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The Good Place

The Good Place – Everything Is Great (2×01 and 2×02)

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Alright everyone, take two.

The second season kicked off right after the season finale, with Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jianjyu arriving at The Good Place, for what they thought was the first time ever.

But this time, we – the fans, were in on a lot more than they were. After the first season finale, Eleanor figured out that the “Good Place” was actually a cover for the “bad place” aka hell and Michael was their worst nightmare, making it his lifelong mission to torment them. And still, I don’t know what’s worse getting spiders stuffed up your butt (?) or having an existential experience from hell where everyone is in on the truth except you.

When Michael hit that reset button though, it was dangerous. The first season, up until the finale episode, was light. Only after that dark twist did we realize that under the comical surface, there was an emotional intelligence that only an evil mastermind could conjure up. But still, with this starting anew, there was the possibility of falling into a lull – would we see this same scenario play out over and over and over again? Now that we were in on the big secret, we needed and expected more.

In that regard, this episode delivered. It wasn’t overly exciting but it was necessary. For starters, it raised the stakes. Michael may be an evil mastermind of his “world” but when it comes to his higher-ups, he’s just trying to meet a quota, which automatically removes his villainous persona. How can we be scared of someone who is literally talking himself up and then crumbling when push comes to shove?

He also underestimated the nasty humans, specifically Eleanor. In the second phase rollout, he believed it would take years, at least 80 as he told “real Eleanor” now playing Denise with a limp. His plan was foiled within the hour thanks to the note fake Eleanor left herself. Immediately upon her arrival, she knew to look for someone or something named Chidi. He was played even before the game began.

Then, he quickly began picking up on the oddities of the neighborhood. The people were all too nice and persuasive, Michael had too much of an interest in her, her soulmate (whose name I don’t remember) kept making an exit when she tried to confess her truth by going to the gym, and of course, everyone wanted to get her drunk. Something just wasn’t adding up. But it wasn’t just for Eleanor either – Michael tried to ruin Chidi, Tahani and Jianjyu’s life in such major ways that they were immediately forced to crack.

Chidi, the man who is unable to make decisions, was given 3 soulmates and was forced to choose. When he finally made a decision, Michael interrupted him by pairing him with the other woman, who was a complete dud. Tahani, a self-absorbed socialite was paired with Tomas, a man half her height that was very frugal and who forced her to switch out her couture clothing for cargo pants. Then Jianyu was paired with another monk who was described as his “best friend,” but he was nowhere near the dope homies he used to hang out with on Earth.

It seems Michael was so focused on succeeding this second time around for his own sake, he didn’t pay attention to how they figured it out in the first place. Before you know it, they were all being drawn to each other because of the suffering. And there’s that major flaw: if only the 4 humans are going to be inadvertently suffering, they’ll catch on eventually.

Michael also thought his memory eraser was foolproof. And while Eleanor didn’t exactly remember what happened the first time around, she had a vague memory of a few things and the sense that she’d been here before. Truthfully, I’m quite surprised that the shrimp didn’t trigger her memory in some way.

And all of this was proof that these people were not the same gullible humans that they were when they arrived to the “good place” the first time. They had more questions, they spoke up more, and they weren’t going to settle. Heck, if I was in paradise, I’d fight for a bigger house too. Something tells me that with each reboot, they’ll only get smarter and more determined to beat the system. The reason the first attempt failed is because Michael didn’t foresee that selfish Eleanor would gain a conscience and try to save Eleanor. But she did. And this time around, when Tahani had a breakdown, she didn’t act out in jealousy. Instead, she was understanding and thoughtful and well, an improved Eleanor. So just because they were bad people on Earth doesn’t mean they are stupid or incapable of change.

After Michael’s second attempt at devious torture blew up in his face, he withheld it from his superiors and reset the timer himself to avoid having it all shutdown and eternal agony of early retirement.  And what really happens if he doesn’t succeed…besides the aforementioned penis flattener? Shudders.  Shawn warned that there would not be a third time so what happens if he finds out that there was? Can Michael actually make it work this third time around with his desperation, haste, and panic being a constant motivator? Or will that ensure he doesn’t “have it under control” again. The stakes are much higher for him this season than they were before.

There’s something enjoyable about knowing what Eleanor and the rest don’t and seeing Michael gloat in his diabolical torture for just a few seconds before seeing it all crumble. And seriously, could “the bad place” not afford better minions to improv? There’s such a distaste for humans but as real Eleanor, now Denise, proves, there’s an inherent need for them to feel appreciated and useful in the subplots. Something tells me, they’ll flat out foil it in the next attempt. And if they aren’t humans, what are they?

