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The Good Place Don't Let the Good Life Pass You By The Good Place Don't Let the Good Life Pass You By

The Good Place

The Good Place – Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By (3×08)

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Janet finally gets some time to shine on tonight’s episode.

Let’s talk about that big moment first. I certainly didn’t think I would be writing about an action sequence when tonight’s episode started. The Soul Squad gets cornered by demons at a bar in Canada, and instead of thinking or talking their way out of the situation, Janet decides to fight. The Good Place has never attempted an action scene this elaborate before, and I think they did a good job at getting creative with the tools at hand. Having Janet kick the demons through the magic doorway Michael kept opening and closing was a clever and believable way to rid the bar of demons. I liked that each character fought completely true to themselves as well: Jason throwing things and shouting point values for each successful hit, Tahani fencing with a pool cue, Michael using his wits with the doorway, Eleanor just throwing out a classic punch, and Chidi not taking part at all.

And then there was Janet. I’ve complained in several previous reviews that Janet has had very little to do this season. I was glad to see her finally step off the sidelines and go hand to hand with demons like an action hero, and I’m looking forward to seeing the void next. It seems as though the back half of this season will feature Janet and her particular skills more heavily, but that doesn’t nullify or excuse her lack of relevance to the plot of season three up until now. A big fight sequence was a fun way to announce Janet’s reemergence into the plot, but I am more excited to see what she contributes to the team in a nonviolent way.

Doug Forcett’s storyline played like a cautionary tale about the dangers of being too selfless. The show has spent so much time theorizing why everybody needs to try to be good and exploring what we owe each other, and this storyline was a good counterbalance to clarify that the series is not trying to tell anyone to live completely selflessly because then you will end up miserable. The key is to do your best while also taking care of yourself, and it was nice that Michael encouraged Doug to try to relax.

Doug refuses, though, because he’d rather live his short life in misery than his eternal life in misery. That’s a completely reasonable stance to take, and it kept me from feeling too much pity for him since he was making this choice willingly. Doug really is doing what he thinks is best for him. Maybe that is why he will end up in the Bad Place; he doesn’t have the proper motivation.

The rest of the group is hanging out at the bar, where Jason and Chidi play some pool and Tahani and Eleanor have a heart to heart conversation about the multiverse and love. I love seeing the characters hang out and bond, and Jason and Chidi is a pairing we really don’t get enough of. Jason may have subtlety been teaching Chidi how to relax and make choices with his “Jacksonville” special style pool. No rules, and you choose your own points and moves? Sounds like the perfect game to help Chidi get better at making decisions in a consequence-free environment. Or it’s just fun!

Tahani gives Eleanor some genuinely good advice and she takes it. It’s great that Eleanor went to Tahani for help, willingly seeking someone else’s perspective. This was a good show of growth from this version of Eleanor.

Shawn waiting to see Michael’s face felt like a plot contrivance. I don’t understand why Shawn couldn’t take the four and then wait for Michael to return. His look of shock would have probably been greater if his friends were all already taken to the Bad Place. I’m not sure why Michael and Janet couldn’t have just met back up with everyone before Shawn and the demons showed up. We could have gotten to the same exact place without the plot bending to make the demons wait to act.

The humor in this episode was particularly fun because there were so many great callbacks or references to the series. So many jokes here only could have landed if you have been watching since the start, such as Jason’s failed Molotov cocktail and “I’ve been going to the gym a lot.” The biggest laugh for me was Janet saying “Yes” when Doug asked if anyone knew anything about snail CPR.

It seems that Earth is done with for now. Janet said that if they went to the void they’d all “die on Earth.” I’m not sure why that is, but I hope it’s explained in some way. A lot of explanations have been handwaved over, such as how the demons created their own portal to Earth. Without explanations, plot holes and inconsistencies can start to arise. Why only have one door to Earth in the first place if the demons can just make another? Why haven’t they made a door to Earth before?

Maybe these questions will get answered, maybe they won’t. At the very least, we are off Earth again, and perhaps now the magic of the previous seasons will rekindle.

Other musings:

  • The opening scene was so LOST.
  • Michael said, “Everything is fine.”
  • Janet had a solid little crash course with the happiness pump speech. I preferred her going badass on all the demons, though. Chidi and Eleanor could have given that speech just as well, but no one else could fight off all those demons.
  • Janet has a surprising propensity for violence. She beat up Shawn at the end of season two as well.
  • The Accountants were mentioned earlier this year and it sounds like we are likely to meet them soon. The set up for them seems natural and deliberate, which makes something like the fact that the demons could just create a door to Earth because they wanted to feel all the more like an oversight. I will admit I’m a bit worried about the mythology of the show.
  • Eleanor’s confession to Chidi during the fight is impressive solely for the fact that the writers continue to find new situations for Eleanor to confess her love for Chidi in.
  • It seems a little obvious that Doug’s motivation may be what keeps him out of the Good Place, so I wonder why Michael and Janet didn’t think of that.
  • Has ANYONE ever made it into the Good Place?
  • I was so certain that Janet was going to manifest some sort of ridiculous weapon when half her body went through the demons’ magic door. I felt like that was a missed opportunity, but the rest of the fight scene was fun and clever.

