episode in The Mindy Project that doesn’t have a Mindy and Danny moment within it.)

Quickly: “All My Problems” includes Danny writing Mindy letters, running to her hospital bed, grinning like a huge idiot (except for at her engagement and soon-to-be-marriage), and finding her when her fiancĂ© couldn’t; “The Other Dr. L” involves the CUTEST “bye bye” in the history of the world; “Music Festival” has Danny watching Mindy as she walks away from kissing him on the cheek, not to mention that he sacrificed seeing his favorite band for her benefit; in “Magic Morgan” he takes Casey’s shirt from Mindy and tells her that she’s “gotta get out of the apartment” to escape her sadliness; in “Wiener Night” Danny tipsily kisses her on the cheek, tries to look at her boobs, gets jealous over Cliff and protective of Mindy because Jason treats her badly; in “Sk8er Man” Mindy and Danny both date someone to prove a point to the other, namely the point that “when [Mindy likes] someone, he’s a loser, and when [she] doesn’t, [she’s] too picky” (hmm, wonder why that is?)…


Which all leads us to “Sext,” where Danny’s finally forced to confront those feelings. There are so many tropes in this episode—the fake couple, the misunderstanding of Mindy’s crush—which, for a lot of shows, would define the episode. Despite these tropes, and the contrivances to make them possible, this episode is more so a brilliant display of the character development of Danny and how he was able to get to this point. (Tropes and contrivances, by the way, aren’t bad things—they are what make romantic comedies work—unless the movie, TV show or book depends on them too much. In this episode, these are only jumping points for the actual focus on characterization).

I bring up that the trope-y nature of this episode isn’t important because, in this defense of Danny Castellano, it’s important to understand how close to breaking point he was anyway. It’s not like he would have never realized his feelings for Mindy without “Sext.” Not like it didn’t help, but the fact is… even what Danny understands of his feelings (what has taken him the whole series to “Sext” to understand!) is not the full truth.

Chris Messina said “You’ve Got Sext” was his favorite episode when asked at the beginning of season 2, saying about Mindy and Danny: “I think they’re great friends who have a real love for each other. Certainly Danny doesn’t know how much he actually loves Mindy, but I think he does love her, despite the fact she drives him crazy.”


I remember when this came out and FREAKING OUT about the use of the word “love.” No matter which early season 2 episode Chris was talking about in this quote, I think it’s true all the way up to “Officer and a Gynecologist” that Danny—even while making strides in his understanding of his feelings for Mindy—knows so little of the truth, if even in October Chris was pulling out the word “love.”

This is a common theme for Danny, by the way: he underestimates his feelings for Mindy, he underestimates Mindy’s feelings for him. For the former, it comes from a fear of love—a fear of how much he loved in the past and how he feels he is responsible for that unraveling—to the point where he’d rather not love than mess up love twice. For the latter, it’s a matter of insecurity; it’s impossible for him to believe Mindy’s feelings could be that strong, because when he chose to have faith in his dad or in Christina in that way, they both let him down.

So in part one, the conclusion is: Danny is always one step behind, or maybe a bunch of steps behind, in understanding how he feels for Mindy. His early contempt for her was interest. His interest in her was friendship. His friendship with her was shielding feelings, and his feelings were shielding their depth, how as early as “Sext” Danny was in love with her.

If you’re a fan of The Mindy Project—and if you’ve come this far, I think you just might be!—you know the frustration of how noncommittal the writers were in admitting that Mindy and Danny were destined to fall in love with each other. Modern TV, I guess, doesn’t like real love stories.

After the airing of the finale, Mindy Kaling was asked when she knew Mindy and Danny were long-haul (as opposed to Ross-Rachel on-and-off). She responded that, though it was always a possibility, it was “Christmas Party Sex Trap” where it became inevitable that Mindy and Danny would end up on the top of the Empire State Building, in love as opposed to anything lesser.

Why? Because, Mindy Kaling said, when Danny does that dance for Mindy, she knew he was doing it out of love. Whether from Chris’s acting choices or the weight of the gift itself (the time commitment, the years-old meaning behind the song choice) or both, Mindy Kaling knew after “Christmas Party Sex Trap” that Danny definitively was in love with Mindy, that there was no other path for these two to take because any other path would be dishonest to the characters.


(Which I love.)

Given that the two episodes between “Sext” and “Christmas Party Sex Trap” aren’t too significant to the Mindy-Danny love story, I think it’s worth saying that Danny was in love with Mindy very early on, especially in the context of how much “show time” passed before he got to that conclusion. (The show presents it as at least six months of denial).

