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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 – Help Is Other People (4×07)

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The Good Place - Help Is Other People

The experiment is over. The group split apart and the status quo was finally blown up. I have no clue where the series will head now, which is a feeling I haven’t had with The Good Place since this season began. It’s an exciting feeling, and I’m grateful for it.

But still, it is a shame we didn’t spend much time with the subjects of the experiment. It feels as though the season was treading water from its second episode onward to get to this point, and I still feel the time could have been better spent. I also find it a little convenient that Eleanor and Michael didn’t think about telling Brent he is in the Bad Place way earlier in the timeline of the experiment. Tahani and Jason didn’t improve at all in their original run until they were informed about their position in the Bad Place, so it seems like this thought would have occurred to Eleanor and Michael back in episode three or four.

However, there is a ton to like about this episode, and it is probably my favorite episode of the season thus far. Tons of character humor, a sense of tension we haven’t felt all year thanks to Simone’s compiling of information, and unexpected twists along the way. A good way to make a final season successful is to call back to the rest of the series, and Eleanor and Michael recreating moments from season one here, such as the sinkhole and the iconic laugh, work well as call backs because they also serve the plot. Their backs are against the wall, so they are just trying to recreate the circumstances the original humans improved against.

As for that laugh, nothing will ever top the first reveal, but seeing Eleanor and Michael slip right back into their old ways is a treat, and watching them use the more negative aspects of themselves to try to achieve a positive goal is a testament to their growth.

I don’t know if they succeeded, and I’m not all that concerned with whether or not they did. I’m more concerned with how this series is going to wrap itself up. The experiment was fine but the way these episodes are structured, there wasn’t much attention paid to the subjects or the consequences of failure, making the outcome less meaningful. At this point, though, with six episodes left to air, I’m almost happy about this. It almost guarantees a separate endgame; one that will hopefully have higher personal stakes for all of our characters.

And finally; Brent’s realization that he is a bad person. We actually see the conflict and denial in his face and voice before he seemingly comes to terms with who he is. It feels a bit quick, but not because his turn to good happens immediately. Tahani immediately realized her issues when she was informed she was in the Bad Place, but the difference there was that Tahani was a well explored and fleshed out character by that point. We understood the headspace she inhabited and why she would think she is a good person. We never got to learn that about Brent, so I’m left wondering why he ever thought he was a decent human being in the first place. It’s a wonderful moment that is undercut yet again by the lack of development leading up to it.

By and large though, this series isn’t about Brent. It’s about Eleanor, Michael, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Janet, and what it means to try to be a good person. And the biggest reveal of the night was built to perfectly in regards to that last pillar. Last week, Michael told Bad Janet all a human can do is try, and that’s what makes them good. Tonight, it’s revealed that the first step in that process is actually admitting to yourself that you need to improve. Brent didn’t try to be better before because he didn’t admit to himself that he needed to be. Eleanor and Michael’s demonic taunts and Chidi’s truth bomb to him is what he needed to hear. Now he can start to try. The Good Place is still as thematically sound as ever, even if the season so far has been a little slow. That’s enough for me to feel more confidence once again that the ending is headed to a very good place indeed.

Other Musings:

  • We also finally get to see some negative Simone traits. She’s a good character; I really wish we could have spent more time with her in the neighborhood.
  • John has some killer one liners. He has a unique personality amongst the group and I wish we could have spent more time with him as well.
  • I feel like the “early successes” joke may have been a bit meta, and if so that gives me even more confidence in the end of the show.
  • Brent saying he’d put a good word in for the rest of the friends was a good touch so we could see some genuine decency in him.

I complained about reusing old music cues a few episodes back, but obviously when the show itself is recreating events like the sink hole and the Bad Place reveal, old music cues are perfect. I just wish the sink hole danger strings would have been saved for that moment.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – A Chip Driver Mystery (4×06)

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“A Chip Driver Mystery” seems like a turning point episode, not because of any action or some narrative shift, but because Michael appears to have laid out his final point of view, and perhaps this point of view will carry him and the humans to the end of the series. “Try to be better today than you were yesterday.”

As we witnessed this chapter in the form of Michael telling Bad Janet (who they’ve been holding captive) a story, I began to wonder what the purpose of delivering this episode in this manner was. Most of the narrative happenings took place from the same points of view we always watch each episode, and there was no tangible benefit (nor harm) coming from this storytelling method asides from just mixing it up. However, at the end of the episode the purpose reveals itself as Michael frees Bad Janet from captivity, putting his words into action by trying to be better today than he was yesterday.

With the humans storylines focusing on improving the test subjects, and with Janet being not a person, Michael is the only character we can see put this foot forward at this time, and since he’s been the ethical voice for two seasons now, it makes the most sense from a character perspective as well. His message puts all of Bad Janet’s knowledge into a new context. Janets know everything that has ever happened; they know the good and bad things that each person has done. However, like all machines, they lack the ability to truly put this behavior into context beyond what they are taught is “good” and “bad.” Michael’s idea that humans can try to be better each day doesn’t imply “good” or “bad,” only effort, and it allows for mistakes and the loss of points in a way that the system doesn’t account for. Just because we screw up one or several days or weeks in a row doesn’t mean we aren’t trying or can’t try to be better the next day – effort counts. For Michael, that’s the most important factor and his greatest lesson.

The lesson ties in well with the guilt he felt last week over who he used to be. It seems as though Michael has come to realize that he can feel good about his attempts to get better despite his past, because trying to improve yourself really is a purely noble and honest feat. I expect this message to crop up again as the series wraps up.

