Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Never Have I Ever 1x09 Review: “... had to be on my best behavior” (Flashbacks and Trauma) [Contributor: Jenn]

“... had to be on my best behavior”
Original Airdate: April 27, 2020

I give a lot of grace to teenage characters in television shows. Even though they often frustrate me, I have to remember that they’re supposed to — their brains aren’t fully formed yet and they haven’t learned the critical thinking skills that adults do. But occasionally teenage characters demonstrate growth, pain, or emotions beyond their years. Even though she often fails, Devi in Never Have I Ever is this very character throughout “… had to be on my best behavior.”

Devi has experienced trauma — devastating, life-altering trauma that she cannot process because she’d rather run from it or shove it down. And in this week’s episode, we learn what happens when you try to run from or bury your trauma.


One time when I was in therapy, I uncovered a memory that my subconscious brain had buried. My counselor noted that our brains do that: they push down or hide memories that trigger pain and trauma to protect us. Devi’s brain does the exact same thing, and in this episode, it can’t hide memories anymore.

When we left off last week, Devi thought she saw her dad standing in the kitchen. Very quickly, Devi realizes that it’s not her dad but her visiting uncle. He’s in town to chaperone Kamala’s meeting with her potential suitor, Prashant. But that night, Devi remembers flashes of moments from the night her father died. In flashbacks, we see Devi telling her mother that she hates her. Mohan tries to navigate the tense relationship between the two; they’re fighting in that moment because Devi lost her sheet music for the concert.

In the present, Nalini warns Devi that Kamala’s afternoon is important and so the Devi drama and nonsense will have to stop for that day. It’s triggering for Devi, who recalls memories she’s buried — one in particular from the night of Mohan’s death, where Devi overhears Nalini telling Mohan that Devi is “his daughter,” and that she’s “no daughter of mine.” This wounds Devi in the flashback and is a memory that triggers some deep emotions in the present.

Devi’s desire to push down her uncomfortable memories and trauma is understandable. And really, Never Have I Ever is as much a story of grief as it is a coming-of-age tale. Devi’s unwillingness to do the hard work of confronting her own grief over her father’s death will have consequences. And as John McEnroe narrates in this episode, Devi’s surprised that she’s uncovered a memory she tried hard to forget, and believes distracting herself and smiling through her pain will keep that memory just below the surface. There’s also this moment which repeats a sentiment throughout the show — Devi plays the harp to distract her uncle and Prashant from seeing Kamala and Nalini sneak Steve out of the house. When Devi plays, she recalls happy memories from her childhood with her father. An instrument that only represented grief and trauma suddenly shifted into something happy again. And John McEnroe’s narration is the kicker: Devi thinks she’s cured! There’s nothing wrong with her anymore! (It’s the same reason she thinks her obsession with Paxton will fix what’s wrong with her.)

The problem is, that’s not how memories or healing even work. The more Devi tries to push bad memories away or down or cover them up with good ones, the more the memory is likely to surface at an inopportune moment — and with it, the pain and anger and grief she’s left unresolved too. Because the memory isn’t just about Mohan’s death; it’s a memory that is indicative of the feelings of inadequacy Nalini has fueled throughout the years. That’s the thing about emotional avalanches — they’re rarely about one thing, but many things we’ve left unresolved. Pile up enough unsaid confrontations, unresolved feelings, and trauma and you’re headed straight for an epic disaster.


Throughout the episode, Nalini tells Devi things that trigger wounds she hasn’t dealt with or vocalized yet. When Nalini critiques her, all Devi can think about is how much of a burden she is to her mother and how she doesn’t want her. When Nalini shows grace to Kamala for having a boyfriend even though she’s supposed to be meeting a future spouse but tears down Devi and Paxton for their behavior is also indicative of some of Nalini’s unresolved issues (which we’ll see continue in the next episode).

What I do love about Never Have I Ever is that it shows us glimpses into Nalini’s grief; Devi lost a father but Nalini lost the love of her life. And she admits at the end of the episode that she’s struggling to raise Devi alone without a support system. Without Mohan or family to help her. But Nalini clearly has trauma from Mohan’s death and grief that presents itself in the way she tries to control Devi; she couldn’t control what happened to her husband and sure as heck won’t let that lack of control happen in another area of her life. It’s not hard for Nalini to love but it’s hard for her to express love in a healthy way because she’s in the throes of grief too.

So Nalini is easier on Kamala because it’s easier to be gracious with someone who doesn’t remind you of what you lost. It’s not Devi’s fault, by any means, that Nalini feels this way. But both mother and daughter are deeply grieving the person who held their relationship together and neither know how to move forward expressing love and grace to each other in that struggle. And therein lies the beauty of Never Have I Ever: its unashamed, unflinching look at how our own unresolved pain causes other people pain. That cliché phrase “hurting people hurt people” is a cliché for a reason.

And it’s why the end of this episode hits like a punch to the gut. Devi’s uncle accidentally reveals that he and Nalini have been talking about her and Devi moving to India. Devi is floored, and Nalini admits that it’s because she needs family and support; she doesn’t know how to parent without Mohan beside her. But between the favoritism Nalini seemingly showed Kamala and the grief she’s been burying as well as the anger she’s unwittingly harbored, Devi combusts.

Devi tells her mother that she knows she’s a burden, and Nalini looks surprised that Devi feels this way. Devi’s admitting, in her own pain, that Nalini makes her feel unloved and unwanted. And then Devi confesses that she overheard Mohan and her talking the night he died. Poorna Jagannathan does an impeccable job at conveying the pain on Nalini’s face: both that Devi overheard her in her anger and frustration, and also that what Devi gleaned from that was that she’s unwanted.

But then Devi goes a step further and, in her pain, she seeks to only wound. That’s when she tells her mother that she wishes the one parent who cared about her was still alive. And she wishes that it was Nalini, not Mohan, who died that night. With grief and pain, she closes the door in Nalini’s face and thus, we hit the lowest point we’ve seen Devi at thus far.

Favorite things:
  • I like that John McEnroe’s narration takes on more of a serious, counseling tone in this episode, especially because it’s a really pivotal episode for Devi’s trauma.
  • “You cannot run in Los Angeles at night! This is the city of Charles Manson and Harvey Weinstein!”
  • “Great, thank you for relieving the pressure.”
  • “I’m sorry I called you hot.” I love how everyone, including Devi’s mom, is smitten with Prashant.
  • “And when I come home later, I will fix this.” Ugh, heartbreaking.
  • “There are more boys coming and going in this house than a GameStop.”
  • “Paxton, these are very unforced errors.”
  • “I kinda like you.” “I kinda like you too.”


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