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A daring rescue and Eleanor’s quick thinking propel a hectically affecting Good Place

Kristen Bell, Jameela Jamil
Photo: Colleen Hayes (NBC)
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“Insert me, coach-man!”

A third of the way through this final season of The Good Place, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we’re not in the real endgame yet. The test for the fate of all humanity is still progressing, but, like this episode, things are jerking forward in fits and starts. Eleanor’s ad-ibbing her way through the charade of being an immortal as only a Shellstrop can. Shawn and his minions keep hurling demonic monkey-wrenches into the works, seemingly just to sow chaos. The Judge remains strangely removed from the ultimate test that she’s created. Derek still can’t get his cocktails right. (Tonight it’s a champagne glass filled with Scrabble tiles.) Meanwhile, the four human subjects of the test are really down to three, as Chidi remains the mind-wiped wild card.

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“Employee Of The Bearimy” continues to scatter narrative clues around like Eleanor’s mid-episode attempt to distract Chidi from the neighborhood’s latest catastrophe with a non-existent scavenger hunt for cosmic truth (he comes out hopefully toting a soccer ball and desk lamp at one point). We can take similar solace in the show’s track record of revealing possibly shaky developments to actually be the clever groundwork of the magnificent edifice to come. Still, the harried dual plotlines here both feel more like undoing than propulsive doing.

William Jackson Harper, Kirby Howell-Baptiste
Photo: Collen Hayes/NBC

Not that both aren’t filled with pretty delightful stuff. Jason and Michael’s rescue mission to the Bad Place (a literal example of going to hell on a handcart) allows Manny Jacinto and Ted Danson to spend more Jason-Michael time than ever before, yielding some fine comedic and dramatic highs. On the way to somehow free Janet from her magnetic prison (and Vicky’s self-absorbed and labored Michael-acting), Michael decides to give Jason all his afterlife memories back in an attempt to get him to think a little beyond his go-to “blowing stuff up” tactics. Warning Jason about the return of 800 reboots’ worth of innermost thoughts turns out not to be that big a thing (“Oooooohhhh dip!,” about covers it), although Jason does ask Michael to do it again a few minutes later, since he’d already forgotten it all. Stay Jason, Jason.

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Tiya Sircar as Vicky
Photo: Collen Hayes/NBC

It’s when Michael and Jason finally sneak into the Bad Place that the unlikely magic of their team-up starts to give us some hope. Not that they have much of a plan at first—Jason really doesn’t have much beyond the explosive. (“I could have meant Molotov anything, you don’t know,” he protests once Michael cuts him off.) But, sneaking their way through the seemingly empty halls of Bad Place HQ allows the pair to bond over their shared past of not being exactly the best versions of themselves. Spotting his picture on the wall of former demonic employees leaves Michael, like last week, to show just how deeply he’s ashamed of who he was for, oh, the last forever or so before meeting Jason and the rest. Holding his grinning former visage in his hands, Michael brings deep-reaching echoes of his true immortal’s guilt to his lament that “Behind that handsome smile was so much cruelty, so much pain inflicted on so many, with such glee. Shameful. What echoes of this former self await me here?” If the test is ultimately a test of Michael, then this Michael seems finally to be coming to grips with just what stakes he must overcome to pass it.

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Jason, naturally, is Jason, his honest admission of fear to Michael being expressed in the worry that Janet’s former doubts about their relationship may only have deepened with time—and magnets and stuff. Michael, on the other hand, sums up his anxiety as more about “standing in the birthplace of evil surrounded by billions of demons who want to destroy us,” but The Good Place continues to assert that goodness and heroism don’t have to come from such big-picture thinking to be worthy. Janet gets mocked at the start of the episode by Shawn and Vicky for asserting simply that her friends will prevail thanks to “loyalty, empathy, and love.” But such are the core principles that all of Chidi’s abstract evaluations ultimately turn on. And Jason Mendoza of Jacksonville, Florida, for all his many arrests, plea deals, and Molotov cocktails, embodies those qualities all the way down to his toes. The disguise of Jianyu the holy monk was chosen by Michael to torture Jason, but the show has always hinted that there’s more commonality to the two personas than anyone thought.

Photo: Collen Hayes/NBC
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Finding your place in the universe is a theme all through “Employee Of The Bearimy,” as Tahani—ruffled at Eleanor assigning her as hostess to a diversionary lake house getaway for the four actual human test subjects—mucks things up royally in trying to prove her worth. Of course, Derek helps. Like, a lot. Dragooned into service by Eleanor to keep the neighborhood’s Janet-babies running at minimal capacity while they await Janet’s long-shot return, Derek has apparently thrown over, for now, any plans to usurp Jason’s place. He truly seems to want to be on Team Cockroach, Jason Mantzoukas making Derek’s mounting panic at in no way being as capable as his mommy-girlfriend as frenzied and hilarious as ever. (“That’s not Derek!,” he shouts in outraged horror as one fake resident smilingly smashes a painting over another’s head.) Like Tahani, though, Derek is looking to help, and improve, going so far as to willingly reboot himself in order to maybe get smart enough to be able to hold things together. We’ve seen how strenuously Janet was programmed to protest being rebooted (which all Janet and Dereks refer to as “murder”), and seeing Derek—unmoored from Janet and all alone—steeling himself to make a running swipe at that reboot button is genuinely inspiring, in a Derek sort of way.

