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The Good Place - Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy The Good Place - Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy

The Good Place

The Good Place – Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy (4×04)

THE GOOD PLACE -- "Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy" Episode 404 -- Pictured: (l-r) Kristen Bell as Eleanor, D'Arcy Carden as Janet, Manny Jacinto as Jason, Jameela Jamil as Tahani, Ted Danson as Michael -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

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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 Review – An Imperfect Paradise (4×12)

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The Good Place Patty Review

We finally make it to the Good Place and it is everything that’s been promised. Unfortunately, everything that’s been promised isn’t necessarily everything one would hope.

Nor was this episode “Patty” exactly what I had hoped, so let’s start at the beginning.

The front half of this season is too slow. I mentioned in my review for “Help is Other People” that the show seemed to be treading some water the first half of the season, and now with “Patty” under our belt, I’ve even more reason to feel this way.

This show needed another episode dedicated to discovering the Good Place. Some of what happened in “Patty” is what I referred to in my review for “You’ve Changed, Man,” when I discussed the potential pitfalls of the humans coming up with their new afterlife plan too quickly. That episode avoided those pitfalls by having the crew take the length of the episode to debate and discuss the best plan moving forward.

“Patty” does not avoid those pitfalls. It barely raises its problem before offering the solution, and therefore greatly undercuts the drama.

The problem is that the Good Place isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be, as the residents there lose their passion and joy and lead meaningless lives. Turns out that everlasting perfection tends to get boring, resulting in brains becoming mush and hopes and dreams becoming empty.

Good ol’ Eleanor Shellstrop comes up with a solution, though; let people leave. For good. Let them walk out a door and let their existence in the universe end, AKA permadeath. The idea behind this solution is that an ending will give the residents’ afterlives meaning again, and being allowed to leave once they feel they’ve accomplished everything will give them peace.

Let me be clear here – the solution to the Good Place is perfect for this series. I absolutely love it. It makes me sad and happy all at the same time. It’s a commentary on life and on stories, and is a culmination of the series’ messages and ethos.

But damn, if it isn’t a quick turnaround.

Due to the fast pace of this episode, the story has to plow through the set up of the problem. Hypatia of Alexandria, AKA Patty, ends up mostly telling the characters what the problem is instead of letting them, and us, naturally find it.

If there had been an extra episode dedicated to the Good Place, we could have not only seen more of Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason’s fantasies come true, but started to piece together that something isn’t quite right on our own.

Jason would have been the perfect vehicle for this as well. His impulsiveness makes him the perfect candidate to encounter the Good Place’s soul draining euphoria, as he would have burned through each of his fantasies quickly, leaving him the first to feel the emptiness of eternal heaven.

The episode tries to do this with Jason, but his entire journey happens off screen, and by the time he returns we already know what the problem is so his journey is inconsequential.

Imagine if the reveal at the end of season one happened three episode into the show. There would be too little time for the characters and audience to build up their own interpretations of the environment before the reveal. This is what I feel happened in “Patty.” We barely spend any time in the Good Place, and don’t get to discover for ourselves what it is about before we’re told what it is about.

I wish the experiment at the start of season four would have ended an episode sooner. That time could have been used to journey around the Good Place with our characters, giving them time to settle into their paradise only to feel something was off and for us to discover that with them.

As for Eleanor’s solution; it comes too quickly. There is no build up to her revelation and no input from any other character. I also feel this solution maybe should have come from Michael.

Michael has grown so much and learned all about what it means to be human, it would have been a very touching moment had he been the one to recall his lessons from Eleanor and realize what the people of the Good Place need.

Despite my gripes, the problem of the Good Place and the solution provided are excellent.

Providing the lifeless eternals an avenue for what is essentially true death is a haunting and beautiful sentiment. I wish there was more time spent with the rumination of this concept, because it really hits the themes of the show out of the park.

The Good Place has a plot about characters in the afterlife trying to avoid eternal damnation to achieve eternal bliss, but it’s always been about the connections the characters make with each other during this journey.

Based on the The Good Place’s philosophy, being a person is about making these connections and trying to be a better person today than you were yesterday. If you have eternal tomorrows, though, what drives you to improve? What drives you to do anything?

“Patty” posits that the gift of time is only a gift if there is a limited amount of it (even if that limit is decided by you). What you do with your time is only valuable if there is only so much time you have to fill. It makes what you choose to fill it with important.

I love this concept so much it hurts, and it makes me super salty that we didn’t get more time to explore this idea with these characters.

