“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Who will wipe this blood off us? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent?”
That’s Friedrich Nietzsche writing in 1882, as quoted on a prime time network sitcom in the year 2018 by a broken man. It’s Chidi, wandering through a Sydney park in a daze after he and the rest of the Brainy Bunch learn the truth about their fates, and, you know, the universe. As Michael explains that they died, that he used torture them on behalf of the universal system of reward and punishment, that that torture lasted some 300 years while he tried to get it right, that they were returned to the moment of their deaths because the afterlife timeline loops and curlicues exactly like the cursive nonsense name “Jeremy Bearimy,” and that their discovery of all this means they will never, ever escape their fates being tortured for all eternity, Chidi listens. He takes it in. And then, when Michael explains why there’s a tittle over the “i” in “Bearimy,” he snaps. “This broke me,” Chidi says, a chilling blank smile on his face, “The dot over the ‘i.’ That broke me. I-I’m done.”
“Jeremy Bearimy” (the episode, not the timeline) examines what happens when the most ethically focused man in the world received incontrovertible, if incomprehensible, proof that nothing matters. For Chidi, that means stripping shirtless in the park’s sprinklers and walking to the nearest grocery store for a cart filled with canned chili, marshmallow Peeps, M&Ms, and a carelessly-donned, store-mandated T-shirt reading “Who, What, Where, Wine.” He spends $880 on inedible garbage (that he, in fact eats, out of a huge pot in front of his bewildered philosophy students), gives away his car, and, pressed for anything useful for the upcoming philosophy finals, tells his “chili babies” that everything he ever taught them about the possible meaning of existence is merely “hot, stinky cat dooky,” while shoveling his unholy concoction into his mouth.
Chidi begins his gloriously mad rant about nihilism by giving his students one last rundown of everything he’d learned up until that point. Breaking down what he sees as the three schools of thought on the subject (virtue ethics, consequentialism, and deontology) with admirable succinctness, Chidi works himself up to throwing them all away with a heartbreaking passion, like a dying man saying goodbye to everything he mistakenly thought made life worth living. William Jackson Harper is better in “Jeremy Bearimy” than he’s ever been (no small compliment), showing what happens to a man whose ceaseless search for enlightenment winds up in the worst possible place. There’s nothing. He knows that. Bring on the Peep-chili.
As “Jeremy Bearimy” follows each of the four humans and two whatever Michaels and Janets are as they process how completely, cosmically screwed they are, writer Megan Amram posits all possible ethical responses in hilarious microcosm. Eleanor, liberated to realize that her wonted “See you in hell” exit line is literally appropriate, heads to the nearest bar (named “Drinking Nemo,” because Megan Amram is a goof) and regales the friendly bartender with her plan to look out solely for number one, since nothing matters. But, finding a wallet on the floor, she begrudgingly listens to that little voice in her head that Chidi’s influence has amplified until it wrecks all her selfish fun, and returns it. (With several expensive cab detours and errands along the way.) Greeted gratefully by the nice guy who’s overjoyed at getting back his daughter’s encouraging drawing from inside the wallet, the perversely pissed Eleanor breaks down in tears when the man says he hopes his daughter grows up to be like her.
Tahani enlists Jason as her bodyguard (just like her friend Kevin Costner was in that film, The Bodyguard), as she takes a safe-full of cash to the Sydney Opera House to give the opera $2 million as an anonymous gift. (Luckily, Jason once worked security for a Florida friend’s unauthorized Sea World knockoff, which turns out to have been exactly as horrifying as that sounds.) For Tahani, the sudden knowledge that her life’s endeavor of self-aggrandizing philanthropy won’t buy her into whatever heaven there is is liberating, too, albeit in an existentially exhausted way. “Now that I know how it all ends I just want to be virtuous for virtue’s sake,” she sighs to the game-for-anything Jason, who advises her on a much more fun path of direct charity. Handing out bundles of cash from Jason’s Jacksonville Jaguars gym bag on the streets, the pair have what’s clearly the most rewarding day of Tahani’s life, leading to her marrying Jason (platonically, to Janet’s eventual relief) so she can leave him her entire 131 million pound fortune. There’s such fun and joy in Tahani and Jason’s caper here—Jason happily tells a homeless man he can now afford to buy fingers for his gloves, while Tahani refuses to take no for an answer from the stuffy bank manager who initially refuses her money-transferring order. (Noting that Jason has been “flagrantly ignoring the one-lollipop rule” while waiting in his office, he confides to Tahani that he’s supposed to press the silent alarm as soon as anyone from Florida even walks into the bank.)
