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The Good Place

The Good Place – Best Self (2×09)

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First order of business this week: get into the “good place.”

But that isn’t as easy as it sounds. According to Michael, building a vehicle to get them there will take a few days and as we learned in last week’s episode, they only have roughly 24-hours before Michael is to destroy the neighborhood.

Michael looks for an alternative mode of transportation: a gold balloon.

As he tries to figure out how to get it to work, the humans enjoy frozen-yogurt for one last time.

Eleanor dreams up her ideal “good place” and it involves a beach, mai tais, and a phone. Basically, her idea of total happiness proves that she doesn’t belong in the actual good place at all. But since they’ve all had the ability to progress and become better people, they don’t necessarily deserve eternal suffering either.

That’s neither here nor there because their ride is here.

Tahani is very impressed with it even though it doesn’t have business class but there’s a catch to it all — the balloon will only transport those who have attained self-realization.

To find out if you’ll be able to board, one must on the scale, your soul will be weighed and if you are the best version of yourself, you will board. Otherwise, passage will be declined.

Once again, it sounds easy enough but for a group of individuals who have literally been eight-hundred different versions of themselves and lousy human beings while on Earth, this is a tall order.

Jason, Tahani, and Eleanor all get green lights but unfortunately, Chidi is served with a red.

And he knows exactly why — he questions whether or not he’s actually the best version of himself. How will he ever know?

Everyone de-boards because they run as a pack. After some soul-searching, Eleanor is able to convince Chidi but then she’s served with a red light.

“Chidi got in my head,” she tells the group.

Once again, every de-boards but Tahani is so eager to gain passage, she turns into the worst version of herself, offering to leave behind the people who have yet to “figure it out.”

Eventually, Michaels confesses that none of this matters because he lied: he has NO IDEA how to get into the good place. If he was still simply a demon, he wouldn’t feel bad about lying but since he now encompasses human emotion, he feels guilty about lying.

He thought he’d be able to buy more time to find a solution but now, he’s out of ideas.

Eleanor has one that’s always worked for her on Earth — ignore their problems and drink heavily.

So they do. They throw themselves a proper party, which rivals the party thrown by the demons on their last day in the neighborhood.

There’s something so pure about these humans, who may have done questionable things while on Earth, celebrating their final moments together after learning so much about themselves.

If you’re going to get sent to your own personal hell — mine would be filled with spiders — you better enjoy yourself before you go!

In her drunk-induced state, Eleanor and team forgive Michael and make him an honorary human.

Sure he lied, but he made an effort and in the end, that’s all that really matters.

 

It’s hilarious that Michael thought all he ever wanted was to torture these humans but then secretly became friends with them. He became one of them. Maybe the whole reason he even wanted to create this “neighborhood” wasn’t to become the best but to experience human interaction, which he’s always been fascinated with.

He finally reveals that there is one very futile and insane plan that they could try: talking to the judge.

In order to get to the judge, they have to walk through the bad place without getting caught, pass through the portal and then convince the judge to hear them out, even after they didn’t go through the proper channels.

With nothing left to lose, drunk Eleanor decides that they should attempt it, regardless of the outcome.

So even in their death, they still do the most human thing possible — make a careless decision with absolutely no guarantee that it’ll be successful.

First thing tomorrow (next week’s episode), they’re heading to the bad place!

Willingly.

Best line of the week goes to Jason: “Maybe I should have realized this wasn’t the good place cause of all the diarrhea.”

 

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The Good Place

The Good Place – The Worst Possible Use of Free Will (3×07)

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The Good Place The Worst Possible Use of Free Will

Am I choosing to write this review by my own free will, or have external forces created an environment that pushed me into this?

An episode of The Good Place hasn’t caused me to think this much in a long time. Eleanor and Michael’s back and forth over free will was a true debate that Eleanor kept pushing to the next level. When Eleanor initially drew the conclusion that she didn’t actually fall in love with Chidi because Michael set it up, I was asking myself, “How did she draw THAT conclusion?”

To my delight, the next line of dialogue after the break addressed the same question, and thus the great debate over free will started. Eleanor referenced Determinism, which is the theory that we have no control over our own actions, and that everything we do happens because of some external force over which we have no control (in this case, Michael controlling the afterlife neighborhood). Eleanor believes that this theory is the only explanation for how she fell in love with Chidi.

Michael argues against her, using Eleanor’s unpredictable nature in the afterlife as an example of free will, but Eleanor then pushes the idea further and further towards it’s most logical conclusion – that someone is controlling Michael, or set HIM up for torture.

