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The Good Place - Chidi Sees the Time-Knife The Good Place - Chidi Sees the Time-Knife

The Good Place

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

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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 – Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy (4×04)

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The Good Place - Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy

Our mystery guest made it to town tonight, and I was totally wrong about who it was. I definitely understand the need for the hood now, because no one would have cared much if Glenn was traveling towards town at the end of last week. It also added a bit of a surprise when he appeared. Was it necessary on a plot or story level? Not at all. But it goes to show what a bit of showmanship can add to a story beat.

Glenn arrives with the claim that Michael is Vicky, and the team spirals into a bit of madness trying to figure out if this is true or not. I for one, never believed Vicky was actually in the Michael suit. Michael’s speech to Eleanor in part two of “A Girl From Arizona” was too in character, and I never believed Vicky could pull that off. I was hoping Eleanor would follow this same cue, and was a bit disappointed when she started to doubt Michael. Eleanor has come a long way from the soloist she used to be and very much embraces the team spirit nowadays, and it would have been a nice touch if we could have seen her growth here by having her trust Michael just because she knows him so well. It would have also been a great callback to her initial test with the judge at the end of season two, where she had to prove she knew that Chidi was a fake. A missed opportunity.

Jason, on the other hand, did exactly this. He realized Janet was Bad Janet because she didn’t say, “Not a girl” when he called her “girl.” This is a great payoff to all of Janet’s reminders over the seasons but also a testament to Jason’s interest in Janet and his growth as a character. His determination to get her back and to punch Shawn in the face is also some riveting positive character development.

The Janet reveal works well enough as a small twist, but it’s difficult to critique the development without seeing where it leads. I can voice my concerns, though. There are only 9 episodes left, and we were just robbed of Janet for 3 episodes. This could turn out to be fine, but considering this is the final season I do hope we can spend as much time as possible with the characters we love, so any missed time feels like a loss. I also was interested in Janet’s development, as she had been testier this season. Obviously, that’s because she was Bad Janet in disguise, which negates any arc she had started to go through. Again, this may not be bad, but until we see what the payoff to this storyline is, I’m not sure if the loss of Janet is worth it yet.

I’m also unsure what the benefit of the Bad Place interfering with the experiment so thoroughly is. The improvement of the original humans was proving to be difficult enough, and we haven’t seen much of Chidi or Simone so far, and now that the main group is split apart with Jason and Michael headed to the Bad Place to retrieve Janet, there will be even less interaction between the main cast. The show was always at its best when all the characters were in close proximity together (season two is a perfect example of this, with the Earth time saga in season three being evidence that the time they spend apart is less effective). I hope they reunite quickly.

The ethical and moral themes the show loves to dive into also get diluted when the Bad Place interferes so much. Repeating the experiment to prove the hypothesis that humans can improve after death is a good way to dive into what makes a person good or bad, especially with new personality types populating the town. Throwing the Bad Place sabotage into the mix has made it less about the humans improvement and more about keeping the experiment in tact.

Hopefully the big picture starts to become clear soon. There isn’t much time to waste and the series needs to properly build to its final statement. Trickery and twists make the ride entertaining and enjoyable, but the beauty of that famous first season twist wasn’t the twist itself; it was in learning how each of the humans wasn’t a good person and how the series swung the door open for deeper ethical discussion and a more complex narrative. The Good Place is capable of that kind of thought provoking storytelling, and I hope it builds to a final statement worthy of its name.

Other Musings:

  • Chidi’s horse drawing was 10/10 perfect.
  • Glenn developing a conscious isn’t as interesting as Michael’s slow turn to good was, but it is good that they mentioned since Michael turned good other demons reasonably can as well.
  • Jason’s knowledge of what mixes best with pig urine is one of those statements that tells you everything you need to know about a character.
  • I LOVE that we learn what Michael’s real form is. The fact that he is in a human suit is something that’s easy to forget.
  • I didn’t suspect Janet was secretly Bad Janet until this episode. I was confident Michael was Michael and knew there had to be some other twist. I figured that twist would come from Janet, especially since I had already picked up on her changed behavior. So the Janet twist didn’t hit me, but Jason being the one to figure it out and how he figured it out was effective anyway because it was a payoff to two characters over years of build up. This is more proof that the twist is less important than the characters and story behind it.
  • Bad Janet telling the bubbling goo of Glenn to shut up.