And then there’s Michael and Janet, holed up one last time in their deserted journalism department headquarters (one posted headline reads “Biffo blotto bludger turns tall poppy with fazzo frothy biz”), they decide to spend their remaining time before being retired/marbleized writing a manifesto containing everything they’ve learned from their efforts. Michael doesn’t know if anything they do will matter (he’s not even certain Judge Gen will read it), but, he tells his friend, “We failed, Janet, but hopefully someone, somehow, will succeed” in fixing a system they know from their experience with their human friends, is terribly broken.
When Eleanor and Chidi and Jason and Tahani come into the office, they do so having themselves processed the truly unthinkable awfulness of their shared predicament. Eleanor, having ditched her plan to fly back home to continue her former life as an Arizona trashbag, finds Chidi in his empty classroom about to scarf down 50 pounds of nothing-matters chili. Because she’s got a plan. The Good Place revels in last-ditch plans designed to skirt the rules and fight the system and save its heroes’ very souls. But this time, Eleanor’s plan is breathtakingly simple. The rules suck, there’s no justice, there’s nothing any of them can do to fix it—and so they’ll try anyway. “There are still people in this world that we care about,” she tells Michael, “so I say we try and help them become good people. Try and help them get in. I mean, why not try? It’s better than not trying, right?” Kristen Bell is outstanding here, Eleanor’s perpetual inner ethical war emerging through her own crushing personal disappointment with one more effortful charge at rallying the troops. And everyone (rechristened the Soul Squad) is in.
The thing is, “Jeremy Bearimy” worryingly and convincingly hinted all along that, this time, things might actually be broken. Seeing Chidi so manically bereft, shedding his practiced ethical armor along with his bright, crisp sweater vest, was frightening in its implications. (And in William Jackson Harper’s performance.) The Good Place has torn its world down and started over so many times, and so drastically, that Chidi’s Eleanor-aided return to at least grudging ethical ground was not a done deal. The joke about the desperate Michael trying to prop up his collapsing plan by improvising an X Files-esque dual identity for himself and Janet (as FBI Special Agents Rick Justice and partner Lisa “Frenchy/Double Nickname” Fuqua) at the start of the episode was yet another Good Place feint toward too-goofy contrivance. (He also suggests a Hail Mary plan to kill the humans, hoping to find a way to intercept them before they get to the Bad Place.) But Eleanor’s epiphany here indicates that The Good Place’s narrative instincts remains astoundingly sound, eschewing another high-wire caper for something like wisdom, and grace.
It’s all there in Chidi’s choice of quote. Amram and company have the grace themselves not to continue Nietzsche’s quote in the episode itself, knowing that Chidi—despite his despair—knows it. When Eleanor, badgering that bartender for free booze, tells him about how things are in America, she nails the despairing nihilism nibbling at the nation perfectly.
Everyone does whatever they want, society did break down, it’s terrible, and it’s great! You only look out for number one, scream at whoever disagrees with you, there are no bees because they all died, and if you need surgery you just beg for money on the internet.
But there’s that little voice in her head that forced her to resentfully return a wallet to “a dork and his very untalented daughter.” And, whether this version of Chidi and Eleanor’s philosophical symposium ever got to Nietzsche, her choice—taken up in joint defiance of the implacable universe by the others—sums up that oft-misused and misunderstood thinker’s conclusion about living in a world without reward or guiding hand perfectly, too. As Nietzsche concluded:
Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.
So they’ll try.
- The end credits reveal that several unnamed-in-the-episode characters are in fact named Gel Mibson, Eeth Kurban, Cat Pash, Mylie Kinogue, Lod Raver, Mark Supial, Gvonne Eoolagong, Nicole Mankid, and Waomi Natts, because, again, Megan Amram is a goofball.
- Michael flailing desperately at his “kill everyone” plan to Janet: “They’re mostly goo and juice. You just take the juice out and they’re dead.”
- “It’s just the way it works. It’s Jeremy Bearimy.” I nominate this to supplant Doctor Who’s “timey-wimey” for every sci-fi/fantasy expositional explanation from now on.
- What finally breaks Chidi: That dot over the ‘i’ means Tuesdays, and also July, and sometimes never. It’s also Janet’s birthday.
- Tahani graciously refuses to add a named Sydney Opera House rehearsal hall to her “collection of wings and atria.”
- Jason thinks having stuff named for you is cool, like that virus named after him after he kissed a bat on a dare.
- Eleanor, on Australia: “A trash country where everyone’s either a criminal or a spider.”
- The episode ends with a beaming Larry Hemsworth prepared to whisk Tahani away to a life of sibling-free luxury. Whoops. Poor Larry Hemsworth.