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The Good Place The Ballad of Donkey Doug The Good Place The Ballad of Donkey Doug

The Good Place

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

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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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The Good Place

The Good Place – Pandemonium (3×12)

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The Good Place - Pandemonium

Eleanor returns to the spotlight in the season finale after a few weeks of giving the most active role to Michael. It’s a clever way to bring Eleanor back to the forefront, having Michael rendered incapable of doing his job by fear. The plot point also pulls double duty by finishing off another arc for Michael.

Michael started the season hustling down to Earth to tinker with the humans. Later he tried to play the “snowplow” in their lives and incessantly tried to maintain the type of control he had in his neighborhood. Now here we are at the end of season three and he has willingly stepped into the background, ceasing control to someone more fit for the current situation.

Season three (the back half especially) pushed Michael to the forefront. He was the only character capable of truly moving the plot forward, but now with the new neighborhood built and his arc seemingly complete, we return to Eleanor.

I think this is a good move for the show. This year meandered a bit in places and lacked the singular focus of the past seasons. There were three distinct phases to the season, first the brain experiment, then the quest to improve other people, and finally the last ditch attempt to change the system. I definitely felt the back half of the season was stronger than the first, but I do feel the show needs to refocus itself in the upcoming fourth season, and placing Eleanor back at the forefront is a good start.

As an episode, though, tonight was quieter and more reserved than previous season finales. It didn’t actually feel too much like a finale to me personally, as this is the first time we will be continuing a story from a previous season instead of starting with a fresh timeline. This isn’t a knock, not every season finale has to be explosive of course, but it does highlight a point I made last week about emotional stakes.

I predicted Eleanor becoming the architect and Simone being one of the new residents, as many fans probably did. What I didn’t predict was Chidi requesting his memory be wiped. This greatly upped what I discussed last week – the emotional stakes.

This makes sense on a plot level and devastates the characters on an emotional one. Michael providing Chidi and Eleanor a look at their memories – ones they don’t even still have – was touching and ironic. It felt a little bit like the show was trying to sell me on their romance, but it still provided a nice showing of Michael’s affection for them. It’s not as if I don’t buy the chemistry between the two; I do. I just don’t feel we got to see their love develop over this season. Fortunately, because of the history of the show, there is more weight to their romance than is provided just by season three, which consequentially provides the proper weight for the tragedy of Chidi losing his memories of Eleanor.

It’s a heartbreaking idea. One lover forgets and the other doesn’t? Brutal. How is Eleanor going to handle this? As interested as I am to see where the experiment goes, I am much more invested in Eleanor and the rest of the gang interacting with the memory wiped Chidi. The emotional stakes provide a strong storyline moving forward.

And yet I have to admit that emotional stakes are not everything, and a series does need to follow through on its plot. The plot went almost nowhere tonight, only telling us the kinds of people the Bad Place has picked for the experiment, which lead us into Chidi’s memory wipe. As I said, not every season finale has to be Earth-shattering, but I do feel like a little momentum was lost with such an introspective episode. The final scene of Eleanor and Janet played like a teaching moment, and while Janet’s response to Eleanor’s question about love is touching, I hope the show has more on its mind for the endgame.

Season three felt like a bridge season. Shawn mentions chess in this episode and it’s an apt callout considering how much of this season was moving pieces into place. This will be fine with me if these moves lead to a spectacular fourth.  It’ll be a long wait to find out!

Other musings:

  • Disclaimer: My television flashed a flash flood warning to me during the entire sequence Eleanor introduces herself to John, so I missed all of that. I’ll rewatch tomorrow and see if the missed info affects my views on the episode!
  • I thought John was a good start to the residents! He made me laugh and will play very well off everyone, and I hope I can see him in a conversation with Jason immediately in season four.
  • Tahani has improved so much as a person. Her improvement highlights the tragedy of Chidi’s reset even more.
  • We all knew Simone was coming back, right? I’m glad that wasn’t the big twist of the episode.
  • Janet doesn’t have all the answers. But she is a friend.
  • I love the score to The Good Place, but I really wish this season had mixed up the music with some new cues or stingers. A lot of shows get repetitive with their music going into a third season and it’s a small gripe I have with season three.

I love this show. It was tough for me to review this episode, though, because it was mostly a large set up for what will follow, and a lot of my opinion on this one will depend on how effectively season four capitalizes on what was presented here. The emotional stakes are higher than ever, as are the physical ones with humanity hanging in the balance. Hopefully those two things combined can bring out the best in the series.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – Chidi Sees the Time-Knife(3×11)

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The Good Place - Chidi Sees the Time-Knife

The Good Place is a show that centered around characters after they had already died. The premise immediately removed what is normally the highest of stakes in any story – death. This could have been a problem as there could have possibly been little tension to the story, but the series created dire stakes in the threat of Eleanor being found out and sent to the Bad Place.

