For three seasons, Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s coming-of-age-teen comedy Never Have I Ever drew viewers into the messy, awkward love life of Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan). During her tenure in high school, she’s fallen for her former class rival/frenemy Ben Bross (Jaren Lewison); crushed on hot jock upperclassman Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet), who became her boyfriend for some time; and, later in the new season, an intelligent Indian boy named Des (Anirudh Pisharody).
But for all the misadventures of Devi’s romantic endeavors, Season 3 reveals the true love of her life all along: her mom Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan). Forget the boys. Devi’s most significant relationship is the mother-daughter relationship that matters most.
In the finale, “…I Lived the Dream,” Devi is scouted to attend a specialized high school in Colorado for her senior year, ensuring her chance of getting into her dream university, Princeton. Devi is torn over the idea: Why would she want to leave her girlies Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young)?
Nalini organizes a visit to the campus, honoring her late husband Mohan’s wishes for Devi to receive the best education. To Devi’s surprise, she finds her tribe of nerds and is convinced to attend.
The boy drama continues: Paxton’s graduation ceremony comes around, and she gets a major gut-punch when she realizes her feelings for Ben after he expresses how much he’ll miss her once she goes. She’s caught up in her feelings. But when she gets home to her mom and they reminisce about all they’ve been through together, Devi has an emotional epiphany. Right then and there, she tells Nalini she wants to stay for her.
The scene is beautifully written and masterfully acted between Ramakrishnan and Jagannathan. It makes you ugly cry. Knowing everything Devi and Nalini have been through together for the past several years thus far makes understanding what this moment means for their relationship that much more powerful.
Since the passing of Mohan, both Devi and Nalini have been at the rockiest of crossroads, trying to reset their relationship amid their grief. Nalini’s overbearingness always conflicted with Devi’s chaotic behavior, and they often didn’t see eye to eye on anything. The arguments that were based on cultural ideologies were always the most chilling and authentic element of the series that resonated with second-generation Americans of immigrant parents. Season 3 marked a new era of growth between the two, as they were as invasively preoccupied with each other’s lives. Instead of Nalini being so caught up in Devi’s life, she focuses on her own.
Nalini engages in a budding friendship with a single Indian mother/nutritionist named Rhyah (Sarayu Blue). It seemed like a wonderful addition to both of their lives, and they bonded emotionally and openly. This is, until Rhyah shows her true nasty colors as her son Des and Devi start dating.
Des and Devi’s relationship started healthy and both moms, Nalini especially, approved of it. Things were smooth sailing, until Rhyah finds Devi in a panicked state after performing in the same space where her father had his fatal heart attack. She interprets Devi’s grief as a red flag and forbids her son from dating her. In the penultimate Season 3 episode “…Had an Indian Boyfriend,” Rhyah goes from being the most understanding person in Nalini’s sphere to her enemy. She tries confronting Nalini for Devi throwing iced coffee in Des’ face, which she did after learning he was completely gaslighting her and was blowing her off according to his mom’s wishes. In a surprising twist to Devi, Nalini’s motherly instinct kicks in and she puts her former bestie in her place, to protect her baby girl.
Despite Devi and Nalini’s relationship not having much of a prominent presence as it did in prior seasons, you feel the weight of their love at the end of the episode, as Nalini comforts a distressed Devi, who’s afraid she’ll never find love. She reassures her by saying, “You’re never too much, and you’re always enough. And one day, you will find someone who loves you exactly as you are.”
Remembering how extensively Devi's mom has been there for her in the past made their love grow stronger than ever before. They have been through hell and back, overcoming the loss of the glue that held them together. Now they formed their own, new bond. Devi seeing her mom as the deciding factor to stay home proves that it was always Nalini and Devi at the end of the day. For someone whom Devi once viciously hated to be the deciding factor in a major life decision demonstrates the amount of growth their relationship has gone through since Season 1.
Sure, the season ended with Devi finally choosing Ben as the boy of her dreams. But in the grand scheme of things, she really chose the love of her life, Nalini.