While the first two seasons of Netflix’s teen comedy Never Have I Ever offered a warm and funny coming-of-age story grounded in emotional meditations on grief and family expectations, season three is a stark reminder that that the protagonists must best grow along with the ongoing arcs of their show.
In Season 3, Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) has finally started a real relationship with her dream boy Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) after he swept her off her feet (hit her with his car) at the prom in town Season 2 finale. There’s no shameful sneaking around at this time, no attempt to date multiple people at once — they’re in a public, committed relationship (well, as committed as someone in high school can be). But it’s clear very early on that while Paxton Devi has forgiven her actions in Season 2 and is fully committed to their relationship, she can’t entirely avoid her own happiness. Consequently, the show stumbles when they’re together and gets a lot stronger when they quit.
Rather than thinking about how to get Paxton to like her and/or date her, Devi spends the first three episodes of the season focusing her energies on finding obstacles in their relationship that she can obsess over . For example, after overhearing girls gossiping in the restroom at school, she focuses like a laser on having sex, fearing that Paxton won’t stay with her unless she sleeps with him (for the record , he’s cool when it comes to taking things slow ). In the second episode, Devi receives an anonymous text warning her that Paxton is not who she thinks he is, causing her to panic. We soon learn that the message came from Haley, Paxton’s former best friend, with whom he had sex and then never spoke to her again. Fearing she might be next, Devi gives her new boyfriend an ultimatum: apologize to Haley or she can’t be with him. Although he initially refuses, Paxton eventually agrees and makes amends with Haley and in the process with several other people he has hurt in the past. Unfortunately, his sincerity leads to the end of their relationship anyway.
Rather than set Devi on a path of personal growth, the breakup ultimately means very little to our heartbroken protagonist.
In the crucial third episode, Paxton and Haley rekindle their friendship and send Devi into a spiral of self-sabotage. Even though Paxton keeps showing her how much he likes and cares for her, she can’t stop fixating on her differences, comparing herself to Haley and wondering why Paxton would want to be with someone like her, if he could be with Haley. She insists people think they don’t make sense as a couple, and by the end of the episode, Paxton has had enough. He tells Devi that she’s the only person who thinks they don’t make sense and that while he likes her, he can’t have a relationship with her until she likes herself.
It’s an important moment, one that feels like a catalyst for a season of change. But rather than set Devi on a path of personal growth, the breakup ultimately means very little to our heartbroken protagonist. An abrupt time jump opens the fourth episode of the season, allowing the series to skip any introspection and emotional healing that might otherwise have taken place (apparently nobody in the writers’ room has seen the fourth season of “Veronica Mars”). It’s an obvious shorthand for storytelling, one that doesn’t do the show any favors. For a series that has spent a lot of time with its main character’s grief — and handled it well — it’s embarrassing that it would skip the resulting pain of Devi’s split from her supposed dream boy, even though it was clear from the start that they probably wouldn’t for long. And it’s even more confusing when it’s clear that Devi doesn’t seem to have learned anything from the whole ordeal, as by the end of episode four she’s found a new crush and is starting the cycle over.
Now it’s possible Netflix executive meddling could derail producers’ plans to dig deeper into Devi’s heartbreak and healing – it wouldn’t be the first time network notes or studio directions have marred a show’s narrative – but we’ll likely never know, if that’s the case. So we have to take everything at face value in Season 3, which means we’re stuck staring at an ill-advised time warp of endless length that allows Devi to emerge on the other side mostly intact but without growing much at all.
Once he wraps things up with Devi, Paxton is essentially freed and the writers can focus on more substantial storylines that deepen his character arc.
Darren Barnet as Paxton Hall-Yoshida in Never Have I Ever (Netflix)
But even if Never Have I Ever fails following Devi’s split, Paxton and the show benefit from their departure. For much of the series, Devi became obsessed with Paxton, treating him as a shiny object to be achieved rather than a person with feelings of his own. Once he wraps things up with Devi, Paxton is essentially freed and the writers can focus on more substantial storylines that deepen his character arc. In other words, the show finally treats him like a human being with his own wants and desires.
We first saw this in Season 2, when Paxton learned he couldn’t go to college on a swimming scholarship and needed to focus on academics. This arc continues in Season 3 once allowed to exist on its own outside of Devi’s story. We see him interacting with various characters, such as giving relationship advice to Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), filming an audition for Eleanor (Ramona Young), and taking Ben (Jaren Lewison) to the hospital when the latter thinks he has appendicitis suffers. It turns out to be something different (and something far more fun), but the situation allows the two most important men in Devi’s life to talk to each other, giving us a glimpse into Paxton’s own insecurities, such as how he was once jealous of Ben was because he was smart like Devi, or like he still doesn’t know who he is beneath the surface. Later, we even see Paxton apply and get accepted to college in Arizona, confirming that all his hard work finally paid off.
So much of what we see in Never Have I Ever is naturally filtered through Devi and her wants and needs. But a show in its third season can’t hold its own from a limited vantage point, especially when its lead refuses to grow and learn from its mistakes. Every single second we spend with the show’s supporting cast is a detour that helps expand the show’s world and strengthen its ongoing narrative. As goofy as Ben’s slur was in his POV episode this season, it was a welcome respite from Devi’s cycle of insecurities and constant boy-chasing. That it allowed both Ben and Paxton’s stories to progress – and the latter was able to reach its full potential – is a bonus. And it was largely possible because neither Ben nor Paxton were dating Devi at the time.
As we head into the fourth and final season of Never Have I Ever, it’s just as important that Devi makes progress too.
While it’s a shame Devi doesn’t co-develop with Paxton in season 3, their split at the end of episode three is still a positive development for the show as a whole. Not only does this mean the writers no longer have to search for obstacles to throw in their path or find ways for Devi’s fear and insecurity to derail them as a couple, but it also means there’s more time, different storylines to explore and focus on the bigger picture. We are confronted with new and different points of view, creating a more rounded and balanced narrative.
Jaren Lewison as Ben Gross and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi in Never Have I (Lara Solanki/Netflix)
But as we head into the fourth and final season of Never Have I Ever, it’s just as important that Devi is making strides, too. The show flirts with growth in the season 3 finale when Devi enters a prestigious boarding school in Colorado and contemplates spending her senior year away from her family and friends. Upon visiting, she discovers that she fits in with the other students, and moving away would allow her to prioritize for herself, so she initially decides it’s best for her and her future. But it would be ridiculous to think that a show would blow up her whole world before its final season, so Devi eventually decides to stay in California. Her dreams have changed and she is not ready to leave her mother anytime soon after losing her father.
Although the new school story pops up out of nowhere and one has to do a lot of of the heavy lifting that could – and should – have been done throughout the season, it’s a good reminder that Never Have I Ever is about, although much of the show focuses on Devi’s love life and her interpretation of it, like others you see, focuses much more than that. It’s also a poignant story about family, about grief and adversity, about fulfilling your potential, and about the complex relationship that exists between mothers and daughters. The writers would be smart to remind themselves more than a few times per season when Devi’s story comes to an end.
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The end of high school is inherently a transformative time. While Devi’s decision to cash in on Ben’s “one free dick” at the end of the season 3 finale doesn’t exactly signal that we’ll see a time when she really prioritizes herself to grow and mature a potential relationship between Devi and Ben could still allow our protagonist to see herself as he does, as so many already do. With only one year left of high school and one season of the show, Devi and Never Have I Ever must both make the most of the remaining time. Hopefully the forward movement that began in the Season 3 finale is a sign that deeper changes are on the way.
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