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The Good Place

The Good Place – Dance Dance Resolution (2×03)

THE GOOD PLACE -- "Dance Dance Resolution" Episode 203 -- Pictured: (l-r) William Jackson Harper as Chidi, Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

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The Good Place blew up, multiple times on this week’s episode and Eleanor may have finally found her soulmate.

Just when you think this series cannot get any better or that they won’t bounce back from such an epic twist, they hit you with a giddy episode filled to the brim with hilarious escape plans by Eleanor, Chidi and sometimes Tahani and Jason, who realize that they’ve been living this same afterlife more than 800 times.

While Michael’s superiors believe he’s still on trial #2, he’s been rebooting “The Good Place” at record speeds as Eleanor keeps forking figuring it out. That one time Jason actually got it, Michael admitted it was a low point.

Michael believes that wiping their memories clean will do the trick but he fails to change their surroundings and each time, somehow, someway, these four find their way to each other. Fate works in funny ways. They’re triggered by a sort of familiarity and finally, with the idea that no one would be suffering even remotely, and never being forced to eat clam chowder, they realize that they are being tortured.

In order to make them believe in the narrative, the four of them must be separated. And even then, with different soulmates, they somehow are drawn to each other and to the truth. What does that say about humans, even the “worst kind” that should end up in hell? Are they smarter than Michael believes?

Finally, during one of Michael’s “I give up” moments, Eleanor and Chidi accidentally overheard the “actors” talk about the bad place. They decided to seek refuge in the middle-place with Mindy St. Claire, the coke-fueled 80s woman who found middle ground between the two worlds. Eleanor thinks she’s so clever arriving here but it seems like this has been a popular pit-stop for the four humans. Much to Mindy’s dismay, each time, they forget to bring the cocaine she’s asked for.

Still, she has to be grateful that Michael’s experiment finally gives her mundane existence some kind of excitement. I know I’m grateful because thanks to her and her curiosity, we now know something I don’t think Michael is aware of – Chidi and Eleanor are actually soulmates. They exchanged ‘I love you’s’ and slept together and we know all about it because Mindy has to keep herself entertained somehow.

I think their relationship is actually the key to why Michael is unable to make them suffer. They are in love so they’ll always find their way back to each other and realize that the bliss they feel together, isn’t the bliss they’re feeling around Michael or anyone in the neighborhood.

While Eleanor and Chidi realize they’re actually in love and look through all of their failed plans at stopping Michael, which includes making Michael think this is the bad place, the creator is being harassed by Vicky/Denise/the real Eleanor.

She’s been thoroughly enjoying watching all of Michael’s failures and keeping track of them.  She informs him that the actors are on strike until their demands are met and calls for a bigger part; she wants to be the creator and believes she has a solution that would serve up a world where Eleanor doesn’t figure it out. When Michael opposes, she threatens to out him to his superiors.

Hitting his lowest point, he acknowledges that whatever her name is, has leverage over him and turns to Jason/Jianyu for some advice. Jason’s ramblings about a dance crew actually gives Michael an idea – he needs allies.

“So what do you say, new best friends?” he asks a shocked Eleanor, Chidi and Tahani, who now know more than they ever did before.

The Good Place really took “making friends with the devil” to a whole new level.

Can Michael be trusted? And what does he mean by “new best friends.”

In a perfect world, which this isn’t, the foursome would agree to play dumb, never admitting that they are aware that the good place is, in fact, the bad place, thus saving Michael from being burned by a thousand suns.

And if the tradeoff is that they have to accept clam chowder as a delicacy, then so be it.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – The Funeral to End All Funerals (4×08)

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The results are in! But you aren’t allowed to hear them yet.

I loved the funerals. It allows for us to celebrate these characters while also letting them celebrate each other. Each of the humans taking turns throwing their own best funeral is a great way to say goodbye to these characters. Their sentiments are touching, though I am a bit bummed we don’t get to hear Jason give any real thoughts on Eleanor. Dragging Chidi around to the funerals is a great way to inject some of that classic Good Place visual humor. Janet’s speech about her own journey mixes perfectly with the big reveal at the end of the episode. All around this is a fun, touching, and character based way to recap the characters and prepare us for when they take their permanent leave from our television screens.

The courtroom scenes provide their own kind of recap, as it Michael’s case for humanity retreads the major plot points of the series. I particularly like Michael’s use of his original experiment to add to the strength of his position. The judge covers her own time on Earth as well and reminds us of season three’s revelation that Earth has become too complicated. This allows her “reboot the Earth” plan to feel justified (in her eyes). The frivolous nature of Jen, the demons, and the Good Place committee implies that life isn’t something they can really comprehend. To Jen, rebooting Earth is almost like restarting a video game. There won’t be major consequences for her, so it’s easy to see her making such a monumental decision with relative ease.

