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The Good Place

The Good Place – A Girl From Arizona Part Two (4×02)

TheGoodPlace/NBCColleen Hayes

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It is a shame that this second part didn’t air with its precursor solely for Eleanor’s big breakdown. That is a wonderful scene and Kristen Bell is great in it, as is Ted Danson, who lends a gravity to standing around and sympathizing. Unfortunately, its effectiveness was minimized since it took place only a couple minutes into this week’s air time, instead of after thirty plus minutes of the buildup and stress that was successfully displayed last week.

The two parts work better together, without a doubt, but from here forward I’ll focus on what aired tonight.

Michael’s pep talk to Eleanor, once again, works because of his personal experience. He did fail 1000 times, so he knows what it means not only to keep trying, but how to learn from his mistakes. Michael learned the biggest lesson of all during his time, that he was wrong, and the ability to admit when you’re wrong and take personal responsibility (as Brent claims he always does) is what allows Michael to continue being Eleanor’s conscious. He’s given Eleanor so many pep talks at this point and yet I don’t find it repetitive. Growing and changing is difficult, and we need people who are going to continue to push us when we regress, and since the series is about what it means to be a good person it’s realistic to show how important a positive and steady presence can be to maintaining ourselves. Hopefully at some point we are able to carry ourselves mostly on our own, but at this incredibly stressful point in Eleanor’s afterlife, support is needed.

Eleanor hears Michael’s words and comes back with confidence. I felt the group was tearing apart and Eleanor was going back to her old ways in her outburst (and as noted above, that regression is realistic, especially under stress), but having the ability to suppress those old desires and put others above herself is what has made Eleanor’s improvement so remarkable. Michael is right when he says Eleanor’s sacrifice of Chidi’s love is bigger than Chidi’s sacrifice of his memory because Eleanor has to live with the consequences, and I hope that this line is foreshadowing what is to come.

I wouldn’t say that the humans have gotten off easy in regards to how they lived their lives (they have been through so much), but the entire series is about avoiding hell, which can be seen as avoiding the consequences to their actions. I certainly don’t want them to go to the Bad Place, nor do I believe that’s a proportional punishment, but I do hope this idea of consequence comes around again. The series has allowed for so many do overs that it’d be an appropriate and necessary touch to remind the viewers that this is it – no more do overs. This is the final season and their final chance at redemption. With Eleanor already giving up her strongest emotional connection, even just a reminder of the permanent consequences our characters face would be appreciated and do wonders for the tension. I’d also like to see some more personal stakes. Eternal damnation for all of humanity are high stakes, no doubt, but they aren’t rooted in our characters. We know what’s at stake for Michael, as the humans will be tortured by “him” forever, but the rest of the gang could use a similar, more personal, consequence to their failure.

Michael telling Jason about controlling his impulses gives us another final arc to watch out for. This is a perfect final arc for Jason and the number one way in which he needs to improve himself. Jason was always the nicest of the original four with most of his misdemeanors and wrong doings coming from his impulses. I look forward to seeing what kind of person he becomes when he does learn to control himself.

Tahani is still missing from this week. I’m not too concerned. We have plenty of time, and since Josh wasn’t focused on much in the opening, I know Tahani will have plenty to do when it comes time to make Josh good.

But Brent…Brent is awful. I was really hoping for a redemptive quality in him, and I thought we were going to get it for a moment when he immediately confessed he didn’t belong in the Good Place. I was actually a bit disappointed that he wasn’t actually confessing; for a moment this felt like a classic Good Place twist. I had no idea where the story was about to go if he had confessed, but with him just doubling down on his position in the afterlife and declaring he belongs in the “best” place, we just went back to square one. Eleanor’s plan to get him to do good deeds in hopes that he will just start naturally doing them is a reasonable one in universe, for sure, but I’m skeptical of the validity of the plan in regards to the story. It’s the final season, we don’t have much time to watch Brent do good deeds over and over, and due to the nature of the experiment and the questions the series is exploring, we can’t just cut away from Brent for a few episodes to focus on the other subjects, then jump back and see that Eleanor’s plan worked. We need to see the growth. I feel the best approach would be to get these four subjects into situations together so we can see them all at once. Otherwise, I fear the experiment, or worse, the show, could fail to prove its hypothesis.

But this is just the start. For the entire run of the series, The Good Place has never kept a status quo running for more than a few episodes at a time (even in season one). I expect the plot to advance in a big way soon.