Take away “Employee of the Bearimy” and add in another episode of the characters in the Good Place so the plot here has time to thicken and build some tension. Let the humans personally begin to feel the lackluster bliss of the Good Place and have Michael’s tenure as the head honcho of the Good Place force him to reflect on his time becoming human.

Maybe we even could have been given enough time with one of the Good Place residents to develop an attachment to them, and experience the elation they feel when Eleanor announces the ability to leave.

As it stands, though, I feel “Patty” is a great concept slightly muddled by some imperfect execution.

There is one episode left, and just as I said about “Mondays, Am I Right?” it’s hard to completely judge “Patty” without knowing what is coming next, since the ending of this episode’s storyline feels very finite.

“Mondays, Am I Right?” gets a minor bump upwards in my viewing due to this episode. The team’s success at creating a system that will push more people into the Good Place provides some good tension for this episode, since soon, due to their new system, more people will end up in the Good Place and suffer the same soul sucking paradise that’s been plaguing the Good Place for centuries.

Anyway, salt aside, there is a lot to love in “Patty.” The Good Place feels fully realized and milkshakes are made of stardust. Tahani talks about caviar on Jello-O shots and Chidi has never been more excited than he is meeting Patty.

Beautiful touches such as the squad walking arm and arm into their perfect party together and Jason realizing that he’d rather be with his friends than go-karting with animals are examples of what has made the series sing over the past four years. The story of these characters is here, and it coalesces nicely with the plot of the episode.

As time passes I know I will look back at this episode and be happier with what it provides instead of being disappointed in what I feel was left on the table. The story here is excellent; it’s just a bit too quick.

For now, though, I wish their time this season was a bit better spent.

Other Musings:

  • Janet slips up and says she was born.
  • I thought Michael’s anxiety over being in the Good Place was going to be his focus in the episode. This would have been a GREAT storyline if there was an extra episode here.
  • Michael’s line about never signing his name before pulled at my heartstrings for some reason. I wish there was more time for moments like these.
  • Michael’s robe is ridiculous and classic Good Place visual comedy.
  • Love that they rebuild the neighborhood. Gave me some Lost vibes, as the most important time in their lives was the time they spent together, so their paradise is a return to their original afterlives.

NEW MUSIC CUE ALERT – I believe we finally have a new major music cue for when Eleanor reminds Michael that he is in charge of the Good Place and can make a door that allows residents to move on. This is my favorite moment of the episode and a reminder at how essential music is to make your moments land. This cue almost saves the moment from not having enough build up. Almost.

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The Good Place

The Good Place Review – The New Afterlife (4×11)

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The Good Place Monday's Am I Right? Review

“Mondays, Am I Right?” starts and completes the human’s new afterlife plan. Michael and Shawn begin working together, Vicky and insecure Chidi return, and Janet reveals her dirtiest secret.

The return of insecure Chidi is a little surprising, since he seemed so fully transformed in the previous episode. I feel like this storyline maybe should have happened earlier in this season, but that wasn’t feasible due to Chidi’s erased memories. At worst, it felt like a regression of his character, but on the better side, it reminds us that the Chidi we’ve spent the last four seasons with is still in there and still has fears. Just because Chidi is his “best self” doesn’t mean he’s his “perfect” self, and he shouldn’t be. Nobody is perfect and we all have fears.

Jason, on the other hand, proves his worth by knocking some sense back into Chidi. Jason (for probably the first time in the series) slightly grated on my nerves last week, as he played no major part in creating the new afterlife system and his dimwittedness actively interrupted their planning. He seemed prepped to continue on this track at the start of “Mondays, Am I Right?” when he is helping Eleanor and Chidi sort out good people. He quickly names the Kool-Aid Man a top person (which isn’t necessarily a wrong choice), and then leaves Eleanor and Chidi to do all the work.

Instead of being superfluous, though, Jason gets to not just help Chidi with sound advice, but show genuine irritation at everyone’s assumption that he’s a total idiot. I really wish he would have been a more integral part of the creation of their new system because this moment would have landed even better, but as it stands, his reference to Romeo and Juliet and the offense he takes to Chidi being shocked he read it reminds us that Jason is a product of his environment and not necessarily just a dope.

Tahani hasn’t had much to do this season, but she gets a good showing this episode. Not only does she participate in the training of the demons, but her experience in swallowing her pride makes her a natural fit to encourage Michael to bring Vicky back. Her and Janet’s assumptions as to Michael’s motivations may have been wrong, but they display growth none the less. Janet’s growth comes from her admittance that asking for help is necessary sometimes, not because she ever had trouble asking for help, but because she’s grown human enough to realize that even she needs help sometimes. I can’t imagine what Alexa knows that Janet doesn’t, though.