Brondon Scott Jones, Jameela Jamil
Photo: Collen Hayes/NBC
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Tahani, meanwhile, finds herself seeking to go beyond what she intuits everyone else sees as her purely ceremonial hostess’ utility. It goes very, very badly, yes. As she confesses to Eleanor, and despite the inspirational yet problematic “You the man, now, dog!” of her godfather’s echoing in her memory, she pretty much “almost ruined it a thousand times.” Still, Eleanor counsels her with signature Shellstrop tough love, that, unlike an Arizona trashbag forced to “scrape and claw” through life, Tahani grew up without having to think on her feet. Promising to stand by the future, self-improving Tahani as she “learns to weld, or whatever.” Eleanor assures her friend that her hospitality skills weren’t just for show, but chosen for the task in order to shepherd their subjects toward closeness and mutual understanding. It’s another instance of the shenanigans once more exemplifying Janet’s simple-sounding tenets of “loyalty, empathy, and love.”

Photo: Collen Hayes/NBC
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And that’s despite Eleanor herself having one low-key bitch of a weekend. Racing to keep Chidi from noticing that the other residents are either slumped over comatose or jabbering in Derek-speak is a dawdle for Eleanor compared to the moment when, finally getting Chidi to come to out for some lake house fun, she witnesses a comfortably intimate kiss hello between her soulmate and the woman she assured her soulmate was his soulmate. Kristen Bell doesn’t make a meal of the moment, but there’s just enough of an echo of her memory of Chidi’s earlier expression of trust toward her in her face to make the moment land, hard. If Eleanor is to be humanity’s final guardian in this impossible quest to prove our worthiness, then it’s not going to be easy. In fact, Bell makes that one brief gesture of recognition look like the hardest damned thing in the universe.

Photo: Collen Hayes/NBC
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It’s the way the big and small pictures focus and refocus through each other that makes “Employee Of The Bearimy” linger. Michael’s eventual plan to rescue Janet involves the sort of sweaty inspiration you come up with when striding into the head of all evil’s torture seminar (“Demon Con”) while pretending to be your nemesis in a Michael suit while asking Jason Mendoza to think on his feet. That it nearly works is testament, once more, to how Jason’s ability to focus on the personal—on the bound and magnet-sizzled Janet—can cut though the complicatedly insurmountable. Pretending to be Glenn in a Jason suit, Jason breaks through to Janet just as Bad Janet had blown her disguise to him last week. One little gesture of intimacy (“I love you, girl,” elicits Janet’s slyly grateful, “Not a girl” in response) and the hordes of hell are done for. I mean, sure, Michael had Bad Janet’s demon-exploder gizmo, zapping a burly security demon and Vicky to goop before the trio make their escape, but even there is a touch of Mendoza improvisational magic carrying them through.

“Employee Of The Bearimy” is a little busy, a little zany. The whoosh of both plots leaves perhaps too little time for any one character’s arc to truly land like I’d hoped, and come to expect. But as part of this final season’s puzzle, it’s about as sneakily effective as a demon, a Janet, and a ding-dong, their eyes on the big and small pictures simultaneously, speeding out of hell on a handcart.

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Stray observations

  • The tunnel to the Bad Place features the sign “You Are Now Entering The Bad Place—Population Your Mom.” Classic.
  • Tahani, being Tahani: “Finger sandwiches? At a lake house? What am I, Welsh?”
  • Eleanor, same: “Are you? I don’t know!”
  • Chidi, also same, regarding Eleanor’s supposed puzzle: “Fun! But also like homework—it’s a win-win!”
  • Shawn’s torture symposium is subversively on-point, as he outlines how humans can get used to anything, even how they’re being tortured. I’m sure that somewhere in the CIA archives, there’s a memo outlining “Torture 2.0.”
  • One additional drawback to humans becoming inured to the butthole spiders: “The spiders get bored.”
  • “I’m Vicky, I’m a total munch!” Michael is much better at impersonating Vicky than Vicky is impersonating Michael.
  • Shawn, admiring what he thinks is Glenn and Vicky’s Jason suit: “A little overboard on the cheekbones.”
  • Shawn, once the jig is up: “What in the name of Kevin Spacey’s self-made Christmas Eve video message to try to get back on House Of Cards is going on here?”
  • See you on Halloween night for “A Chip Driver Mystery.”
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About the author

Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.