The first season finale took those stakes away by showing us the worst has already happened to our characters, and from that point forward it has been a series about characters who are immediately in a state of crisis at (almost) all times. While the threat of the Bad Place loomed over our characters, the actual stakes of the show became much more emotionally tied to our protagonists. By the end of season two, Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason didn’t just fear being sent to the Bad Place, they feared being separated from each other. Recall at the end of season one how Jason continually celebrated that he got to avoid the Bad Place while two of his friends had to go, and how at the end of season two he willingly agreed to be sent to be eternally tortured if even one of his friends couldn’t go to the Good Place with him.

Now we are nearing the end of season three, and while the largest threat ever is looming – the eternal judgment and fate of all people – the closest stakes affecting our characters remain tied to emotion and relationships.

Michael is paralyzed by the fear that if he fails with his experiment his friends will believe that he betrayed them. Threats of retirement, marblization, and eternal torture weren’t as powerful as Shawn’s legitimately horrifying notion that he will torture the Soul Squad with someone that they believe is Michael.

The concept of emotional stakes versus physical ones lines up perfectly with this series considering Michael’s initial torture plan was to emotionally torture his victims instead of physically torturing them. Now he is truly learning how valid and effective this form of torture can be.

The ability to learn has also been a major aspect of this series, with our characters learning just by living life. They learn from mistakes, other people, teachers, friends, and inane Jason stories. Even Shawn, the torture master, has learned from Michael. He is now utilizing emotional torture (and also took his idea for bees with penises). Judge Gen also allows herself to learn. She encourages research and keeps her mind open to new ideas by going to Earth. Janet’s entire arc has been about learning more about humans. Derek has learned more every time he was rebooted by Mindy. And they have all put their new knowledge into practice, such as Gen creating a new neighborhood experiment and Janet creating more realistic people.

And of course, the humans have learned how to be better, and with their time on Earth, how to make other people better. Now they will be in the new neighborhood putting what they’ve learned to good use to try to save humanity.

Honestly, saving humanity is a pretty generic, bland stake. So many stories involve saving humanity. That’s why it is so important to keep those emotional stakes at the forefront, like Michael at the end of this episode. I am interested in seeing where the neighborhood experiment goes, but I’m invested in Michael and his crippling fear of letting his friends down.

Outside of those lengthy evaluations, a lot of pieces fell into place this episode. An endgame for the season finally presents itself. We got to see the Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes, which was super trippy as Jason so obliviously pointed out. There was the return of Derek and the Medium Place, giving us the perfect site for the new neighborhood. And of course we see the return of what seems to be a similar version of the original “Good Place.” This was a heavy exposition episode, but I felt it threaded its themes of learning and emotional stakes well throughout. I’m excited about the finale and curious where the set up for next season will go.

Amongst all of its characterization, heavy plotting, and ethical bends, The Good Place never forgets to be a comedy. The humor has its charm back since returning to the afterlife, and each side character (Judge Gen, Mindy, Derek) continues to stand out. The creative ways the writers torture people, such as Shakespeare being tortured by hearing the plot of the Entourage movie, are always a hoot. And William Jackson Harper is so good at being traumatized. He is so expressive and can make such simple phrases, like “time-knife” seem like biblical omens.

How will the new experiment fare? What will the results be? Will Eleanor have to take Michael’s place as “the architect” if he can’t get himself together? I’m looking forward to learning what happens next.

Other musings:

  • Was that Trevor screaming through the blackness in the opening scene?
  • iHop was probably the trippiest place we have seen thus far.
  • I believe Jason’s inane stories have a 100% success rate in inspiring someone into positive action.
  • I really wanted to see what happened to Tahani if she touched her “scarf.”
  • The bureaucracy continues. Judge Gen could make iHop anything, and she chose a conference room.
  • Chidi saw the time-knife and didn’t like it.
  • I really like that they learned from Simone about repeating the experiment. Maybe she’ll be one of the people brought to the new neighborhood?

This episode was a bit dark in places. I know the show is about people who died but it was always fun, with torture devices having funny names or implications. Not only did Judge Gen depressingly find out that the world is both “hot and crowded and cold and lonely,” but Shawn’s idea to torture the humans with a Michael suit is legitimately threatening.

Season 3 has won me back at this point, and I can’t wait to see the last episode of the season!

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The Good Place

The Good Place – The Book of Dougs (3×10)

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The Good Place - The Book of Dougs

We finally land in the Good Place. Sort of.