I’m obviously building to something—specifically, the answer to that question. What is Danny waiting for? Why is he waiting, or, in context of the season, what’s with the hesitation?

Because Danny kisses Mindy in “The Desert” only when faced with the possibility that when the plane lands, he may never have the chance again to express his feelings for her. He kisses her after laying his feelings bare (adding the “comma Cliff” to his own sentiments) and after the turbulence brings him back to the first time Mindy and he made a connection that was inexcusably something more. He is vulnerable to the impulse to follow his feelings and kiss her, because the entire episode strips those layers of resistance from him.


To be clear: the feelings are not impulsive. The act is, which propels us to the arc of their short-lived relationship, where Danny’s hesitation is now explicitly in the context of their romance. “I’m sorry” is the first thing Danny says after kissing Mindy. “I probably shouldn’t have done that, right?”

During the time between “The Desert” and “French Me, You Idiot,” Tracey Wigfield did an interview with Entertainment Radio where she previewed the final 8 episodes of the season by saying, “We wanted to set up a thing where it wasn’t going to be an easy road for Mindy and Danny and that there were built-in complications to how they got together… and Mindy and Danny really confronting ‘what did that kiss mean.’ Was it just a thing in the moment or is this something worth pursuing?”

Cliff, and the plot of “French Me You Idiot,” is awesome, and it’s necessary, but Cliff shouldn’t be the focus. “French Me You Idiot” has its biggest purpose in foreshadowing “Be Cool.”

I should be honest with you—I introduced this piece as a defense of Danny Castellano, but it’s really a piece as a defense of why he broke up with Mindy in “Be Cool.” If you didn’t know “Be Cool” was happening, it might have sucker-punched you much like it did the AV Club, who gave the episode a “C-” because, as they said, “the show offered us a lovestruck, pancake-making Danny about five minutes in and turned him into a callous rebounder by the end of the hour. … [and how] an off-handed comment from a pharm girl would make him run from Mindy.”

This opinion—this awful, wrong, bad, short-sighted, and childish opinion—is what I am defending. I am defending why Danny broke up with Mindy, why he reacted the way he did, and why the “Be Cool”/“Girl Crush” episodes fit in with what we know of Danny as a character and what we’ve always known. Maybe that’s my passion as a writer—to blast how irritated I was at this lack of understanding of his character, this slaughtering of Danny’s motivations and rationale. To condense it into “an off-handed comment” disrespects the entirety of the series, because it disrespects the character development of someone so complex.

Because what “French Me, You Idiot” and “Indian BBW” should make clear is that Danny, even when he has everything he has ever wanted, is hesitant and afraid. He’s looking for excuses. “Let’s just chalk it up to the blue corn chips and the altitude. This whole thing was a mistake.” “We’re not having sex, so technically, we’re not dating.” In every instance where Danny is resisting Mindy—from his first “I’m sorry” to the one that closes out “Be Cool”—it is not resistance from a lack of love. It is a resistance from too much!


As Chris Messina explains:  “I think that he was in a terrible divorce and he’s madly in love with this woman and I think he’s afraid of going down that road again, and when that happens to somebody — a man or a woman — you don’t want to be the guy that keeps f--king up constantly. I think he’s almost afraid of himself and what he might do in the relationship, so ultimately it’s about love.” Ultimately, it is about love.

That is why in the second season it’s impossible to defend Danny without Mindy being the key component. Not that she wasn’t important in the first season—but in the second, Danny’s development is not from being exposed to Mindy, it’s from being “madly in love” with her. A really big difference.

Unfortunately, it’s a difference that sometimes gets lost when people watch Danny as a person they could encounter, as opposed to a character whose insights we’re privy to. Allow me to explain: in real life, if you were Mindy and you knew a Danny—who after kissing you apologized, who after breaking up with you apologized, and in the middle tried to write off the entire thing as a mistake or a fluke—it would be unreasonable behavior because it is also characteristic of people that aren’t as well-intentioned as Danny Castellano.

But here’s the thing: we, the audience, are not Mindy. We see, where she doesn’t, the way he smiles at her in “French Me, You Idiot”:


We see how he asks his brother if Mindy’s not having sex with him because she doesn’t like him.