Full steam ahead towards the final arc of the season!

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The Good Place

The Good Place – Janet(s) (3×09)

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The good Place Janet(s)

So much D’Arcy Carden in this episode.

Janet(s) was easily the wildest episode of Season 3 so far. It is great to see the show break the shackles of Earth so thoroughly and start to expand on the mythology of the afterlife.

I got serious flashbacks (ha!) to LOST tonight; there were some major info dumps here, and almost every answer led to more questions. It does feel like there will be answers to most of these questions by the end of the season, though, so we are left in an exciting and good (haha!) place.

D’Arcy Carden must have been taking her notes throughout the rest of the season while she was in the background, trying to perfect each character so she could effectively play them here. I actually felt like she did a good enough job that they didn’t need to change the clothing to match each character to help differentiate the personalities, but it was fun to see Janet in so many different outfits from her usual getup and it did make it easier to tell them apart. It also set up Eleanor pretending to be Jason while looking like Janet.

It never felt like we lost the characters in the Janets, either. Jason and Tahani’s plots here felt a little aimless, but they do discover that Janet is in love with Jason and that they were married. Though I was left questioning why that information was in Janet’s system but she couldn’t remember it.

Chidi has his own breakthrough in his storyline, almost at the cost of Eleanor’s breakdown. Chidi went back to the chalkboard to try to explain how our memories make up who we are. It felt like vintage Good Place. I loved Eleanor’s jab about barfing Wikipedia. It felt like a very self-aware jab at the show for never dipping too far into the complexities of philosophy, but did discredit what the half-hour sitcom brings to the table regarding ethics.

Eleanor can’t handle Chidi’s notion that he doesn’t love her just because another version of him did, though, and she starts to lose herself. So much of her identity over these reboots was framed by the people she got close to, with Chidi at the center of that. Despite it nearly destroying the universe, I actually thought it was progress that Eleanor felt she needed Chidi to know who she was. It may be a swing a bit too far in the other direction, but at least she isn’t shutting him or anyone out anymore.

There was a clever reversal here when Chidi was laying out facts about Eleanor one after another and then realized he was in love with her, mirroring Eleanor doing the same thing late in season one. I’m not sure I’ve seen quite enough of this version of Chidi and Eleanor falling in love with each other for this to completely land, but I liked the idea.

So that’s the void. On to the accountants!

Janet and Michael head to the accountants where Neil, the head honcho, shows them the system of how point totals are decided and tallied. There has been a common theme in the afterlife of the mundane bureaucracy of it all, and it was hammered home here. The idea was made even more effective by Neil’s chipper attitude and desire for cake – probably one of the lone pieces of genuine joy he looks forward to in the day.

Eventually, after Neil checks Doug Forcett’s file and reveals he is destined to the Bad Place, Michael asks just how long it has actually been since a human made it into the Good Place.

512 years.

I have mentioned a few times how I felt many explanations or reveals have felt handwaved over or rushed: the door to Earth the demons made, Janet’s VR system, and I’m going to include Janet’s void having a back door to the accountants. But the reveal that it has been 512 years since anyone has made it into the Good Place feels right. This is exactly where the entire show has been building towards.

This gives me a real sense of faith moving forward. Season three has dealt heavily with the humans maintaining their hope and desire to do good for others around them. Sometimes it felt fruitless, like with Jason’s father. Other times it felt unnecessary, like with Eleanor’s mother. There was also never a real obstacle to this goal. Try to do good, even if it doesn’t matter. Boom. It was a goal in line with the show’s theme, but it was vague, and it led to some wandering storylines.

But Michael officially taking things into his own hands to change the rigged system of the afterlife? That is a simple, clear, logical goal. It’s simple on a level of Eleanor trying to stay in the Good Place in season one, or trying to get to the Good Place in season two.

This episode brought my faith back in strong force. It was clever, fun, and funny. It answered some questions, left us with more, and hit us with some big reveals. Our characters are finally in the Good Place. As Michael said earlier, we are almost at the end. There is a nice lesson to be learned in following people doing what is right even if it doesn’t matter, but there is a far more intriguing plot line possible when following a group of people who have decided to make it matter.

Other musings:

  • Neutral Janet: Now we have seen them all!
  • I love how simple Jason is. He conjures the hot tube and still doesn’t fill it because that wasn’t part of the memory he had with his friend.
  • Why even bother threatening to marbleize Janet here? She says they can “bring her back?” Maybe I’m forgetting that being a thing before but I quite remember the marbleization being the end for Janets, no coming back. That’s why Michael refused the first time, right?
  • Michael smacking the cake out of Neil’s hands. Classic.
  • Obvious callback to Eleanor’s famous line from the season one reveal. Season four was recently announced to be happening, but these callbacks and mirroring scenes really make it feel like we are approaching some sort of end game. I have a feeling season four may be the last!

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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 past.

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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