One of the most important aspects of a fictional world is the “rules” within the universe. The Good Place has built its afterlife with a (mostly) cohesive and consistent set of rules. These parameters were well established in the first few seasons; it was made very clear what you could and could not do and say in Michael’s neighborhood, and the requirements to get into the real Good Place were steadfast. By the end of season two and throughout season three, we have seen Michael and the gang breaking these rules in an attempt to better the current system.

The Good Place Committee in this episode remains absolutely steadfast to all of the rules. I didn’t expect much different, but it did give me a better perspective on an earlier gripe I had with the season regarding the demons’ ability to create a new door to Earth. While I still feel that plot point was a little convenient, on a storytelling level it is a perfect contrast to what we see in the Good Place. The fact that the demons will brazenly disregard the rules, such as “one door to Earth,” greater highlights the fact that the committee won’t even consider breaking any rule, and along with Michael’s revelation at the end of the episode, gives us an interesting look at the show as a whole.

After all, the committee, and all of the Good Place, knows that humans are tortured for eternity forever in the Bad Place. This has been clearly established and agreed upon, and no one objects to it. This means that by torturing “bad” humans, the demons are following the rules. Which, according to the system in place, makes it totally fine.

What I find interesting is that when the demons don’t get to torture their subjects (Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason), they are willing to break the current rules to complete their overall goal. They don’t let the system define their purpose, which, in my opinion, actually gives them a sense of respectability that the Good Place committee has not earned.

What does being polite, showering one with compliments, and sending bottles of booze back and forth in thanks mean if you are not willing to take action to defend what you believe in? The demons disregard the rules when they don’t get to torture humans, but the committee doesn’t bat an eye when they don’t get to give anyone eternal happiness. They stand by the rules, but how does blindly following the rules allow for one to recognize when they might be wrong or counterproductive?

Michael is a demon reformed; someone who now wants to do good and was raised in a place where doing what you needed to was more important than following the rules. Combine this with his character and personality, always a man looking for a better way and pushing the envelope, and he is the perfect catalyst to change the system. Go Michael!

Admittedly, the rest of the team has less to do in this episode, though it’s still entertaining. I particularly liked Chidi and Eleanor’s date. I’ve felt this version of them has lacked many of those “couple making” moments, and their declared love for each other feels a bit quick to me, but subplots like this help sell me on the idea. The way Chidi handles Eleanor’s breakdown is kind and particular to her. I like the role reversal these two have had since season two, where Eleanor would be the one to talk Chidi down when he was losing it. They really do know each other well and seem genuinely happy when together like this.

Tahani tries to help Jason and Janet sort out their feelings, and each attempt leads to unintentionally worse and worse results. “Death Did Us Part” was my favorite, and I love how Tahani can make anything seem classy and like an event. Janet has been becoming more and more human, and her stating she was embarrassed may have been her most casually human moment of all so far.

Gwendolyn was fun, and maybe it’s just me, but something about her cheeriness and disbelief of anything less than good was a bit unsettling. It almost felt like she was brainwashed. The rest of the committee seemed more apathetic than good, and it was no surprise they were willing to take over a thousand years to start the process of an investigation. If the rules are being followed, they don’t care – it must be right, it must be good.

But as we all know, that isn’t the case. Sometimes rules are outgrown by society or flat out wrong. As Michael discovers at the end of the episode, the unintended consequences of our actions matter, including following the rules. We, as people living together on Earth, cannot afford to be like the Good Place committee. We can’t just assume things are fine under the current rule set, we can’t disregard anyone who breaks the rules, and we cannot be apathetic to the consequences of our actions. It is getting harder and harder to be good, but I hope we don’t take 1400 years to realize our effects on the world, and if this is the message that this show is intending to make, it has my attention. Maybe it’s time to start rethinking the actions I take in the name of good.

Other musings:

  • Janet blowing up the door was the perfect amount of unnecessary.
  • Warm pretzels absolutely smell like absolute moral truth. Common knowledge.
  • Jason continues to be so kind, feeling bad that he read Janet’s diary.
  • I love the little touches like everything Eleanor tries to pick the lock with turning to glitter. The show missed that while it was on Earth.
  • The one member of the committee called demons “disgusting monsters.” This seemed harsh for them, but perfectly fit in with their afterlife views.
  • I loved the complimenting committee member. Everyone should have that guy greet them before they go to work in the morning.
  • I find it ironic that seemingly Good = Rule follower and Bad = Rule breaker, yet the humans aren’t allowed to know the rules at all. And when they do figure out the rules, nothing they do counts towards good.
  • I hope we get to see the full Good Place one day.
  • On our way to IHOP!!!

I’m enjoying the wind down of the season, and if it keeps up this momentum, I think we will be in for a spectacular season four.

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