To which Michael dumps a glass of iced tea on her head, which he had ordered using his free will.

What I loved about this debate (aside from being a sucker for philosophical musings) was that the opposing stances Michael and Eleanor took were completely based on their experiences on the show thus far. Michael has spent 800 years trying to control everything and everyone around him and consistently failed over and over and over again due to something he could not predict. He learned first hand that humans, no matter how well you know them or how much you try to influence them, will make choices unique to them and act on their own free will. His experiences informed his belief, and he used those experiences to support his argument.

Eleanor, on the other hand, has lived a life where she is constantly blaming others for her misfortune and rarely accepting responsibility for her own actions. It’s much easier to accept the selfish part of yourself if you believe it’s not your choice to be that way. On top of that, Eleanor knows that she has had her memories rebooted against her will hundreds of times. She has been at a complete loss of control for centuries, so of course she doesn’t feel like she has the ability to exercise free will.

This debate would not have been effective with any other character combination on the show. Jason is too…Jason. Chidi is too indecisive to not believe he actually has agency while making choices (his life would be so much simpler if he just straight up subscribed to Determinism). Tahani, while also believing she is partly a result of her parents, constantly worked by her own will to attempt to upstage her sister and earn her parents’ respect, so she doesn’t have the same background of excusing her behavior the way Eleanor does. And then there is Janet, who was programmed by someone, so a lot of her actions ARE predetermined, though she has been breaking the boundaries of what she is supposed to be able to do (except for breaking the boundaries of her supporting role this season).

Eleanor and Michael, though, can have this discussion, and they make this debate work on a character level. It’s not just a philosophical argument; it’s a personal spat between friends, each informed by what they’ve experienced and who they are. This episode would not have been successful in season one or season two, because these characters needed all the experiences they’ve had to take the stances they take here.

Last week I mentioned that I felt Eleanor cleared her last hurdle into becoming a selfless person. Turns out I was wrong; she needed one last push. Determinism, in combination with Eleanor’s blame hose, was a perfect way to cover up her insecurities, vulnerabilities, and her shortcomings. Michael has come up short more times than any other character on the show, though, and ran out of excuses a long time ago. Eventually, he had to accept that maybe, he was wrong.

When he came to this conclusion, he also discovered that the entire afterlife system might be wrong. He’s been trying to prove this ever since, so he sticks to the mission to put good in the world because it matters to him. His friends matter to him. Picking them up at the airport on time, despite being the worst possible use of free will, matters to him. I like that Michael doesn’t “win” the debate. He just chooses to continue to try to exert his free will because otherwise nothing he does matters, and he won’t accept that. Eleanor doesn’t want to accept that, either, so she once again decides to try. Perhaps now that last hurdle has been crossed.

I can understand how this episode may not have been to everyone’s tastes, and perhaps if the season as a whole had been moving at a better pace this episode would have felt more like a breather than a slow outing. I enjoyed the episode and the discussion myself and thought it was a nice allusion to a return to form for the show, especially seeing the memories back in The Good Place. After two weeks of complaining about the split cast, we get an episode that I felt was a perfect example as to when isolating some characters is necessary. An interesting debate informed by the characters with some good laughs in between. I liked this one, but I am so ready to get back to the whole gang together again.

Finally, by the end, the team reunites. They have a new plan to shake up the system but need to find the perfect person to lead the charge. Michael suggests they head to Canada.

Doug Forcett.

 

Other musings:

  • I miss the afterlife. It provides such a unique platform for humor. Tahani the Centaur, Chidi suffering in a big pink blob; my biggest laughs came from these moments. The memories provided a nice contrast from the old Michael to the new Michael, but it also showed us just how plain the show has gotten on Earth compared to days of old.
  • I’ve seen a theory floating around that Michael was being tortured on Earth, so it was interesting to hear Eleanor reference that idea this episode.
  • I, too, dislike picking people up at the airport, Michael. That has to be quite the gain of good place points, though.
  • The Demons are coming to Earth. Is Judge Gen going to get involved?
  • Doug Forcett!!!
  • When I was a kid I was always dragged to my sister’s soccer games, and I used to roam around making stories up to keep myself occupied. It’s very possible my interests in stories came from that external source, which was out of my control. I love that The Good Place is making me consider something about myself tonight.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – A Fractured Inheritance (3×06)

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The Good Place A Fractured Inheritance
The Good Place/NBC

The Good Place reminds us again that we all need a little help in an emotional outing.

From the start of this series, The Good Place has centered around the idea that people can better themselves – if we help each other. That’s the goal of the Soul Squad this season – to help others become better people.

