[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the fourth and final season of Never Have I Ever. Read at your own risk!]
Never Have I Ever is, like Devi herself, a lot. The Netflix comedy series, created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, follows high-strung and hot-tempered Indian American teen Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) as she navigates high school in the wake of her father's death. It's a coming-of-age story, it's a show about grief, it examines Devi's relationship with her Indian identity, it's a nuanced and lovely look at a complicated mother and daughter duo, and it is most definitely about a real top-notch love triangle situation. The fourth and final season gives time to all these aspects of its overall story, but let's not kid ourselves: Today I'm here to talk about that last thing. A good fictional love triangle is one of the purest joys in life, and Never Have I Ever's central triangle between Devi, "high school Adonis" Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet), and "obnoxious hobbit" Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison) is a great one. It works well for two reasons: First, because you could potentially see Devi ending up with either of her options — Paxton, the dreamy popular guy she's been lusting after since the third grade, and Ben, her self-proclaimed nemesis she's been butting heads with for 12 years, each work as a partner for Devi at different times — and second, because Devi's final choice really plays into the show's main thesis.
In the end, Devi winds up with Ben Gross as her happily ever after, a decision that works not just because enemies-to-lovers is one of the oldest (and most satisfying) romantic tropes in existence. (Don't worry, Paxton gets a nice little happy ending, too, in which he finally realizes who he wants to be outside of King of Sherman Oaks High — a teacher!) Never Have I Ever is, ultimately, about the idea of letting your dreams, the plans you have for your life, adapt and change and grow. It's a lesson that a person can learn in all sorts of ways, at various times in their life, but one that definitely arrives hand in hand with profound loss. The aftermath of a loss like the one that kicks Devi's story off in Season 1 looks different for everyone, but whether your grief is mostly anger or depression or a manic need to stay busy or a fun mix of all those things, grief is very much about the recalibration of your life without that person in it. Really, life is all about recalibration; whether you lose someone you love or face rejection or something just doesn't work out exactly the way you planned, eventually you have to learn how to move forward in a different way than you thought you would. It's a lesson that Devi has learned over and over again throughout the course of the series, even if the show doesn't really call it out directly until the very end. Never Have I Ever was smart to choose to explore this part of life by way of a character who is as ambitious and competitive and Type A as Devi is — a person who will resist that truth for as long as possible.
And we've seen Devi resist it, right? The first two seasons of the series, in particular, are about Devi finally confronting the fact that her dad (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is gone. She certainly never imagined a life without her father. This fourth season forces Devi to imagine a world without going to Princeton, too. When she gets waitlisted from the only school she's ever wanted to go to — a goal, we learn, that is tied up with her relationship with her dad — it's heartbreaking, especially as she also gets rejected from every other school she's applied to (all Ivies, mind you). Repeatedly, as Devi spirals about her ultimate failure, she is told by the adults around her — her mother (Poorna Jagannathan), college counselor Ms. Warner (Alexandra Billings), and therapist Dr. Ryan (Niecy Nash-Betts) — that this isn't the end of the world, but she cannot process that. In one of the best scenes of the season, Devi has one last session with Dr. Ryan, who gets a little teary-eyed herself trying to help Devi see that not getting into Princeton, if that's what happens, would eventually just be a blip in the course of her entire life. Dr. Ryan is the one to explicitly remind Devi that dreams should evolve; Devi isn't the same person she was when she was a freshman, after all. And as much as Devi rages and lies and cries about it, all very typical Devi reactions, we get to see just how much she's changed when she finally sits down to write a supplemental essay that could help her with the very slim possibility of moving off the Princeton waitlist and being officially offered a spot. She writes that while Princeton has always been her dream and she would never take a moment for granted if she were accepted there, she also knows that she'll survive without it. That's huge for Devi. That's Devi reevaluating her dreams and imagining her life with new dreams. Sure, she eventually gets into Princeton, but it's certainly not in the way she had planned, and that in itself is a lesson that clearly has changed her.
Devi's love triangle is the perfect representation of this entire concept. When we first meet Devi, Paxton is clearly the dream: a dreamboat and the dream boy. She literally dreams about him. When she's working out her Paxton vs. Ben pros and cons list in Season 2, all of Paxton's pros are superficial ones that point to Devi not really knowing who Paxton really is. Even when she is initially dating him, he's this nebulous Hot Boy. In the very first scene of the series, we find Devi praying to her gods ahead of sophomore year, and her top priority is getting a boyfriend. Any boyfriend will do as long as it's "not some nerd from one of [her] AP classes." She just wants a hot, popular guy, and Paxton is, of course, the hot, popular guy.
Mercifully, both we in the audience and Devi get to learn who Paxton is as a fully-dimensional human being. And while even with humanizing layers he remains a dreamboat, things don't work out romantically between them. At first, that's mostly because of Devi's wild insecurities, but by the end of Season 3, Devi is able to see it's for the best. As Devi says goodbye to Paxton before he heads off to college — in a scene full of closure 10 times more satisfying than the "closure" conversation they get in Season 4 (Paxton's Season 4 arc did not need a rehashing of his romance with Devi; it was fine without it!) — Paxton thanks Devi for pushing him to believe in himself, and Devi thanks him for helping her get through her dad's death by being "the dream." Even she can admit what Paxton was to her romantically (their friendship, however, is pretty lovely). Devi gets her dream of having a hot boyfriend and comes to find that it is not exactly what she thought it would be, and that having just any boyfriend, as hot and nice as he is, might not be what she really wants or needs. She is recalibrating.
Then there's Ben. Ben is literally the "nerd in [her] AP classes" Devi prayed against. And yet time and time again, through make-outs and break-ups and copious amounts of insults shared (these two really are both menaces to society in their own special ways) and awkward sex, it became obvious to Devi that Ben Gross understood her more than anyone else in her life. When all of the college drama goes down and most people simply assure Devi that things will work out, Ben tries to remind her that things will be OK, but he is also the only one to acknowledge — and fully get — how devastating this is for her. She offers the same understanding for Ben: During the college fair, as Ben spirals, sweats, and winds up covered in paint before meeting with the Columbia rep, it's not his girlfriend Margot (Victoria Moroles) who can calm him down, but Devi, who gives him the shirt (why yes, he is a women's medium) and pep talk he needs to go nail that interview. There have been instances like this over and over throughout Never Have I Ever's four seasons. They're still real dummies sometimes — after they have sex for the first time, neither knows what the other needs, and it causes a whole lot of avoidable conflict — but more often, when they aren't trying to look cooler than they are or relying on the emotional crutches they've built themselves to survive high school, they're each able to offer what the other needs.
Remember that time Ben (slowly) drove Devi to Malibu to make sure she was there to spread her father's ashes? Or how he rushed over to her house the minute he found out she didn't get into college and pushed her to keep trying? Over time, the "pro" Devi put under Ben's name in Season 2 about the two of them having a lot in common starts to become more important to her. Her dream boyfriend feels a little more rooted in reality; she's evolving, and so is her idea of what she wants and needs. In the end, she doesn't want just a boyfriend; she wants a relationship. She wants to love someone and be loved, even if she is, sometimes, self-admittedly, a little "too much." And she gets that with Ben, who is also a lot at times (so many times). Looking back over the series as a whole and understanding the journey Devi was on — one about learning to let your dreams evolve along with you — Devi ending up with Ben feels right. Something else that feels right? These two ding-dongs thinking the commute between Princeton and Columbia will be easy. That's a long-distance relationship right there, kids, and long-distance is, as Devi would say, hella hard (also: not toit). But if anyone can make that work, it's the two most competitive people on the planet.
Never Have I Ever Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.