Michael’s journey is the heart of this episode, and as it has in the past, parallels the show’s own journey. Michael, throughout the series, has been a demon with a purpose; whether that be torture, redeem, or save humans, he’s always had a task driving him forward.

With the completion of the new afterlife system, and having found someone who can run it better than he can (which is Vicky), he’s essentially out of tasks. He doesn’t know what his purpose moving forward will be, and the purposelessness scares him. What’s eternity mean if you’re doing nothing with it, anyway?

I don’t know. Not even Janet knows. But Michael does the right thing and places Vicky in charge, sacrificing his purpose for the betterment of all humans.

The rock has been pushed up the hill. By Michael, yes, but by The Good Place as well. “Mondays, Am I Right?” basically completes the show’s storyline, but we still have two episodes left.

So what’s next?

The team ends the episode sailing upwards towards the real Good Place, and having completed the overhaul of the afterlife, there seems to be no goal left for them to chase after. So some sort of conflict must arise once they get there.

“Mondays, Am I Right?” will be difficult to have a fully formed opinion on until that new conflict starts. The episode seems underwhelming, but its position in the narrative implies that this isn’t the endgame, and therefore it will be naturally underwhelming so close to an unknown finale. What sort of conflict will this system lead to? Will it end up not working? Will it continue to work perfectly and the final storyline only be tangentially related?

The other reason it feels underwhelming is it doesn’t lead anywhere. There is no implied next chapter within the episode. All there is is Janet telling Michael that he’ll just have to find out what is next. Once again, Michael’s journey reflects the show.

The fate of humanity may be solved, but what is next on The Good Place will determine the fate of this series. Until we can see where it goes, my understanding of this episode’s design is limited.

I’m optimistic, though.

Other Musings:

  • “It’s the way it’s always been done” is my least favorite reason for anything.
  • Vicky’s use here pleased me. I don’t know why, since I don’t feel she ever did anything to deserve getting her dream of being in charge, but it seems as though she chilled out once she felt someone trusted her. Maybe that’s just me trying to find a reason I liked her here.
  • 1.28 Jeremy Bearimy later, so we have zero idea of how much time passed.
  • The golden balloon is back!
  • FOLES!!!

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Editorials

The Best Episode of The Good Place Is… “Best Self”

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The Good Place - Best Self

I have a pet peeve.

I can’t stand it when people turn a TV show on to play in the background. It eats away at me that they aren’t putting their full attention to the piece of art on the screen, and are missing jokes or character moments because they’re browsing the internet or doing something awful like playing with their cat.

The Good Place - Best Self

The Good Place/NBC                                        Example.

My annoyance isn’t fair or justified. Everyone is allowed to enjoy whatever content they want in whatever way they want. No matter how you enjoy something, odds are someone else will enjoy it differently. That can be hard to accept; we tend to want other people to extract the same level of enjoyment out of something as we extract ourselves, and we assume we know the best way to do this.

Like when you take your best friend to your favorite burger place, where they have the best toppings and secret sauce, and your friend gets a plain, topping free, sauceless burger.

“No,” you say as politely as you can mustard, “you have to try the secret sauce. You need to get the whole experience.”

“No thanks,” your friend says, in the least aggressive way possible.

Why did I even bring you here?

The Good Place - Best Self

The Good Place/NBC                                        Tahani’s face here accurately portrays my emotions.

This is how I feel when someone makes a grocery list while watching TV. This is how I feel almost every time someone watches The Good Place Season 2 Episode 10 “Best Self,” even if they’re paying attention

***Spoilers for The Good Place Below***

 

The Good Place is hilarious. Because it’s funny and charming, it makes a great background show to throw on while you’re dusting your living room.

It has a unique setting and plot as well, which also makes it fantastic viewing for those who like to sit and pay more attention.

But there is a third layer to the series. It’s deep and philosophic and is available to be analyzed and digested by those who want to do so.

The Good Place - Best Self

The Good Place/NBC                                        Also known as being Chidi.

I want to do so. To my devastation, my friends don’t always want to do so. So I’m going to do it for them!

“Best Self” is the most deeply human episode of television I’ve ever seen. Peel away the clever jokes and gags, and the next layer of the intricate plot, and you get to a core that is all of life packed into 22 minutes.

The episode starts with reformed demon Michael telling our heroes Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason that they are finally all going to head to the real Good Place together. The four humans have one last round of fro-yo together and fantasize about the heaven that awaits them.

Watch The Good Place Best Self Right Here

Once their magic balloon arrives, they have to pass the magic gate that only opens if they’ve become the best version of themselves. Of course, Chidi can’t get on because he isn’t sure that he’s his best self.