Including Eleanor’s mother.

Eleanor and Michael go to Nevada to see Eleanor’s mother Donna Shellstrop, who is now Diana Tremaine, Eleanor’s old alias. Donna faked her death years before and has been hiding out ever since, living a quiet suburban life. Michael reminds Eleanor that despite her feelings towards her mother, this is “not about her,” but Eleanor isn’t quite there yet. We have watched Eleanor grow out of her selflessness several times over various reboots, but never have we seen her have to confront something from her path.

And, wow, does it run deep. Eleanor is thoroughly in denial about Donna’s new life. She believes Donna is planning a scam against her new “love rat” Dave and keeps trying to prove this throughout the episode. Almost all of this desperation to prove her mother’s true motives stems from Eleanor’s view of her mother and their relationship, and not necessarily to protect Dave and his daughter Patricia.

Eleanor has used her parents as an excuse for her behavior for so long, part of me feels like her denial here could be to protect herself from having to also commit to a full, selfless change. We know how selfless of a person Eleanor can be from previous seasons, and Eleanor has attempted to become a better person on Earth this season as well, but a lot of that progress comes from the feeling of belonging she got with the Soul Squad. In the end, that motivation was still slightly selfish.

By the end of this storyline, I felt like that last hurdle has been crossed. Eleanor’s jealousy of Patricia is heartbreaking at the PTA voting, and her confusion and inability to understand why her mother felt Patricia was worth changing for but she wasn’t was affecting. Eleanor is once again placed in a position where she doesn’t feel good enough for those around her, but this time, instead of ripping her face out of a cake, she supports the change.

Michael has become Eleanor’s conscious and continues to nudge her to do the right thing. Unlike earlier in the season, this doesn’t feel like an attempt to control everything – just a genuine attempt to help Eleanor find the best parts of herself. Eleanor needs that voice verbalized here because the voice in her head is being drowned out by her rage and anger. He starts the episode reminding Eleanor that it’s “not about her,” and she ends the episode believing that as well. That doesn’t reverse the damage that was done to her by her mother, but it is a step towards genuinely letting those wounds stop defining her.

So they leave Donna in nearly the same place that they found her in. Eleanor nudges her in the right direction to accept her new life and use her saved cash for Patricia, but I’m not convinced the “new” Donna wouldn’t have come to that conclusion herself eventually. Michael may have stated that Donna got better on her own, but she didn’t. She was helped by Dave and Patricia, just as Chidi helped Eleanor, and Eleanor helped Michael.

On the other side of the pond, Tahani visits Kamilah at her latest art exhibit to make amends and apologize for their strained (that’s putting it lightly) relationship. I mentioned last week that I felt the two separate storylines were too disconnected, but this week has a nice parallel where we see our two focus characters attempting to rebuild a relationship with someone that they hold responsible for a lot of their flaws. So while not connected on a plot level, at least this episode holds a thematic connection

At first, I felt it was odd to see Tahani apologizing to Kamilah, since we have been conditioned to view Kamilah as the crueler sister, but I think this shows growth on Tahani’s part. She is being the bigger person.

And Tahani verbalizes this while holding an ax, which is wonderful. She may have grown in some respects, and she deserves to be recognized for that growth, but her actions towards her sister are still aggressive. Her attempt to make amends only works after Tahani changes these actions. Instead of wielding an ax, Tahani hugs her sister and they finally bond, and it all comes back to the parents.

The Al-Jamils were awful parents. We know they favored Kamilah throughout Tahani’s life, but now we see where the source of that favoritism stems from. Kamilah won the bid for favorite through forced competition with her sister. When Tahani realizes that Kamilah had used this competition to fuel her artwork, she starts to understand that Kamilah’s perspective is similar to her own. She embraces her sister, and they truly start to connect through their shared, tormented upbringing.

I liked seeing the Al-Jamil sisters act like sisters for once. This also helps explains Kamilah’s continued cruelness towards Tahani. It doesn’t excuse the behavior, but I think Tahani has grown past that. She’s willing to look forward to what a person and relationship CAN be, and not what it is, but she’s also learned that sometimes you can’t force a relationship to happen just because you want it to like she did with her parents. Tahani’s growth here feels very complete, and it was satisfying to watch.

But we also saw Chidi remind her to keep being that person even after the moment passed. It was a small gesture, but I loved Chidi encouraging Tahani not to rub “Bury the Hatchet” in Kamilah’s face. We all need a little help sometimes, but it’s still our responsibility to do the heavy lifting, which both Eleanor and Tahani did tonight.

