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The Good Place

The Good Place – Janet(s) (3×09)

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So much D’Arcy Carden in this episode.

Janet(s) was easily the wildest episode of Season 3 so far. It is great to see the show break the shackles of Earth so thoroughly and start to expand on the mythology of the afterlife.

I got serious flashbacks (ha!) to LOST tonight; there were some major info dumps here, and almost every answer led to more questions. It does feel like there will be answers to most of these questions by the end of the season, though, so we are left in an exciting and good (haha!) place.

D’Arcy Carden must have been taking her notes throughout the rest of the season while she was in the background, trying to perfect each character so she could effectively play them here. I actually felt like she did a good enough job that they didn’t need to change the clothing to match each character to help differentiate the personalities, but it was fun to see Janet in so many different outfits from her usual getup and it did make it easier to tell them apart. It also set up Eleanor pretending to be Jason while looking like Janet.

It never felt like we lost the characters in the Janets, either. Jason and Tahani’s plots here felt a little aimless, but they do discover that Janet is in love with Jason and that they were married. Though I was left questioning why that information was in Janet’s system but she couldn’t remember it.

Chidi has his own breakthrough in his storyline, almost at the cost of Eleanor’s breakdown. Chidi went back to the chalkboard to try to explain how our memories make up who we are. It felt like vintage Good Place. I loved Eleanor’s jab about barfing Wikipedia. It felt like a very self-aware jab at the show for never dipping too far into the complexities of philosophy, but did discredit what the half-hour sitcom brings to the table regarding ethics.

Eleanor can’t handle Chidi’s notion that he doesn’t love her just because another version of him did, though, and she starts to lose herself. So much of her identity over these reboots was framed by the people she got close to, with Chidi at the center of that. Despite it nearly destroying the universe, I actually thought it was progress that Eleanor felt she needed Chidi to know who she was. It may be a swing a bit too far in the other direction, but at least she isn’t shutting him or anyone out anymore.

There was a clever reversal here when Chidi was laying out facts about Eleanor one after another and then realized he was in love with her, mirroring Eleanor doing the same thing late in season one. I’m not sure I’ve seen quite enough of this version of Chidi and Eleanor falling in love with each other for this to completely land, but I liked the idea.

So that’s the void. On to the accountants!

Janet and Michael head to the accountants where Neil, the head honcho, shows them the system of how point totals are decided and tallied. There has been a common theme in the afterlife of the mundane bureaucracy of it all, and it was hammered home here. The idea was made even more effective by Neil’s chipper attitude and desire for cake – probably one of the lone pieces of genuine joy he looks forward to in the day.

Eventually, after Neil checks Doug Forcett’s file and reveals he is destined to the Bad Place, Michael asks just how long it has actually been since a human made it into the Good Place.

512 years.

I have mentioned a few times how I felt many explanations or reveals have felt handwaved over or rushed: the door to Earth the demons made, Janet’s VR system, and I’m going to include Janet’s void having a back door to the accountants. But the reveal that it has been 512 years since anyone has made it into the Good Place feels right. This is exactly where the entire show has been building towards.

This gives me a real sense of faith moving forward. Season three has dealt heavily with the humans maintaining their hope and desire to do good for others around them. Sometimes it felt fruitless, like with Jason’s father. Other times it felt unnecessary, like with Eleanor’s mother. There was also never a real obstacle to this goal. Try to do good, even if it doesn’t matter. Boom. It was a goal in line with the show’s theme, but it was vague, and it led to some wandering storylines.

But Michael officially taking things into his own hands to change the rigged system of the afterlife? That is a simple, clear, logical goal. It’s simple on a level of Eleanor trying to stay in the Good Place in season one, or trying to get to the Good Place in season two.

This episode brought my faith back in strong force. It was clever, fun, and funny. It answered some questions, left us with more, and hit us with some big reveals. Our characters are finally in the Good Place. As Michael said earlier, we are almost at the end. There is a nice lesson to be learned in following people doing what is right even if it doesn’t matter, but there is a far more intriguing plot line possible when following a group of people who have decided to make it matter.