Michael and Janet, however, have spent far too much time with the humans and learning what it means to have life. They have learned to value it and won’t allow Jen to squish it out so easily. The big Janet reveal is awesome. Janet has grown so much since Michael brought her to his neighborhood, and if one Janet could learn and write that manifesto, I believe all Janets would take it seriously.

As Jen searches each Janet for her reboot button, Eleanor demands that Michael wake up Chidi. Each character gets their big recap moment during the funerals earlier except for Chidi, but Michael recaps him completely here. “The most indecisive man ever born” is about to be woken up with more memories and pressure than he’ll know what to do with. This is a perfect plot point and culmination for Chidi. Only Chidi can solve this problem, and yet almost everyone else is better suited to handle it than he is. What has he learned? How much has he improved? Has he improved enough to save humanity?

The climaxes presented here are perfect stakes that are born from the show’s history. Chidi’s task, one more giant reboot, the Janets – all are rooted in stories we’ve seen before. It feels like next week could be the last episode, but as we all know that isn’t the case. It makes me wonder if The Good Place has one more huge trick up its sleeve. I can’t wait to find out.

Other Musings:

  • We got an explanation for Chidi’s jackedness.
  • Eleanor and Jason always got along and I loved that Eleanor acknowledged their bond.
  • The use of “the cockroaches” positive influence on their families on Earth finally gives some real weight to that side quest in season three.
  • Brent’s upswing right at the end proves a lot about human behavior, and the notion that no one is beyond rehabilitation is one that I hope a lot of viewers take to heart. I was worried about Brent’s character being an amalgamation of stereotypical middle aged white guyness, but they use it to send an important message here, and his broad characterization allows it to commentate on a large swell of people.
  • They packed so much content into the first fifteen minutes of the episode. That is some vintage Good Place pacing.

Oh, they succeeded with the experiment, by the way. Now you can know.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – Help Is Other People (4×07)

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The experiment is over. The group split apart and the status quo was finally blown up. I have no clue where the series will head now, which is a feeling I haven’t had with The Good Place since this season began. It’s an exciting feeling, and I’m grateful for it.

But still, it is a shame we didn’t spend much time with the subjects of the experiment. It feels as though the season was treading water from its second episode onward to get to this point, and I still feel the time could have been better spent. I also find it a little convenient that Eleanor and Michael didn’t think about telling Brent he is in the Bad Place way earlier in the timeline of the experiment. Tahani and Jason didn’t improve at all in their original run until they were informed about their position in the Bad Place, so it seems like this thought would have occurred to Eleanor and Michael back in episode three or four.

However, there is a ton to like about this episode, and it is probably my favorite episode of the season thus far. Tons of character humor, a sense of tension we haven’t felt all year thanks to Simone’s compiling of information, and unexpected twists along the way. A good way to make a final season successful is to call back to the rest of the series, and Eleanor and Michael recreating moments from season one here, such as the sinkhole and the iconic laugh, work well as call backs because they also serve the plot. Their backs are against the wall, so they are just trying to recreate the circumstances the original humans improved against.

As for that laugh, nothing will ever top the first reveal, but seeing Eleanor and Michael slip right back into their old ways is a treat, and watching them use the more negative aspects of themselves to try to achieve a positive goal is a testament to their growth.

I don’t know if they succeeded, and I’m not all that concerned with whether or not they did. I’m more concerned with how this series is going to wrap itself up. The experiment was fine but the way these episodes are structured, there wasn’t much attention paid to the subjects or the consequences of failure, making the outcome less meaningful. At this point, though, with six episodes left to air, I’m almost happy about this. It almost guarantees a separate endgame; one that will hopefully have higher personal stakes for all of our characters.

And finally; Brent’s realization that he is a bad person. We actually see the conflict and denial in his face and voice before he seemingly comes to terms with who he is. It feels a bit quick, but not because his turn to good happens immediately. Tahani immediately realized her issues when she was informed she was in the Bad Place, but the difference there was that Tahani was a well explored and fleshed out character by that point. We understood the headspace she inhabited and why she would think she is a good person. We never got to learn that about Brent, so I’m left wondering why he ever thought he was a decent human being in the first place. It’s a wonderful moment that is undercut yet again by the lack of development leading up to it.