If the stinger at the end of the episode is any indication, we get back to the Eleanor & Chidi romance next week. I’ll personally just be glad to have the gang together again. This season may not quite be up to the standard of previous seasons, but I’m looking forward to what it CAN be, despite the flaws so far.

Other thoughts:

  • Less Jason and Chidi this week, but that’s ok since they were both so heavily featured the previous two weeks.
  • Janet has had a disappointing amount to do this season. I hope she comes back strong in the back half.
  • Michael bonding with Dave over being architects and mentioning an architect code was great. Is there a real architect code in the afterlife?
  • Eleanor takes too many items to the fast lane checkout at the store, too! Like mother like daughter (Like last week’s Bortles!)
  • One advantage of the Earth plotline is that our characters get to be affected by people other than themselves, such as Donna, Simone, and Kamilah.
  • Jason and Janet bonding over the art prices was a fun addition.
  • Donna gave props to whoever helped Eleanor become a better person. That was Michael in this timeline but only because Chidi taught him ethics, but Michael only took those classes because Eleanor forced him to. So props to Eleanor for helping herself become a better person!

I had hoped to focus more on the comedy this week, but it was a less comedic episode. Still some good laughs, though! Particularly Tahani with the ax, and Michael and Dave bonding was fun.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – The Ballad of Donkey Doug (3×05)

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The Good Place The Ballad of Donkey Doug

By: Tommy Czerpak

Donkey Doug is Jason’s father. Somehow this feels like it comes out of nowhere and makes perfect sense all at the same time. And as Tahani says, it explains a lot.

During last week’s episode, we left off with the newly named Soul Squad deciding to try to help others get into The Good Place.  This episode delivers on that mission with several laughs but mixed results. As it turns out, it’s not easy convincing notoriously bad people to do good things.

The cliffhanger from last week is resolved off screen, which can be considered appropriate if we regard the running gag about Larry’s relevance as the least famous Hemsworth brother.  However, the decision for Tahani and Michael to go help Jason redeem his father also happens off screen. Something this show has been so splendid at in its run is providing its characters with proper motivation – but I was left questioning why the first stop on the Soul Squad’s path was Jason’s father. Why wasn’t Kamilah the first stop on the list? It would have been nice to have a clearer understanding of this, even if the reasoning was purely logistical.

That aside, Jason, Tahani, and Michael land safely in Jacksonville, a place that truly felt like Jason’s home. His comfort shouting into the streets and tossing his bags into the back of the Monster Truck Taxi gave a hint as to where his unearned confidence comes from. Michael’s glee at watching the taxi make it’s way up to the curb also proved that his time on Earth is being well spent.

When Tahani questions why Jason never mentioned his father before, he reveals that he has several times; his father is Donkey Doug. The team plans to convince Donkey Doug to get back into the electrician field so he can make a steady living and stop committing crimes. Jason knows that if they just give him the money, he’ll blow it, which is a genuine piece of insight and wisdom from Jason. This is the sort of Jason I was hoping to see more of this season after the season three premiere revealed a Jason who actually thought there was more to life than street dancing.

The reveal that Donkey Doug was Jason’s father all along felt a little like the “just a smidge too coincidental” family ties some characters had back on LOST. I was waiting for Pillboi to be revealed as Jason’s brother as soon as he showed up on screen. Maybe he was as they kept referring to each other as “bro.”

I can’t say seeing the three of them together didn’t make for some fun interactions, though, most importantly, it allowed us a further glimpse into Jason’s life.

After Jason introduced Donkey Doug to Tahani and Michael, Donkey Doug (along with Pillboi, who has dearly missed Jason) immediately presents them with a chance to invest in the next big thing: Double Trouble, an efficient blend of body spray and energy drink.  The saddest and most wonderful part of this product is that I completely believe someone would try to make it. Jason encourages Donkey Doug to reconsider, but he’s unsuccessful in his plea. Donkey Doug and Pillboi admit that they are going to rob not one but three factories to get the body spray, energy drinks, and bottles required to make Double Trouble.

Feeling Donkey Doug is a lost cause, Jason decides he’s going to save Pillboi. This was another moment of maturity from Jason. He didn’t mope in the loss of his father’s soul but rather, decided to take action to save someone else’s. He hilariously convinced Pillboi that the three of them were astronaut spies (???) from NASA and that he needs to retract from committing further crimes.

Jason also took Pillboi’s spot during the robbery. This seemed like a noble action by Jason, putting himself at risk to protect Pillboi, but Jason also knows he’s already doomed to end up in the Bad Place regardless. I liked that this could read both as a noble act and as a way to game the system by doing a bad thing in place of someone else that may still have a chance.

