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A short-handed Team Cockroach must crack a mystery on a thrilling The Good Place

Manny Jacinto, Kristen Bell, Jameela Jamil
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC
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“Man, I love a good sabotage.”

I knew we could count on Jason. I mean, not count-on, count on, since Jason spends the bulk of the crackerjack caper episode, “Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy” characteristically missing every point with absolute, unearned confidence. Manny Jacinto is sort of the stealth secret weapon of The Good Place, and tonight, he shines like never before, Jason’s attempts to bust the case of whether or not Michael is really Michael wide open leading to repeated dead ends in which Jason thinks repeating whodunnit catchphrases is the same thing as solving whodunnits. But in the end, it’s Jason’s unfiltered sincerity regarding the people he loves that saves the day—and Michael from being exploded into a pile of blue goop.

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The episode starts with fun and games, of the sort only a fake Bad Place with a Janet and a gaggle of well-meaning goofballs can muster. A game of personalized memory Pictionary with all of the remaining human subjects of this final, all-the-mables experiment is going great, until Chidi’s pressure-rushed doodle of Simone’s childhood horse comes to grotesque, terrifying life, sending Team Cockroach scurrying back to Mindy’s to regroup. Things have been going wrong for weeks, leading to Michael and Eleanor clashing over how to respond (Michael suggests taking a slumber party break), before an alarm announces the arrival of the mystery figure we saw steaming toward the neighborhood at the end of last episode.

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Kirby Howell-Baptiste, William Jackson Harper, Ben Koldyke
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC

When the big, pre-credits unveiling comes, it’s at first something of an anticlimax to see, um, Glenn? You know Glenn—fell in the sinkhole, actually a demon, gets cocooned by Shawn a lot for being annoying? That Glenn. Still, the news this demonic functionary (we later learn he’s in charge of re-inflating the penises flattened by the infamous penis-flattener) brings is a corker. Michael isn’t Michael, but Vicky in the Michael suit we saw Shawn has built, sent to destabilize the team’s plan to save humanity.

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Michael’s aghast and protesting, even though Eleanor stands by him. At least until Glenn spills the beans about that phone call from Shawn and Vicky in a Michael suit that sent Michael spiraling into a panic attack and Eleanor into the neighborhood’s top spot instead. Oh, and that Michael lied about having faked that panic attack just to inspire Eleanor. Desperately trying to assure his friends that he’s still Michael, Michael tells them, “That lie was only to cover my two earlier lies, that’s gotta be okay, right?”

Kristen Bell, Ted Danson
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC
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What “Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy” (credited to Cord Jefferson) does so well is to leave us just as helpless as Eleanor is in the face of a rapidly escalating series of deceptions, all of which make about equal sense in the grand, loopy, eminently and appropriately diabolical scheme of The Good Place. There are tantalizing hints that the weaselly Glenn is telling the truth about defecting to spoil fake Michael’s plan because, for one, Shawn’s a dick to him, and two, all the uncertainty surrounding the Judge’s test has even his demonic self rattled. Glenn’s a worm (I mean, he may actually be some sort of demon-worm, for all we know), but Josh Siegal makes Glenn’s conflict quite believable when he says that he was happy to play his part in a cosmic system of reward and unthinkable punishment because of what he believed about the people he was torturing. “I loved torturing humans because I thought they deserved it,” he tells the group. “They said everyone in the Bad Place was evil and beyond repair.” Sure, you should never trust a demon—except, as Eleanor reminds everyone, Michael’s a demon, and demons have the capacity for change. “Okay, so it’s decided,” pronounces Jason, “We trust both of them.” Not yet, buddy. Now is not your time.

Kristen Bell, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, Ted Danson
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC
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Sequestering Glenn and Michael to grill them both doesn’t clear things up for Eleanor. For one thing, Michael’s locked in Mindy’s bedroom, where a materializing Jason explains that every distractingly elaborate gizmo (one has eggbeaters) in sight is a Derek-specific sex toy. (If you’ve got a Jason Mantzoukas in your cast and you don’t have him say “sex diaper” at least once, you’re really not marshaling your forces properly.) For another, Team Cockroach is down a Chidi, a Michael, and, at least partly, a Janet, as Janet explains to them that her duties keeping the Janet-babies running leaves her unable to operate at full capacity. “Okay, predictably, this was unhelpful,” Eleanor says not unkindly after a huddle with Jason and Tahani.

