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Reese Witherspoon and a stranger provide The Mindy Project with necessary hard truths about life, romance

The Mindy Project
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“Girl Gone Wild” takes Mindy Lahiri out of her familiar surroundings and plops her in Boise, Idaho at the Two Turtles resort—where Ben intended to take her for their honeymoon. She decides to take the trip on her own, calling it her #One-ymoon, the best fake Melissa McCarthy movie title (tagline: “One is the horniest number.”) This episode is what has been missing from the season since Mindy’s divorce. The character finally comes to terms with her singlehood in a real, meaningful way. Her entire outlook on life is flipped on its head, and that turning point comes about in a way that’s entirely true to the show’s voice and humor.


The Mindy Project is not the first show to work a reference to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild into its lead character’s existential crisis. Gilmore Girls did it with Lorelai during the show’s revival, and it worked surprisingly well. Similarly, The Mindy Project references Wild in a way that’s very particular to character. Mindy doesn’t even read the book (or watch the movie, for that matter). She only bought it because she liked Reese Witherspoon’s haircut, and she reads the back and assumes it’s about a hot woman going on an outdoorsy, sexy adventure. Mindy Lahiri isn’t the kind of person who would have some great revelation about herself from a book. She’s the kind of person who gets visited by a sage celebrity apparition and thinks that’s not only totally normal but totally useful.

Witherspoon’s cameo is delightful. Mindy, stuck in a cave after she falls behind in the Two Turtles nature hike, expects America’s sweetheart Reese Witherspoon, but she gets straight-talking, hard-truth-revealing Reese Witherspoon instead. It’s weird and funny, the epitome of this show’s relationship with pop culture. Reese’s pep talk is very on-the-nose, but it’s all things that need to be said. She refutes the plotlines of several of her movies, tells Mindy that none of it is real life. Mindy’s greatest flaw is her narcissism, and her obsession with Hollywood happy endings is tied to that. For so long, she thought she could really live like the star of a romantic comedy, and it’s tough for her to hear one of her heroes (not to mention her celebrity hall pass) shoot all of that down. “Life isn’t about finding a man; it’s about finding yourself,” Reese says. Again, it’s on-the-nose, but The Mindy Project is often an unsubtle show that’s very clear about its themes and intents—much like a romantic comedy.

The only guest performance that outshines Witherspoon’s is that of Paul Downs, who is perfectly cast as the serious and peppy Two Turtles employee Brett. It’s almost unsettling to see Downs outside of the context of Broad City, but Brett feels like a close relative of Trey...or even possibly the same character in a different life. The past few episodes of The Mindy Project haven’t really brought it on the humor front, with far too many broad, easy jokes, and “Girl Gone Wild” feels like not only a recentering for the season’s main narrative but also for the show’s specific sense of humor. Brett is the best one-off bit character the show has served in a while, and the episode’s throughline of Mindy being surrounded by coupled up people is both funny (even Pepe the raccoon and Mindy’s preschool-aged son have girlfriends now) and crucial to establishing the character’s sense of loneliness.

On a similar note, I’ve always found Casey—who shows up at Two Turtles with his new, much younger wife Babe—to be one of the funniest of Mindy’s roster of exes, particularly because of Anders Holm’s performance and very specific delivery that somehow makes everything funnier. Like most romantic comedies, The Mindy Project is full of coincidences and chance encounters, and those have been happening more often than usual in this season’s attempt to bring back as many guys from Mindy’s past as possible. And the show has gone in some unexpected directions with those ex encounters. Here, Mindy ends up helping Casey realize he’s ready to be a dad, and it’s a genuinely sweet moment that touches on the characters’ history and how well they know each other. Mindy has marked and measured her life by her relationships, so it makes sense that her exes continue to be a part of it. Casey has always been one of the boomerang exes that she keeps almost rekindling the flame with, and there’s finally some closure here as she helps him with his current relationship instead of exploiting his personal problems for her own personal gain.


But the most significant arc in the episode is Mindy’s relationship with Martha. When first introduced, it seems like Martha’s just a quick punchline, the obstacle that gets in between Mindy and a potential meet-cute on the plane to Boise. But she turns out to be Mindy’s roommate at Two Turtles and remains a mildly annoying presence in Mindy’s #One-ymoon. She’s mostly harmless, but of course Mindy hates her. After the visit from the Reese Witherspoon apparition, she finally takes a moment to really talk to Martha, and she finds out that she was recently widowed and used to come to Two Turtles with her late husband every year. It’s a much bigger wake-up call than the Reese pep talk; Mindy sees for her own eyes that someone can keep living a fulfilling life after love, even after something much worse than divorce. Of all the major breakthroughs Mindy has had so far this season, this one with Martha feels the most honest and organic.

And in what has been the most consistent tradition of this season, the episode sticks the landing with an incredible final scene. Most episodes this season have ended on less of a final beat and more of an ellipses, which is particularly uncommon for sitcoms. But the contemplative, uncertain vibes of this final season are fascinating, particularly because this show does tend to be so unsubtle most of the time. There’s nuance to these endings, and that stands out. It’s tough to get a precise reading on Mindy’s mindset after Martha says she can see her with someone much different than Casey and then basically perfectly describes Danny Castellano. “Well, life is long,” Martha says with a shrug, which gets at something much deeper than Reese Witherspoon’s previous declaration about how life is about finding yourself. Mindy’s literally punched in the face in this episode (which is very par for the course for this character), but she’s also hit with the very real realization that life doesn’t always unfold the way you expect it to.


Stray observations

  • Though they don’t explicitly state it, Mindy getting stuck by her ponytail in the cave and then having to cut herself out definitely seems like a reference to 127 Hours, especially since she also dramatically films herself on Martha’s phone. Brooklyn Nine-Nine also had a 127 Hours reference last week in its Halloween episode.
  • Poor Karen wanted to go on that trip so badly.
  • I know it was a very small part of the episode, but I feel the need to reiterate that I am not on board with Morgan and Tamra’s marriage!
  • The HAIM song at the end is great.

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