We see how he smiles when she kisses him good morning, when all she hears is “Stop it, go back to bed”:


We see him reacting to pharm girl Brooke’s comment in the context of a million different other things—not just his past with Christina, but with Mindy trying to make him jealous, Peter yelling at him for messing it up, Jeremy and Morgan telling Mindy how bad of an idea it is to get involved with someone in the practice…we see both sides. Knowing that the show hands us those pieces not as a fluke but as encouragement for us to look deeper and to question why instead of to take a limited perspective is what makes Danny’s actions so worth defending.

Dramatic irony is defined by Encyclopedia Britannica as the plot device where the audience’s knowledge of events or individuals surpasses that of the characters. Where Danny seems noncommittal or callous is a perspective for a character to take, not for the audience. We have the pieces that allow us to know better. We have pieces from as early as the “Pilot,” when Danny smiles at Mindy as she laughs at his joke, that clearly indicate that it is, ultimately, all about love.

Whew.

So, Danny breaks up with Mindy in “Be Cool” as an accumulation of many things: the circumstances of the party, the failure he’s experienced in the past, and the underestimation he has of both his and Mindy’s feelings (“you’ll get attached to me,” he says, as if she’s not already, as if he is doing her a favor by breaking up with her now). He breaks up with her not because he doesn’t like her but because he fears that the farther in they go, the more damage he will cause—which is really sad, that he has so little faith in himself in having a successful relationship with someone he loves. Equally as sad is that Danny’s “capacity to love”—which I spoke about in part 1—is being used in “Be Cool” in sacrifice. He loves Mindy so much that he lets her go.

So what about “Girl Crush,” and Danny’s relationship with Sally Prentice? Is it callous to date someone so soon after a break-up?

We have to ask why he did it first. Why did Danny pursue Sally Prentice so soon and within the office and against Peter’s desires?

Again, the episode is given to us through Mindy’s perspective. She’s in pain and she’s heartbroken. But if the Sally Prentice arc shows us anything (“Girl Crush” to “Officer and a Gynecologist”) it’s that Danny is in just as much pain, is just as heartbroken. When Mindy’s crying in bed, Danny’s looking back towards the window. When Mindy sits alone in the hot pipe room, Danny has an empty seat next to him in the conference room. When Mindy “thinks like a Peter” and through aggressive means hooks up with Lee (and apparently aggressive ends…), Danny takes an equally easy way out by dating a woman who so quickly sends out pictures of her breasts.

And they are both lonely. Mindy has a heartbreak box. Danny eats chicken breast alone. Mindy throws herself into her work, and Danny looks for anyone to talk to. And when they finally do talk in “Officer,” it’s hard for them to restrain how happy they are to see each other. In almost every case their actions are reciprocal.


Danny breaking up with Mindy may seem like it gives him the upper hand, but it doesn’t. Both Mindy and Danny had to experience losing the love of their life, which only happened because both of them were equally subject to the biggest built-in complication of all: fear.

Danny’s fear leads to his hesitation, his lack of certainty in his feelings and Mindy’s—in what is the truth. And Mindy’s fear is bred from Danny’s; because Danny is so hesitant, Mindy suffers from the effects and doesn’t trust his feelings when they finally are declared in the women’s bathroom.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at the end of “An Officer and a Gynecologist.”


I mentioned the biggest problem between the two was fear and uncertainty. The end of “An Officer and a Gynecologist” mends that conflict, in a small part, with the dawning understanding from Danny that he loves Mindy. If he was trying to get out of the relationship to stop attachment, he now knows he was wrong.

His immediate reaction to realizing he loves Mindy? He breaks up with Sally, who was a rebound (because you do not need to rebound if you’re not going to move on). He perks up at “husband” (for GOD’s sake):


And he tries to get Mindy to live in his second apartment, and he buys her stuff from Target, and he has fourth meal and watches a Jennifer Love-Hewitt movie with her, and he gets super jealous when saucy officer Tim Daly comes along. Oh, and he tries to kiss her.


Why, Danny?!

Because we’ve been having so much of the series devoted to Danny not knowing the breadth of his feelings, in “Girl Next Door” it’s a little disorienting to see him unbridled. And I’m sure, for a guy who’s literally been jaded on love since he was—like, 13?—it’s disorienting for him to be so unbridled. And he doesn’t act totally admirably, especially from Mindy’s perspective, but Mindy is wrong.

She says to him, “You only wanted to because I’m about to go on a date.”

He responds, “No, that’s not why. I just—I wanted to.”