Plot-wise, Eleanor’s choice is all there is to the episode, another example of The Good Place leaping ahead of our expectations of how long a simmering plotline is going to go. And it’s in the resolution that The Good Place once more finds the perfect balance of plot and character. Eleanor, frustrated, takes a walk and finds—Chidi, studiously redrawing that horse so as not to someday create another “crime against nature.” Kristen Bell continues to shine in Eleanor’s position of wrenching dramatic irony, counseling Chidi like a good architect would while still sparking as Eleanor at Chidi’s continued decency. His explanation that all the horse art is less out of fear of monster horses and more that, as he tells Eleanor, “I feel like I made the world a little bit worse and I won’t be okay until I make it better again” sees Eleanor once more drawing the same sort of inspiration from her friend/possible soulmate that she did when he knew who she was. Striding back into Mindy’s living room (hilariously polishing off the enormous heap of nachos she’d taken from her late-night snack with Chidi), Eleanor decides that she has to make the tough choice for the rest of them. Tell the Judge about Shawn’s latest scheme and let her reboot the test all the way back to the beginning, since, as she tells the crestfallen Michael, she can never fully trust he’s not working against them.

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Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC

It’s a big swing, but Michael tops it. Offering to blow himself up as Janet had accidentally done to Glenn with an ill-devised “demon lie detector” gizmo, Michael, too, draws on all he’s learned from Chidi and the rest about the greater good. And, sure, as he tells us upon Glenn’s goopy fate earlier, a demon doesn’t actually die, but takes a few months reconstituting through all the demon stages (larva, slug monster, spooky little girl, regular teenage boy, ball of tongues, social media CEO). But it’s certainly going to take Michael out of the group for the duration, and, as he puts it succinctly as he readies the device, “Oh boy, this is gonna suck.”

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But, for Michael, what would suck worse is either leaving his friends unable to trust him during this crucial time or, in Ted Danson’s most remarkable scene of the season, letting them see just what a demon he truly is. The Good Place has always soft-pedaled its dark side a bit. We hear the screams of the damned here, see a lava monster there. There’s always a new detail about Bad Place torture techniques (mouth fleas, butthole spiders, scorpion diapers). But apart from Janet telling Chidi and Eleanor that she’s not allowed to show them what happens in the Bad Place and Michael warning the interloping humans not to wander around the Bad Place lest they see things they can’t unsee, the comic strategy has always been to let the horror register in implication and supposition. But Danson makes Michael’s desperation in refusing to remove his human suit to prove who he is glint with the guilty panic of an immortal being who—for all his assumed and evolved geniality—knows that there are things in this universe that his human friends’ minds simply cannot be ready for. Things, as it turns out, like him.

Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC
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Michael’s true form is a fire squid, a Lovecraftian horror of unimaginable size and even less-imaginable sliminess whose true appearance would, as he pleads with Eleanor, not only blow the roof off their plan (and Mindy’s house), but would make it impossible for his friends to ever look at him the same way. “There’s so much juice, Eleanor,” is, in the signature Good Place manner, both deeply silly and, in Michael’s desperate appeal, genuinely wrenching. There’s just so much juice (and teeth, tentacles, fire, and stench) that, Jason’s excited protestations aside, it would leave the heretofore manageable, if insane, afterlife experience of his human friends in shambles.

Marc Evan Jackson as Shawn
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC
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Still, that’s exactly the sort of lie that a Vicky and Shawn would come up with to screw with Eleanor, so she’s fully prepared to let Michael goop himself, his touchingly silly last words (“I wish I were saying this in other circumstances, but, take ’er sleazy.”) still echoing when . . . wait for it . . . NOW, buddy!

Jason saves the day.