Maybe we’ll see more of that from the core four in the future?

Either way you interpret the scene, Donkey Doug’s decision to give himself up for his son parallels it nicely. This moment really worked for me because of that parallel, and it also hinted at a Jason wanting to start breaking these cycles.

Donkey Doug is doing what his father did for him and tells Jason one day he will do the same for his child, but Jason hopes for something better. Another minuscule but effective example showing just how much Jason has grown since we first met him.

The Good Place, while constantly reinventing itself, has gone through several resets and repeats, so the desire to break a cycle is a nice theme to come back to. Will Donkey Doug’s sacrifice be enough redemption to save his soul?

Back on the other side of the planet, we have a recently fired Chidi (something to do with making chili in class) working with Eleanor and Janet to figure out the best way to break up with Simone. Chidi is afraid he will slip up and let her know something about the afterlife, dooming her in the process. Obviously, he isn’t willing to take that risk, so Janet creates a virtual reality program for Chidi to practice breaking things off with her.

I have no idea how Janet created this virtual reality device, but I’m willing to go with it since she knows basically everything. *Bing*

However, I’ll admit these glossed over explanations will start to stretch my suspension of disbelief more if they continue happening or aren’t explained in more detail.

Chidi then goes through several impossibly lifelike simulated scenarios, trying to find the best way to break up with Simone. He does this in a very similar fashion to how a certain reformed demon cycled through neighborhood attempts, even down to the snapping and last-ditch use of a dog. I enjoyed these simulations, especially Eleanor pretending to be Simone, but unlike Michael’s resets, I didn’t learn anything new about Chidi other than the fact that in addition to being unable to make a decision, he also sucks at breaking up with someone.

When Chidi attempts the actual break up, an unforeseen variable forces him into scramble mode (another parallel to Michael’s neighborhoods), and he ends up blurting out his desire to break up to Simone. Before he even realizes exactly how it came off, she up and leaves. I felt for her here. I like Simone a lot and this was a surprisingly cruel breakup from Chidi. Luckily he does a little better on the second attempt.

At the end of which Simone says, “See you in the next life.” Sure, that’s “just an expression,” but I cannot imagine that Simone was brought into this season just to be written off halfway through. I would be shocked if we didn’t see her again, and not surprised at all if she has some sort of knowledge of the afterlife.

Chidi made the decision to break up with Simone very easily, as Simone points out, which is very un-Chidi-like. He either cares about Simone so much, or his brain broke hard enough in the last episode for him to now be able to make choices. Hopefully, we find out soon enough.

This episode was distinctly different from its predecessors as it was very divided, with two completely separate plot lines. The show is more fun when all our characters are in the same space, so it was disappointing to see them split again. It seems as though we may be in for a similar structure next week as well. The Soul Squad is altogether to see Kamilah at the end of the episode, but with the reveal of Eleanor’s mother still being alive, the team is going their separate ways again.

Eleanor has a pretty legitimate reason: she’s going to murder her mother. I cannot wait for this face-off especially now since Eleanor is a reformed woman.

I admire what the Soul Squad is trying to accomplish here in attempting to get others into the Good Place and create some good in the world, but if Michael was telling the truth about the Good Place back in season one, getting in is an incredibly selective process. Only the best of the best get in, so I don’t believe their influence on say, Pillboi, is going to be quite enough. But it doesn’t matter, does it? The point isn’t to do good for the reward but to do good to do good.

We didn’t learn too much new about characters that weren’t Jason this week. Of course, that’s slightly expected considering this episode’s title and focus, but if they are going to split up the characters, I would hope for more development for them in each storyline. Hopefully moving forward the show gets back to hitting us with full character motivations and keeps the group together a bit more.

Other thoughts:

  • Loved Janet bing-ing for herself.
  • Chidi tried saying he was Rick Justice
  • Kirby Howell-Baptiste did a great impression of Kristen Bell playing Eleanor
  • Eleanor fell for Simone five seconds into the breakup and admittedly, Simone IS pretty great.
  • I liked Tahani supporting Donkey Doug and Pillboi’s Double Trouble before she found out they were going to steal the required materials
  • Pillboi’s nametag
  • “Bortles!” like father like son

I’m looking forward to all these characters possibly dying again. I feel this season could be a bridge season and set up some really interesting storylines. Will they all die at the same time? Will they die in similar ways? Was their destiny always to die and meet on the other side?

Next week we get to spend more time with Eleanor’s mom! What will be more explosive, that reunion or Tahani and Kamilah?

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