The few complaints I have over this episode stem more from what hasn’t been shown previously. Michael finally states one of Simone’s flaws; she makes snap judgements about people. This is a good flaw for a character, but we have barely seen her this season so it hasn’t been built to as organically as it could have. The same goes for Michael releasing Bad Janet. This scene would have been more powerful if we saw her kept in that cage for a few episodes. We are told she’s been there for six months, which is quite an extensive amount of time we missed out on(we’ve had several large time jumps this season). Time jumps aren’t inherently bad, but I do feel we are missing out on some build up to these scenes.

Of course, with this being the final season and the series running at 22 minutes per episode, time isn’t something the show has on its side. I get it. Still, I feel some of the time in previous episodes could have been spent better to successfully lead up to our turning point here. On its own though, this episode hits a lot of the right notes for me. It brought a little faith back to me in where the series is headed, and hopefully each episode for the rest of the season will try to improve upon the one that aired the last week.

Other Musings:

  • Ok, they said Brent made some improvements, and he just still seems like the worst. This is another example where spending some more time with him would have made his so called improvement more visible and also made his egregious book all the more disappointing.
  • Jason’s joke about being nicknamed “The Defendant” is honest to goodness one of my favorite jokes I think I have ever heard. It is so dumb and wonderful and I wonder how no other series has ever made a similar joke.
  • I very much like the stance the show takes here that Simone is not the problem and Brent is, and they should not be walking on eggshells around him. This felt organic to the storyline in a way Brent’s behavior doesn’t, since they need him to improve, and putting up with his attitude is not working. Don’t allow people like Brent to get away with how they treat others! But the episode doesn’t scream it at you. It makes the lesson clear while staying completely in universe. Brent’s personality could have used some of this depth.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – Employee of the Bearimy (4×05)

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The Good Place/Employee of the Bearimy

Janet has been rescued and she, Michael, and Jason are headed back to the neighborhood. And yet, I’m left wondering as to the purpose of this excursion. What did the story gain from this detour? As of the end of this episode, we are left with Michael and the gang trying to improve four humans in their experiment, which is exactly where we started this season.

Maybe there will be some repercussion of this adventure down the line, but as it stands now it feels inconsequential. The episode tries to paint Michael’s revisit to the Bad Place as difficult, but asides from his short personal guilt trip over his “Employee of the Bearimy” photo, we don’t see him struggle much. In fact, he and Jason execute their extraction with ease.

On top of that, Jason needed to change exactly zero because his impulse decision of blowing things up saved the day, as he and Michael blew up two demons (including Vicky) during their escape. I was hoping to see Jason learn to control himself and contribute in a less combustible manner, especially after so much of the season has implied this would be his arc. If that had been the case, the journey would have at least had a character benefit.

Back in the neighborhood, Tahani feels useless. I mean that in both interpretable ways – Tahani herself feels she isn’t able to contribute, and Tahani the character doesn’t seem to be contributing to the narrative. The conclusion of this plot gives Tahani’s party throwing abilities validity, with Tahani openly declaring that she wants to be more than a party thrower. I see no reason that this same plot couldn’t have been explored in the third episode of the season with a more focused storyline, perhaps allowing us not just to dive into Tahani’s headspace, but actually see the four test subjects interact.

We’re nearly halfway through the final season, and Chidi and Simone’s romance blossomed completely offscreen. On one hand, we have seen their romance begin before (in the start of season three), so avoiding these scenes could be seen as efficient story telling, but on the other, the context of the romance is different this time. Not only do we have Eleanor watching their romance in terror, but this relationship could be crucial to how the afterlife treats humanity for the rest of eternity. There is a lot of proposed weight on the outcome of this experiment, but with so little time actually being spent with these subjects and their relationships, the smaller the stakes feel. The show tells us what’s important by virtue of its nature – the focus of an episode is what the series tells its audience is important. “Employee of the Bearimy” spends more time focusing on Tahani’s perceived lack of use than it does on the humans improving at the lake house, so are we to believe that Tahani’s personal problems are greater than the success of the experiment?

Of course not, and I’m not trying to imply that Tahani’s feelings shouldn’t be showcased (they should), but there is a balance to be struck that isn’t quite happening right now. Episodes like season two’s “Dance Dance Resolution” excelled because not only did we see Michael’s inner turmoil and professional struggles, but because the consequence of his failing was kept prominently in the viewers mind with Shawn’s ominous threats and Vicky’s blackmail. The plot worked in tangent with the character storyline, not as a backdrop to it.

I’m a fan of character driven episodes and stories. My favorite Good Place episode is “Best Self,” where nothing happens except for a party the humans throw before they accept their fate in the Bad Place. However, it’s a culmination of a season’s worth of character work, and results in Michael’s official induction to the group as an honorary human.

“Employee of the Bearimy” has no such culmination and has no evidence of any forward momentum for the story. I hope to be proven wrong in the coming weeks, and that there is something in this episode I missed that will directly impact the coming story.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles was mentioned. A+

Other Musings:

  • Tahani, Jason, and Eleanor apparently have ALL of their memories back now. So these are the complete versions of these characters. I would have liked to see the slight personality changes in the characters when they regained these memories (season 1 Tahani and season 2 Tahani were quite different by the ends of those seasons), though I suppose it makes sense that the growth in one timeline would overcome the lack of growth in another.
  • The emblem on Shawn’s podium was a good callback to the pins from season two. Nice continuity.
  • Derek reset himself.
  • Chidi trusts Eleanor. I’m not sure if this was a hint of multidimensional connections or just Chidi trusting her like he trusted Michael in season one.
  • I hope Chidi and Simone stay together because I’d love to see Eleanor get an ending that doesn’t revolve around romance, but that potential storyline will be immensely weaker without us having seen the romance develop. Maybe that’s the point? Underplay Chidi and Simone so that Eleanor and Chidi can have a guilt free reunion?
  • 41-33

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