Having earlier sussed out the truth that it’s Janet and not Michael who’s the Bad Place mole, Jason slaps Mindy’s Derek-debilitating (and pink-furred) magnetic handcuffs on Janet, revealing—Bad Janet! While the person I was watching this with twigged to the clue at once—Janet doesn’t correct Jason when he calls her a “girl”—(good work, Penelope), the real magic of the moment is in how it allows Jason to rely on the one thing he truly knows to cut through the tangle of the myriad things he definitely does not. Jason loves Janet, and Jason knows Janet. He’s been left bereft and confused by Janet’s abandonment of him (which he now excitedly blames on “her weird sister”), but, whether by clever trap or by accident (even money there), he observed one little detail about the woman (not a woman) he loves and everything made sense. Like Jason, viewers of The Good Place are left cruising through, enjoying the ride while knowing there are just some things the creators are doing that will only make sense once we’re given the right piece of the puzzle. So well done, m’man. We are all Jason.

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Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC

And Jason truly kills it all episode, himself getting to deliver the big, inspiring speech in the end, once we find out that the real Janet (marble-ized by Bad Placers during that hinky train prisoner transfer) is in the Bad Place, possibly, as the loopy captive Bad Janet surmises “wiping her butt with her own butt.” This Jason ain’t having that, homey, telling the rest of the gang with stirring Jacksonville gravitas, “Shawn’s a bully, and sometimes the only thing a bully understands is a punch in the mouth. I’m gonna go down there, and I’m gonna punch him in the mouth, and I’m gonna get Janet back!” Hell yeah! And, okay, Jason doesn’t actually have a plan, but Michael does, involving that railroad handcart, Jason redressed in his freaking sharp Bad Place suit, and a tub of Glenn. We don’t get to know the plan, but as Michael and Eleanor make up at the train station to end the episode, doing the right thing—the good thing—is all about having faith.

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“You sure you can do your thing?,” asks Eleanor of the demon she’s almost 100 percent sure is Michael. “Nope. We’ll just try our best, right?,” replies Michael, before a reformed demon and the dumbest man in Jacksonville Florida head straight into the bowels of hell on a handcart. Damn straight.


Stray observations

  • As horrifically as the Pictionary team-building exercise ultimately went, it did showcase how, even in the face of Bad Janet’s interference, Team Cockroach’s efforts are showing some results. Brent has to be shut down by Simon for calling Chidi “my brother,” but, according to Michael, he has stopped saying “Daddy like” quite so much.
  • And the revelation that Brent has “shot a lot of racehorses” in his time isn’t great, but he does step up with the offer to take care of Chidi’s “fricken’ Frankenstein” horse, which isn’t nothing. (You know, since even Bad Janet seemed a little taken aback at how elaborately violent was the actual procedure to put the poor thing out of its misery.)
  • After Glen asks for a hot glass of pig urine, Jason is unsettling quick to answer what liquor it would best pair with. (Coconut rum does sound like a Bad Place staple, to be honest though.)
  • Not to be that guy, but if Michael’s Michael, what’s the deal with him having exploding-stuff Janet powers last episode? I’m just sayin’.
  • According to Bad Janet, she’s able to impersonate a Good Janet without her head melting because Shawn rebooted her 40 million times. Watch out for this Bad Janet down the line. (I’m not the only one who thinks a reformed Derek and a reformed Bad Janet could work, right?)
  • Bad Janet also states that Glenn’s attempt to defect was sincere, even if he had the traitor wrong. That means, if we choose to accept her word, Shawn was doing some serious double agent, five-dimensional evil in sending Linda/Chris to the neighborhood. Well, he is a naughty bitch.
  • Glenn’s birth name is “Snakes Pour Forth From His Anus.”
  • Quick scan of Mindy and Derek’s sex toys include: bicycle horn; waffle skillet with golf tees stuck into it; large bowling ball with some manner of large pump contraption stuck into it; lots of feathers; plastic jai alai scoop; creepy hand puppets; several kitchen strainers; plastic claw grabber; pink kitchen glove attached to lace; others. So, so many others.
  • The Glenn canister includes what appears to be the translation of “1 Glenn” into a series of hieroglyphics. My first thought was the Futurama alien alphabet, but no dice. Who’s got thoughts?
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Screenshot: The Good Place/NBC

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

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