By and large though, this series isn’t about Brent. It’s about Eleanor, Michael, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Janet, and what it means to try to be a good person. And the biggest reveal of the night was built to perfectly in regards to that last pillar. Last week, Michael told Bad Janet all a human can do is try, and that’s what makes them good. Tonight, it’s revealed that the first step in that process is actually admitting to yourself that you need to improve. Brent didn’t try to be better before because he didn’t admit to himself that he needed to be. Eleanor and Michael’s demonic taunts and Chidi’s truth bomb to him is what he needed to hear. Now he can start to try. The Good Place is still as thematically sound as ever, even if the season so far has been a little slow. That’s enough for me to feel more confidence once again that the ending is headed to a very good place indeed.

Other Musings:

  • We also finally get to see some negative Simone traits. She’s a good character; I really wish we could have spent more time with her in the neighborhood.
  • John has some killer one liners. He has a unique personality amongst the group and I wish we could have spent more time with him as well.
  • I feel like the “early successes” joke may have been a bit meta, and if so that gives me even more confidence in the end of the show.
  • Brent saying he’d put a good word in for the rest of the friends was a good touch so we could see some genuine decency in him.

I complained about reusing old music cues a few episodes back, but obviously when the show itself is recreating events like the sink hole and the Bad Place reveal, old music cues are perfect. I just wish the sink hole danger strings would have been saved for that moment.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – A Chip Driver Mystery (4×06)

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“A Chip Driver Mystery” seems like a turning point episode, not because of any action or some narrative shift, but because Michael appears to have laid out his final point of view, and perhaps this point of view will carry him and the humans to the end of the series. “Try to be better today than you were yesterday.”

As we witnessed this chapter in the form of Michael telling Bad Janet (who they’ve been holding captive) a story, I began to wonder what the purpose of delivering this episode in this manner was. Most of the narrative happenings took place from the same points of view we always watch each episode, and there was no tangible benefit (nor harm) coming from this storytelling method asides from just mixing it up. However, at the end of the episode the purpose reveals itself as Michael frees Bad Janet from captivity, putting his words into action by trying to be better today than he was yesterday.

With the humans storylines focusing on improving the test subjects, and with Janet being not a person, Michael is the only character we can see put this foot forward at this time, and since he’s been the ethical voice for two seasons now, it makes the most sense from a character perspective as well. His message puts all of Bad Janet’s knowledge into a new context. Janets know everything that has ever happened; they know the good and bad things that each person has done. However, like all machines, they lack the ability to truly put this behavior into context beyond what they are taught is “good” and “bad.” Michael’s idea that humans can try to be better each day doesn’t imply “good” or “bad,” only effort, and it allows for mistakes and the loss of points in a way that the system doesn’t account for. Just because we screw up one or several days or weeks in a row doesn’t mean we aren’t trying or can’t try to be better the next day – effort counts. For Michael, that’s the most important factor and his greatest lesson.

The lesson ties in well with the guilt he felt last week over who he used to be. It seems as though Michael has come to realize that he can feel good about his attempts to get better despite his past, because trying to improve yourself really is a purely noble and honest feat. I expect this message to crop up again as the series wraps up.

The few complaints I have over this episode stem more from what hasn’t been shown previously. Michael finally states one of Simone’s flaws; she makes snap judgements about people. This is a good flaw for a character, but we have barely seen her this season so it hasn’t been built to as organically as it could have. The same goes for Michael releasing Bad Janet. This scene would have been more powerful if we saw her kept in that cage for a few episodes. We are told she’s been there for six months, which is quite an extensive amount of time we missed out on(we’ve had several large time jumps this season). Time jumps aren’t inherently bad, but I do feel we are missing out on some build up to these scenes.

Of course, with this being the final season and the series running at 22 minutes per episode, time isn’t something the show has on its side. I get it. Still, I feel some of the time in previous episodes could have been spent better to successfully lead up to our turning point here. On its own though, this episode hits a lot of the right notes for me. It brought a little faith back to me in where the series is headed, and hopefully each episode for the rest of the season will try to improve upon the one that aired the last week.

Other Musings:

  • Ok, they said Brent made some improvements, and he just still seems like the worst. This is another example where spending some more time with him would have made his so called improvement more visible and also made his egregious book all the more disappointing.
  • Jason’s joke about being nicknamed “The Defendant” is honest to goodness one of my favorite jokes I think I have ever heard. It is so dumb and wonderful and I wonder how no other series has ever made a similar joke.
  • I very much like the stance the show takes here that Simone is not the problem and Brent is, and they should not be walking on eggshells around him. This felt organic to the storyline in a way Brent’s behavior doesn’t, since they need him to improve, and putting up with his attitude is not working. Don’t allow people like Brent to get away with how they treat others! But the episode doesn’t scream it at you. It makes the lesson clear while staying completely in universe. Brent’s personality could have used some of this depth.

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