The Mindy Project “Slips” Up on Consent

14891391940_c7d9095e1a_oIn last night’s episode of The Mindy Project, the title, “I Slipped,” was an unfortunate harbinger of what was to come. The writers aimed high, covered the ambitious topic of consent, but ultimately fell down a slippery slope.

After reading that Mindy and Danny were set to face a major relationship hurdle, I expected in-law meet-and-greets, marriage talk or a Tupperware-buying excursion. Not quite. Instead, the “new challenge” they faced was consent.

The episode tracks the couple in the aftermath of a nonconsensual night during which Danny surprises Mindy by, well, “slipping through the backdoor” (i.e., engaging in nonconsensual anal sex). The “miscommunication”—as the incident is framed—creates a rift between the couple, and the episode scrambles to follow along.

To pause for a moment: How Mindy and Danny lasted this long in a relationship (five episodes at this point, spanning over the summer hiatus) without discussing consent is troubling. Strike one for the episode. 

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Having a conversation about consent is difficult but necessary, so it’s important to commend the writers for weaving such discourse into the script, yet they made their fair share of blunders along the way.

To start, Mindy focuses on Danny’s pleasure over her own throughout the episode: acquiring sedatives so she can please Danny without being fully conscious; getting sex advice from Peter for the same purpose; and discarding her grandma’s bathrobe purely for Danny’s enjoyment. As the plot complicates, never does Mindy prioritize her sexual desires or her right to consent—an unfortunate and familiar narrative in women’s lives.

The last two scenes reinforced this theme, leaving me squirming in my seat. Danny, who performed a sexual act without Mindy’s consent, is somehow positioned as the ultimate boyfriend at the episode’s close. Somehow his character doesn’t need to apologize for overstepping boundaries. Rather, Mindy is characterized as being dramatic (per usual), and the problem is normalized as something that must happen to all couples. His excuse for an apology:

OK, no more lies. You want the truth about the other night? Here’s the real truth: It didn’t mean anything, and I don’t want you to be anything. I just tried something, alright? That’s it. Because America was built on trying things. [A pause for speculation] No, no, no—this is good: When the pioneers went out west on the wagon train, they didn’t know what they were gonna find—bears? scorpions? But they just tried it out, and you know what they found? Gold. The Grand Canyon. I mean, California? No, thanks. But the San Diego Zoo’s nice. In America, you just go for it. You just go for it, and sometimes you pay the price. And sometimes… jackpot.

Excuse me? Did you just compare Mindy’s bodily autonomy to the Oregon trail and the California ‘49ers? A major strike two.

Mindy responds to his supposed “charisma” with the best line of the show:

If you want to try something freaky, just run it by me first.

To be sure, not everything about this episode was problematic (case in point: the line above), and the writers should be commended for the work they did well. In our sex-negative culture, it’s vitally important that The Mindy Project discusses consent as a primary plot line. Television rarely navigates the fine line between consensual and nonconsensual sex, so when it does broach the topic, it’s noteworthy. Sexual situations that challenge the notion of consent/nonconsent are most often associated with hookup culture only, rarely applying to long-term relationships. As Mindy and Danny demonstrate, it’s equally important (and tricky) to communicate about consent and set boundaries in serious relationships.

“I Slipped” closes with Mindy and Danny ready to rendezvous, their newly tackled “consent problem” now a turn-on for the happy couple. Mindy taps into the language: “Ooh, our first freaky consensual adventure,” and then proceeds to gnaw on Danny’s hand. Yes, gnaw. (To Mindy’s credit, Danny’s hand was covered in whipped cream.)

The episode cuts out with the couple struggling post-gnaw, Danny reprimanding Mindy for pulling a Mike Tyson. While this scene is intended as comedic relief for the previous heart-to-heart, it belittles Mindy’s only moment of sexual agency in the entire episode. Her sexual agency is coded as a joke, as gluttonous, and as another exaggeration from our favorite OB/GYN. Because women’s sexual agency is funny? OK, writers: strike three. Try again next week.

Photo courtesy of LWYang licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.



Brianna Kovan is a reader and writer from the Midwest. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.