I’ve wanted to mention this for the last few weeks but tonight’s final scene finally prompted it. I really want some new music cues. I know at this point it’s unlikely to happen, but the score for this show in its first two season was so good and now they use the same cues for many different scenes. The final score tonight, with the low strings, is the same cue that was used for the sink hole way back when, but most memorably, it was used right before Michael snapped the gang into their first reboot at the end of season one. Its use in that scene lent that particular cue a sense of real gravity and danger, and its use here completely minimizes those traits. Mix it up! Save those cues for the moments that deserve them and give us new motifs for new situations.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – Chillaxing (4×03)

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The Good Place - Chillaxing

The humans in The Good Place have come a long way since they started; so far in fact that their character growth has threatened to put them into a place of stagnancy this final season. But by putting the humans in a position to become teachers and help make other people better, they avoid stagnancy by putting them through a final test of sorts. They are each being forced to reflect on themselves and their own growth, which not only helps them understand why they changed, but will solidify these changes and complete their transformations.

Tahani spends most of this episode with John, who is a much fuller character than Brent in every way. John definitely isn’t all bad, and he and Tahani seem to get along quite well during their spa day.  We see the positive qualities alongside the negative ones, which makes him a better rounded character. Plus, his flaws are relatable and real. Many people don’t handle criticism well and tend to double down when they are accused of wrong doing, just as John does when Tahani reveals that his blog was hurtful. During his defensive retort, we learn that he had to work sixteen hours a day on his website, which hints that much of the content on his blog may have been created for an audience that loves spiteful gossip and not just out of his own petty enjoyment (though this doesn’t excuse the blog nor absolve him from enjoying it anyway). All of this creates a character that feels real and makes me root for his improvement. I like Tahani, so seeing John get along with her makes me like him more. I don’t like his mean spirited gossip, but understand his defensive stance when called out on it.

By the end of the episode, Tahani realizes that she and John are similar, and she reflects on her own self improvement. She comes to the conclusion that what was most beneficial to her development was human connection, and so she decides to connect with John personally. No Chidi ethics lessons, just good old fashion friendship.

Jason is also being forced to reflect a little, even if he doesn’t realize it. Last week, Michael told Jason he needed to learn to control his impulses. Jason seemed to take this to heart, but change doesn’t come easily, and one thing that Jason needed to see were the actual impacts of his actions. Throughout this series, through all the reboots and crazy time jumps and the constant running from place to place, most of Jason’s actions were left behind and he didn’t have to come face to face with anyone who was being hurt by them.

Even though he’s doing it on purpose, he’s seeing how his actions are affecting Chidi. Unlike the first season, where he was doing the same thing (though obliviously), Jason cares for Chidi now. He wants to lay off of the torture Chidi is going through because he doesn’t want his friend to suffer. Jason doesn’t have much introspection shown here, but I have to believe that Jason is going to improve upon himself. Too much of the season so far has put a focus on his actions and the consequences of them, and I believe that he will take some of his part in Chidi’s breakdown to heart. He will also take the positive affect of his actions to heart, as he knows he helped the team achieve their goal of pushing Chidi into teaching ethics again. This was a very busy week for Jason, as he came face to face with both the ups and downs of his personal actions.

Last on the list is Eleanor. She’s gone through a lot of emotional turmoil lately, and all those feelings are swirling around her right now. It’s no surprise that she took a certain glee in causing Chidi pain, not just because she was angry at him, but because it was an easy, tangible task that could distract her from the rest of her emotions. There is nothing like having an excuse to let yourself act on your worst desires and ignore the rest of your problems. Eventually though, with all that came a breakdown. Eleanor does still love Chidi, after all. I believe Eleanor needs to sort out her emotions, for if she didn’t I would cry fowl, saying that she adjusted to mind wiped Chidi too easily. I think it’s covered now, though, and would like to see Eleanor get her shirt together, just as Michael told her. We need a fully functional Eleanor if we want the plot to move along. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have any more complicated feelings regarding Chidi or the experiment, but I would like to see her put her focus more into completing the experiment than dealing with Chidi.

Other Musings:

  • I’m so glad they recognized that Chidi himself still needs to improve as a person. I feared that would get lost in the shuffle here.
  • Jason fearing that he would mess the plan up is character growth. Previously he would have been throwing out unhelpful suggestions left and right.
  • Chidi thinks he made God cry. Chidi’s suffering tonight was basically tangible.
  • Trevor is coming to town. I can’t think of any other side character that would warrant a surprise reveal, and since that’s the case, why not just show him? It’s a cheap cliffhanger instead of a tease for what’s to come. Trevor is enough of a wild card that the “What’s he going to do?” would be a much more interesting topic of discussion this week than “Who is under the hood?”
  • I didn’t miss Brent at all.

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The Good Place

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

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The Good Place A Girl From Arizona Part Two

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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