Understandably—without the knowledge that he wanted to because he is in love with her—Mindy gets angry, saying to Danny, “You turn it on, you turn it off, you change your mind a million times…”

But Mindy’s wrong. Mindy, like the AV Club, mistakes the narrow perspective as the full perspective. But Mindy, being a character and not part of the audience, can’t recognize the dramatic irony, and we can.

Danny hasn’t changed his mind when it comes to his feelings for Mindy. His feelings have only grown since the Pilot. Mindy mistakes his fear for capriciousness, and they’re not the same thing. (Not that she is to be blamed! Not at all. But I’m defending Danny Castellano here, and by doing that I have to state clearly that it all comes down to which perspective the viewer is honed in on. Both Mindy and Danny have legitimate cases. We don’t have to decide which one is better; we just need to appreciate both.)

Which leads us to “Danny and Mindy,” which is good, because this is quite long. “Danny and Mindy” is Danny’s final shot at getting Mindy to be with him—by trying to emulate the romantic comedies that he made fun of in the Pilot. But his premeditated plots are the ones that fail him the most and are the least important to us as audience members.

Danny wants Mindy back so badly that he feels that he needs to follow the formula that she’s been proven to adore, but that formula is so much less interesting than what we learn about Danny in the episode. It’s what we learn about him that makes him worth loving.


First – even though those plans were not good, Danny would do them. He’d create a fake identity, he’d take out ad space in the “Was it You?”, he’d run the risk of making a complete fool of himself (which is what happens). He would do things that were 100% Mindy-inspired and selfless and time-consuming, just so he could be with her.

When those plans doesn’t work, he goes and he makes her soup. And he goes to confess, running the risk it would be humiliating and would hurt.

But when she’s so warm to him, however, he says this to us—again, informing the audience: “Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing. Especially when you really, really don’t want to.” From Danny’s mouth himself, we know how desperately he wants to be with Mindy.


When he runs the risk of losing her, he tells her he loves her, because he can feel her slipping through his fingers. He can’t believe she doesn’t see that he loves her (“I don’t believe you,” she says, and he says, “Yes you do!” like she’s a crazy person). He tells her to meet him at the Empire State Building so he can prove himself to her.

A bump in the road in “what we are learning about Danny” is that he went off to get pizza. Why did he do that? I’ve discussed it before—in short, that he and Mindy both need one last push, because they both doubt themselves one last time—but there’s also one palpable message that makes it not really matter that he didn’t wait all night for her:

Danny would do anything for Mindy. 

Would he stay at the top of the Empire State Building if he felt it wasn’t for Mindy? No. If Danny knew that Mindy would come to the Empire State Building, would he stay for the entire night? Yes. He would stay for an entire week, if he knew it would be for her, if that was what she wanted.

He felt that she didn’t want him, that she was going to move on from being the “stupidest person in the world.” Would staying up there all night when it wouldn’t have been for Mindy be worth it? No.

But look at everything I’ve written about this episode. The hackneyed plans. Going to “every place Meg Ryan ever laugh-cried.” Leaving work to make her soup. Going into the women’s bathroom, even when she could have been naked! And, at the climax, running through the city and getting hit by a car and not losing a beat so that he can get to her as soon as possible.

He goes to the top and he starts yelling her name, and he looks like a crazy person, and then he sees her and he goes and lies down on the disgusting floor of the Empire State Building and he would do all of that dumb stuff, or really any sort of stuff, if he knew that it would make her happy, or if it would make her less sad.


That is the point I’m trying to get at here. Danny deserves redemption because his fault is fear, which is so relatable, I think. It’s not a lack of love, and is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, do I need to write it more?, ever from a lack of love. The entire second season is built upon love.

Danny did not act flawlessly in the second season. He acts as a complex character would, lashing out at people out of fear and uncertainty and insecurity. But it’s not from a bad place.


As Chris Messina says: ultimately, it’s all about love.

3 comments:

  1. Ann, I love you and your analyses so so so much. You are honestly the reason I came to love The Mindy Project as much as I do. Thank you for taking the time and effort to do all this! You are AWESOME!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is such a great analysis of Danny's character! I fully agree 100%! It kind of frustrates me when people don't properly understand Danny (most people still don't understand, sadly).

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree as well. Your analysis is "spot on" and I couldn't agree more that many don't get this show and it's characters. If they only tune in to watch "once in a while" they are missing out on this great story Mindy is telling us. Her writing is brilliant and you have made it very clear just how brilliant she (and her writers) are.

    ReplyDelete