Then Michael reveals confesses that he lied, that the magic balloon won’t work even if they all pass the gate, and he has no idea how to get them into the actual Good Place. They’re stuck in the neighborhood, and by morning the Bad Place demons will come and get them, dragging them into an eternal hell of torment and torture. No matter what they have done or what they do now, they’re screwed.

The Good Place - Best Self

The Good Place/NBC                                          We’ve all had this moment.

That’s life.

Every single living organism on this planet, in this universe, is screwed. No matter what it knows or does, each living thing is going to eventually die, and there is absolutely nothing that can be done about that. In this way, every living thing is equal; no life is better or more valuable than any other life because, in the end, it won’t be life at all.

Most life, though, can’t actually perceive or understand the finality of our dooms, and our ability to do so is what separates us and makes us definitively human. It’s the same reason Michael couldn’t truly understand humans until he understood death in “Existential Crisis.” This ability to understand the finality of life is what allows us to truly live.

The Best Forking Gifts to Buy a “Good Place” Fan 

So that’s what the humans decide to do on their last day. Eleanor orders a ton of alcohol from Janet, and they begin to party. The friends dance, get drunk, talk about their feelings and their fears, and take comfort in the only thing they can take comfort in; each other.

The Good Place - Best Self

The Good Place/NBC

If you just watch this episode as another chapter in a story about a crazy afterlife that houses demons who have holiday weekend Ikea as an entire department of torture, it’s honestly a little boring. Very little happens, as basically the cast just hangs out in a single location for 22 minutes, making it a bottle episode. It’s fine, but it’s no “Dance, Dance, Resolution,” with its insane 300 mph pace, or “Michael’s Gambit” with an incredible twist.

Analyze a little deeper, though, and you’ll find an episode of television that perfectly encapsulates human existence.

The unrealistic hope they display at the start as they fantasize about the perfect Good Place, the heartbreak Eleanor feels when Chidi dreams about meeting his soulmate, the pain Michael experiences when he disappoints his friends after revealing he lied to them about getting into the Good Place; the range of emotions captured by these characters in such a short time reminds you of the rollercoaster that is human emotion.

The humanity doesn’t end there. The silly jabs at each other during their toasts are funny character jokes, but also a display of how we cope with our own and each others’ faults. They’re a display of love between people who have shared the trials of (after)life together. There is a comfort we feel when someone truly knows us well enough to point out the specifics of our personalities, and what is human life but trying to create that kind of bond with others?

And then there is Michael’s Human Starter Kit. Made an honorary human, the demon Michael gratefully opens his gift and pulls out car keys, band-aids, a stress ball, and a Dr. Oz diet book; all “garbage that [he has] no real use for.”

The Good Place - Best Self

The Good Place/NBC                                        Who doesn’t love never using their stress balls?

And yet he does find a use for them. By assigning meaning to the objects as they pertain to people and as they relate to him as a gift from his friends, Michael finds value in something meaningless. “Welcome to being human,” Eleanor tells him.

The episode immediately shifts to the friends doing the same thing, as they create meaning in their last day by dancing and having fun with each other. They take what’s left of their lives and they live it. Tomorrow they will be doomed forever, but for now, they are free. Free to laugh, free to cry, free to feel, and free to dance.

In the end, after discussing what their personal Bad Place will be (a nice contrast to the start of the episode where they discuss their Good Place), the friends decide to do the most human thing of all.

“Attempt something futile, with a ton of unearned confidence, and fail spectacularly.”

The Good Place - Best Self

The Good Place/NBC                                        Go us.

We cannot win. We can’t escape our own doom, and we can’t create some transcendent meaning to our lives. All of our attempts at it will fail, but my goodness, we are going to keep trying.

“Best Self” packs in so much about human existence and reminds us that even if we don’t have a larger purpose, we’re responsible for creating the meaning in our lives, and we do so through each other. We can’t stop the end from coming, but we can make the time we have left worth something to us and the people around us. We can find meaning in the void.

“In a way, the Good Place was inside the Bad Place all along.”

My Good Place is shutting the lights off and over analyzing everything I see on screen, but everyone’s Good Place is different, and no one’s way is right. So if you want to do the dishes while watching TV, go for it. Have it on while you vacuum the floor, put together the furniture you got over the holiday weekend at Ikea, and cook up a plain, topping free, sauceless burger. It doesn’t matter, we’re all doomed anyway, so watch TV, and live, in whatever way makes you feel alive.

The Good Place - Best Self

The Good Place/NBC

Be your “Best Self” and watch here!

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