Other Musings:

  • Michael says Jason’s name five times to get rid of his headaches. This is character humor at its best.
  • I thought the team questioning Eleanor’s decision making was realistic, and wish they hadn’t so quickly backtracked on it. It would have been nice to see them decide to keep Eleanor as the leader but allow more collaboration between everyone.
  • Janet broke up with Jason and this made him sad, but telling him Blake Bortles got cut crushed him. He can only affect the Janet situation, so I’m sure he will focus more on that, but his personal hero was just taken from him. That’s the kind of hit that takes a bite out of your soul. Blake Bortles was his faith.
  • I didn’t mention Chidi and Simone. Their interaction was cute. Not much to say on it yet.
  • I love how each duo in the core group has their own type of bond. Eleanor and Jason have always shared in a juvenile sense of humor so I loved that Eleanor was able to get Jason to high five her at the end. That’s why we need all sorts of friends and people in our lives.

Brent is seriously awful. His improvement will be a challenge not just for Eleanor, but for the writers. They are in very dicey territory. Brent isn’t his own character as much as he just represents the stereotypical privileged white man, and if he stays that way, any improvement he makes will imply the writers’ suggestion on how to deal with systemic racism, sexism, and injustice. A noble cause, of course, but also a cause with no single, easy solution. I’m not sure The Good Place is currently in a position to tackle all these topics with the attention they need. Maybe I’m wrong, though!

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The Good Place

The Good Place – The Answer (4×09)

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The Good Place/The Answer

The Good Place has really returned to form the last four episodes. The plot has been propelled forward since the end of the experiment, and the characters’ place in the narrative has been clearer. The pace has also been quicker, which, ironically, has led to an episode that mostly takes place over the course of a single snap.

Last week’s episode explored the effects the humans have had on each other through their funerals, but Chidi was obviously left out of this due to him being unconscious. This week makes up for it in a huge way. As Michael returns all of Chidi’s memories to him, we follow along with the resurgence of memories, taking rests on certain important events in Chidi’s life. We get to see new time periods of Chidi’s life (like when he was a baby) as well as familiar events from Chidi’s perspective (such as his first day in the original neighborhood).

As we explore Chidi’s life on earth, we learn the origin of his indecision, which provides us with the close of his lifelong arc. After “solving” his parent’s marriage, Chidi realized that every problem has a solution, and if he could only find this answer, he’d always do the right thing.

The problem is that this idea was put into his head at such a young age (and supported by his parents’ decision to not tell Chidi that counseling saved their marriage), that he has accepted this as an absolute truth, which cripples his ability to make any decision by impulse or without knowledge of the outcome.

This crux is where we finally get to see what we missed from Chidi during the funerals; we see how Jason, Tahani, and Eleanor affected him. He asks both Jason and Tahani how they manage to make their decisions – Jason tells him that if you wait too long to decide you’ll miss an opportunity, and Tahani tells him that failure is a way to learn. The Chidi in the timelines of which he speaks to them cannot imagine being able to live that way, but the Chidi that Michael is putting together, the one with all of these memories we have been watching flow back, disagrees. This new Chidi has been through too much and has learned that there is no answer.

Except for Eleanor. Of all the people Chidi has interacted with in his life, Eleanor was the most important. Not because of their romance (though I’m sure that doesn’t hurt) but because of the ethical conundrum she as a person presented him. She is so horrible and has such poor instincts at times, but turns out to be caring, determined, and kind at heart. She is a walking ethical dichotomy, and proof that there is no answer.

Which is the answer.

It’s hilarious and appropriate that Chidi’s answer is itself a conundrum. What fantastic writing.

The Good Place is ready to end, and the final stretch of episodes are teed up to be excellent. I have no idea what’s going to happen, and apparently, neither does Chidi. But for once, he’s like the rest of us – excited to find out.

Other Musings:

  • This episode is yet another clever way to allow us to recap the series without painfully obvious callbacks or a clip show **shudder.** I guess this is kind of a clip show with the memories, but most of it was new and that’s where the focus is. It isn’t just a celebration of the series up till now, it informs Chidi the character as he awakes in the present Jeremy Bearimy.
  • I don’t think we have ever seen Janet materialize something before. It always has appeared with an edit.
  • I’m glad they didn’t have Chidi say anything about the fork in the garbage disposal. It’s a good reference this way without it being completely hammered over us.
  • The red boots return!
  • Michael really went all out for Chidi’s perfect apartment with that fridge. All the more effective when he has to leave it behind to stay at Eleanor’s because Chidi knows exactly what he’s missing.
  • Michael tells Chidi that soulmates most likely are not real and lays out the absolute truth about relationships – they are a decision. And now Chidi is ready to make that decision.
  • I can’t believe Janet didn’t put the note in her mouth. Maybe they didn’t want to undercut the emotion of the moment, but it’s not like this show hasn’t done that before. It is still a good callback to Eleanor’s note at the end of season one.
  • Chidi is zen now. He is ‘Zen Chidi.’ He is like Desmond in the back half of the final season of Lost. I don’t believe this is a coincidence. I also don’t believe that the final season of Lost is a decade old.

See you in 2020 Good Place!

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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 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 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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