Am I choosing to write this review by my own free will, or have external forces created an environment that pushed me into this?
An episode of The Good Place hasn’t caused me to think this much in a long time. Eleanor and Michael’s back and forth over free will was a true debate that Eleanor kept pushing to the next level. When Eleanor initially drew the conclusion that she didn’t actually fall in love with Chidi because Michael set it up, I was asking myself, “How did she draw THAT conclusion?”
To my delight, the next line of dialogue after the break addressed the same question, and thus the great debate over free will started. Eleanor referenced Determinism, which is the theory that we have no control over our own actions, and that everything we do happens because of some external force over which we have no control (in this case, Michael controlling the afterlife neighborhood). Eleanor believes that this theory is the only explanation for how she fell in love with Chidi.
Michael argues against her, using Eleanor’s unpredictable nature in the afterlife as an example of free will, but Eleanor then pushes the idea further and further towards it’s most logical conclusion – that someone is controlling Michael, or set HIM up for torture.
To which Michael dumps a glass of iced tea on her head, which he had ordered using his free will.
What I loved about this debate (aside from being a sucker for philosophical musings) was that the opposing stances Michael and Eleanor took were completely based on their experiences on the show thus far. Michael has spent 800 years trying to control everything and everyone around him and consistently failed over and over and over again due to something he could not predict. He learned first hand that humans, no matter how well you know them or how much you try to influence them, will make choices unique to them and act on their own free will. His experiences informed his belief, and he used those experiences to support his argument.
Eleanor, on the other hand, has lived a life where she is constantly blaming others for her misfortune and rarely accepting responsibility for her own actions. It’s much easier to accept the selfish part of yourself if you believe it’s not your choice to be that way. On top of that, Eleanor knows that she has had her memories rebooted against her will hundreds of times. She has been at a complete loss of control for centuries, so of course she doesn’t feel like she has the ability to exercise free will.
This debate would not have been effective with any other character combination on the show. Jason is too…Jason. Chidi is too indecisive to not believe he actually has agency while making choices (his life would be so much simpler if he just straight up subscribed to Determinism). Tahani, while also believing she is partly a result of her parents, constantly worked by her own will to attempt to upstage her sister and earn her parents’ respect, so she doesn’t have the same background of excusing her behavior the way Eleanor does. And then there is Janet, who was programmed by someone, so a lot of her actions ARE predetermined, though she has been breaking the boundaries of what she is supposed to be able to do (except for breaking the boundaries of her supporting role this season).
Eleanor and Michael, though, can have this discussion, and they make this debate work on a character level. It’s not just a philosophical argument; it’s a personal spat between friends, each informed by what they’ve experienced and who they are. This episode would not have been successful in season one or season two, because these characters needed all the experiences they’ve had to take the stances they take here.
Last week I mentioned that I felt Eleanor cleared her last hurdle into becoming a selfless person. Turns out I was wrong; she needed one last push. Determinism, in combination with Eleanor’s blame hose, was a perfect way to cover up her insecurities, vulnerabilities, and her shortcomings. Michael has come up short more times than any other character on the show, though, and ran out of excuses a long time ago. Eventually, he had to accept that maybe, he was wrong.
When he came to this conclusion, he also discovered that the entire afterlife system might be wrong. He’s been trying to prove this ever since, so he sticks to the mission to put good in the world because it matters to him. His friends matter to him. Picking them up at the airport on time, despite being the worst possible use of free will, matters to him. I like that Michael doesn’t “win” the debate. He just chooses to continue to try to exert his free will because otherwise nothing he does matters, and he won’t accept that. Eleanor doesn’t want to accept that, either, so she once again decides to try. Perhaps now that last hurdle has been crossed.
I can understand how this episode may not have been to everyone’s tastes, and perhaps if the season as a whole had been moving at a better pace this episode would have felt more like a breather than a slow outing. I enjoyed the episode and the discussion myself and thought it was a nice allusion to a return to form for the show, especially seeing the memories back in The Good Place. After two weeks of complaining about the split cast, we get an episode that I felt was a perfect example as to when isolating some characters is necessary. An interesting debate informed by the characters with some good laughs in between. I liked this one, but I am so ready to get back to the whole gang together again.
Finally, by the end, the team reunites. They have a new plan to shake up the system but need to find the perfect person to lead the charge. Michael suggests they head to Canada.
- I miss the afterlife. It provides such a unique platform for humor. Tahani the Centaur, Chidi suffering in a big pink blob; my biggest laughs came from these moments. The memories provided a nice contrast from the old Michael to the new Michael, but it also showed us just how plain the show has gotten on Earth compared to days of old.
- I’ve seen a theory floating around that Michael was being tortured on Earth, so it was interesting to hear Eleanor reference that idea this episode.
- I, too, dislike picking people up at the airport, Michael. That has to be quite the gain of good place points, though.
- The Demons are coming to Earth. Is Judge Gen going to get involved?
- Doug Forcett!!!
- When I was a kid I was always dragged to my sister’s soccer games, and I used to roam around making stories up to keep myself occupied. It’s very possible my interests in stories came from that external source, which was out of my control. I love that The Good Place is making me consider something about myself tonight.
The Secret of The Good Place’s Biggest Twist
The Good Place – Pandemonium (3×12)
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!
- 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.
The Good Place – Chidi Sees the Time-Knife(3×11)
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.
- 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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