As Eleanor would say, what the fork.

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The Good Place

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

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The Good Place - Help Is Other People

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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The Good Place

The Good Place – Employee of the Bearimy (4×05)

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The Good Place/Employee of the Bearimy

Janet has been rescued and she, Michael, and Jason are headed back to the neighborhood. And yet, I’m left wondering as to the purpose of this excursion. What did the story gain from this detour? As of the end of this episode, we are left with Michael and the gang trying to improve four humans in their experiment, which is exactly where we started this season.

Maybe there will be some repercussion of this adventure down the line, but as it stands now it feels inconsequential. The episode tries to paint Michael’s revisit to the Bad Place as difficult, but asides from his short personal guilt trip over his “Employee of the Bearimy” photo, we don’t see him struggle much. In fact, he and Jason execute their extraction with ease.

On top of that, Jason needed to change exactly zero because his impulse decision of blowing things up saved the day, as he and Michael blew up two demons (including Vicky) during their escape. I was hoping to see Jason learn to control himself and contribute in a less combustible manner, especially after so much of the season has implied this would be his arc. If that had been the case, the journey would have at least had a character benefit.

Back in the neighborhood, Tahani feels useless. I mean that in both interpretable ways – Tahani herself feels she isn’t able to contribute, and Tahani the character doesn’t seem to be contributing to the narrative. The conclusion of this plot gives Tahani’s party throwing abilities validity, with Tahani openly declaring that she wants to be more than a party thrower. I see no reason that this same plot couldn’t have been explored in the third episode of the season with a more focused storyline, perhaps allowing us not just to dive into Tahani’s headspace, but actually see the four test subjects interact.

We’re nearly halfway through the final season, and Chidi and Simone’s romance blossomed completely offscreen. On one hand, we have seen their romance begin before (in the start of season three), so avoiding these scenes could be seen as efficient story telling, but on the other, the context of the romance is different this time. Not only do we have Eleanor watching their romance in terror, but this relationship could be crucial to how the afterlife treats humanity for the rest of eternity. There is a lot of proposed weight on the outcome of this experiment, but with so little time actually being spent with these subjects and their relationships, the smaller the stakes feel. The show tells us what’s important by virtue of its nature – the focus of an episode is what the series tells its audience is important. “Employee of the Bearimy” spends more time focusing on Tahani’s perceived lack of use than it does on the humans improving at the lake house, so are we to believe that Tahani’s personal problems are greater than the success of the experiment?

Of course not, and I’m not trying to imply that Tahani’s feelings shouldn’t be showcased (they should), but there is a balance to be struck that isn’t quite happening right now. Episodes like season two’s “Dance Dance Resolution” excelled because not only did we see Michael’s inner turmoil and professional struggles, but because the consequence of his failing was kept prominently in the viewers mind with Shawn’s ominous threats and Vicky’s blackmail. The plot worked in tangent with the character storyline, not as a backdrop to it.

I’m a fan of character driven episodes and stories. My favorite Good Place episode is “Best Self,” where nothing happens except for a party the humans throw before they accept their fate in the Bad Place. However, it’s a culmination of a season’s worth of character work, and results in Michael’s official induction to the group as an honorary human.

“Employee of the Bearimy” has no such culmination and has no evidence of any forward momentum for the story. I hope to be proven wrong in the coming weeks, and that there is something in this episode I missed that will directly impact the coming story.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles was mentioned. A+

Other Musings:

  • Tahani, Jason, and Eleanor apparently have ALL of their memories back now. So these are the complete versions of these characters. I would have liked to see the slight personality changes in the characters when they regained these memories (season 1 Tahani and season 2 Tahani were quite different by the ends of those seasons), though I suppose it makes sense that the growth in one timeline would overcome the lack of growth in another.
  • The emblem on Shawn’s podium was a good callback to the pins from season two. Nice continuity.
  • Derek reset himself.
  • Chidi trusts Eleanor. I’m not sure if this was a hint of multidimensional connections or just Chidi trusting her like he trusted Michael in season one.
  • I hope Chidi and Simone stay together because I’d love to see Eleanor get an ending that doesn’t revolve around romance, but that potential storyline will be immensely weaker without us having seen the romance develop. Maybe that’s the point? Underplay Chidi and Simone so that Eleanor and Chidi can have a guilt free reunion?
  • 41-33

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