Other musings:

  • Neutral Janet: Now we have seen them all!
  • I love how simple Jason is. He conjures the hot tube and still doesn’t fill it because that wasn’t part of the memory he had with his friend.
  • Why even bother threatening to marbleize Janet here? She says they can “bring her back?” Maybe I’m forgetting that being a thing before but I quite remember the marbleization being the end for Janets, no coming back. That’s why Michael refused the first time, right?
  • Michael smacking the cake out of Neil’s hands. Classic.
  • Obvious callback to Eleanor’s famous line from the season one reveal. Season four was recently announced to be happening, but these callbacks and mirroring scenes really make it feel like we are approaching some sort of end game. I have a feeling season four may be the last!

Editorials

The Secret of The Good Place’s Biggest Twist

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The Good Place/NBC "Everything is Fine" 2016 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Spoilers for the first season of The Good Place below

The Good Place/NBC, NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Season one of NBC’s The Good Place won over many fans with its likable characters, unique premise, and impressive use of cliffhangers on a weekly basis. The ability to end each chapter with a stinger that left the audience excitedly anticipating the next installment set The Good Place apart from other sitcoms.

In the last episode of the season, Eleanor drops the biggest reveal so far.

“THIS is the Bad Place.”

The show only gets to bask in its own glory for about ten seconds though, because it immediately upstages itself with an even bigger reveal: Michael is evil.

The Good Place/NBC "Dance Dance Resolution" 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The Good Place/NBC Photo by: Colleen Hayes

The cliffhanger endings throughout season one worked, but eventually the novelty of the unexpected wears off. Once it does, all you are left with is the characters. This is why Michael being evil is the most important part of the series’ heel turn.

Michael’s true nature and the “Good Place” being the “Bad Place” would seem to go hand in hand, but that isn’t necessarily true. There could have easily been a version of The Good Place where Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason go about their Good Place lives as they are without any Good Place architect guiding them. There even could have been a version where Michael is ACTUALLY a Good Place architect and is being duped as well. Revealing they are in the Bad Place in these versions would still have been effective; that’s a good reveal! But not a great one.

It’s shocking on a plot level, but it only recontextualizes the plot. Our view of the world changes but our relationship with the show only shifts. Humans are incredibly adaptive. Something is only new for a short while before it becomes accepted as the norm.

This is why the Michael reveal is so important to the sustainability of the twist. Revealing that Michael is evil not only recontextualizes the plot, but the character and all of his relationships. Not only haven’t we been watching what we thought we were watching, we weren’t even watching who we thought we were watching. The audience isn’t just hit with a shock but a betrayal. We rooted for you not to get retired, Michael!!!

The Good Place/NBC "Dance Dance Resolution" 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The Good Place/NBC Photo by: Colleen Hayes

That emotional attachment and the resulting personal investment is why The Good Place twist is so transcendent. We never break with our investment of the show. It isn’t so much a question of how did the writers pull this off, but how did Michael pull this off? It forces a compulsion on you to rewatch the first season, just as we all compulsively look back over a lost relationship after a breakup, trying to spot all the red flags that we definitely should have seen the first time.

This also sets up a second season that guarantees something we haven’t seen before – the real Michael. Characters are the gift that keep on giving, because unlike a new setting (or more accurately for The Good Place, our new understanding of the setting), character novelty doesn’t wear off as quickly. There are so many new facets of the show to explore through the real Michael. How will he interact with this world? With our heroes? How much of season one was an act and how much was truthful?

Considering we all know the humans won’t be eternally damned by the end of the series (that would be the subversion of all subversions, and probably not result in too great a story), if the big twist was only that the humans are in the Bad Place then our speculation going forward is limited to “how will they escape?” Revealing Michael’s true nature and goals allows us to not just speculate about the humans’ escape, but to wonder how Michael will fail. And I want to see it! He betrayed me. I want to watch him fail and get what he deserves. We know Michael, even if we didn’t know the real Michael, we are invested in him. That investment in his character carries us much further than any plot point ever could.

The Good Place/NBC -"Dance Dance Resolution" 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The Good Place/NBC Photo by: Colleen Hayes

The Good Place has a great plot twist, but it has a phenomenal character twist. Michael being evil is the secret weapon of the season ending cliffhanger and the key to its sustainability. Watching season one for the first time, my mind was shifting gears when Eleanor announced they were in the Bad Place, but my spine chilled and my brain exploded when Michael let out that iconic evil laugh. The series continued with a phenomenal second season, but before its airing many wondered how The Good Place could carry on after blowing up its world so completely. What could carry it forward?

The secret: Through all the twists and turns the show never lost the sight of the fact that it isn’t about what carries it, but who.

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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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