“Holy forking shirtballs.”
“Janet(s)” is the ideal form for the newly-coined Peak TV milestone, the “mid-season finale.” Full of incident and action, the episode provides the universe’s Eleanor-Chidi shippers with a literal reality-saving kiss, clues Jason and Tahni into Janet’s feelings for Jason, and introduces yet another comedy all-star denizen of The Good Place’s loony cosmology, in the form of Stephen Merchant’s Neil, the fabled Accountant in charge of the universe’s supposedly infallible points system. The episode (directed by Morgan Sackett and written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan) is also a big-league showcase for D’Arcy Carden’s Janet. Or Janets. Lots and lots of Janets.
Ending last episode with another of the gang’s signature “we have literally nothing to lose here” Hail Mary escape plans, Michael, Chidi, Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason are brought into Janet’s infinite inner void. (Sadly, they do not run into Jason Mantzoukas’ Derek, as he’s still undoubtedly having blissful cocaine and wind chimes sex with Mindy St. Clair.) Michael is Michael (and, yes, his hair is still fabulous), but the humans are all transformed into identical Janets as a side effect of the stresses on Janet’s molecular cohesion in the face of this unprecedented latest reality-breaking. Throughout the episode, every time the human-Janets use any of their newfound Janet powers to, say, manifest the cutest puppy in the universe, actual Janet suffers afflictions ranging from serious intestinal difficulties, to Cher songs, to barely contained imminent self-destruction. Quickly swapping out the human-Janets’ matching outfits for more characteristic individual wardrobes helps, but “Janet(s)” mainly relies on D’Arcy Carden’s talents, which turn out to be more impressively hilarious than even previously imagined.
Carden’s Janet, trapped mostly powerless on Earth this season, has (the occasional awesome ass-kicking rampage aside) been more sidelined than in the past, and “Janet(s)” is a series course-correction as comedy explosion. Everything in Carden’s performance(s) here is specific and hilarious, from Eleanor’s sardonic slouch to the way her Jason pronunces “Jacksonville.” And she’s got a lot of lifting to do before the four humans finally reclaim their actual forms near episode’s end, as Eleanor and Chidi, especially, work through their long-simmering and time-stream-convoluted relationship, all with Carden playing both sides of the equation. There’s a manic sense of danger through the episode, as Janet’s desperate gambit leaves her (and, by extension, the characters’ reality) so unstable that she finally pleads with Michael to turn her into her inert marble form as yet a further desperate gambit. As the sparse objects conjured in the void discorporate around them thanks to Eleanor’s loss of identity in the face of her confusion about Chidi’s philosophical conundrum concerning their relationship, finally it’s Chidi-Janet’s peading tumble of heartfelt praise for Eleanor that brings her, and the whole universe, back together. Seizing her for a kiss to seal the deal, we see both the actual Chidi and Eleanor replace their Janet disguises, but it’s Carden who does all of the heavy lifting for a storyline The Good Place has been building up since the very start. It’s a monster of a risk, it works, and it’s all Carden’s doing. She’s marvelous.
Meanwhile, the real Janet and Michael carry out their other last-ditch plan to infiltrate the Accountant’s realm. Just in case you weren’t getting enough D’Arcy Carden, she also introduces another model of Janet, getting laughs as the Accountant’s humorless, completely Neutral Janet, who, unlike her Bad Place counterpart, communicates not in contemptuous farts and middle school put-downs but blankly prosaic corporate-speak suited to the Accountant’s blandly bureaucratic domain. Merchant’s Neil is another of this universe’s immortal functionaries, in this case, a smiling, innocuous middle manager all too happy to show off his well-oiled, paper-pushing operation—and to apologetically push the alarm button once Janet literally barfs out the four humans after the disturbance caused by Eleanor and Chidi’s climactic confrontation. Like Gen, the Accountant blends easy sentimentality and a touch of eccentric loopiness with a rigid and unquestioning adherence to this universe’s rules that’s actually pretty chilling when you think about it. (“Cold, objective, and airtight,” is pretty much the definition of bureaucratic dystopias everywhere.) Especially once Michael learns—to his horror and the Accountant’s blithe acceptance—that not one single person has been admitted to the Good Place in 521 years.
That’s a huge swing, too, seeming to settle (as far as we’re willing to accept things on The Good Place at face value) whether or not the Good Place actually exists. Michael certainly reacts as if it unquestionably does, as Ted Danson makes Michael’s uncomprehending anger at his conclusion that the Bad Place has hijacked the voting system passionately vivid. For all Michael’s complicated moral journey from torture-happy demon to rule-flouting, human-loving would-be hero, the idea that the foundational principles of the moral universe have been incontrovertibly (to him) rigged simply clobbers him. Incredulously, Michael looks at the Accountant’s figures indicating that poor, point-grubbing Doug Forcett’s life of asceticism and radishes has left him nowhere near entry to the Good Place as an outrage. (Even more than the exclusion of the likes of Jonas Salk, Harriet Tubman, and all of the deceased Golden Girls.) “The Bad Place has hacked your system!,” he rages at the unbelieving Accountant, who’s so secure in the integrity of his cubicle-bound army of beleaguered underlings that he brushes off Michael’s concerns on his way to have some of the office birthday cake. (To be fair, he does get the last corner piece.)
The episode concludes with Michael asking for a volunteer to do something that will be “outrageously insane, or really fun.” (Step on up, Jason Mendoza.) There are a pair of conveniently color-coded pneumatic tubes (or the interdimensional versions thereof), one leading to the Bad Place, and one leading to the Good. Michael, confronted with this latest—and seemingly final—defeat in his plan to thwart the apparently implacable will of the universe, takes up Janet’s earlier advice that there’s simply no one—Accountant, Judge, or other celestial referee—who’s going to step in and save the day. As the klaxon sounds and the red lights flash, Michael tells his friends, “We have no plan, nobody’s coming to save us . . . so I’m gonna do it.” (He also dashes Neil’s coveted corner piece to the floor as a first-step distraction, a move so panic-petty and funny that it helps underscore the noble insanity of the Soul Squad’s schemes in one motion.)
Emerging from the tube through a cabinet unnervingly similar to the Swanson safe Jason died in, the gang looks around at a nondescript office piled high with the reams of dot-matrix-printed accounting documents the tube is meant for—and Eleanor finds out she can’t swear. Michael tells the awestruck and confused humans that their realities-hopping quest has come, improbably, to an end. It’s the Good Place, explains Michael. And that’s how you pull off a finale.
- Chidi, instead of conjuring puppies (or, as in Jason’s case, Pillboi, a broken jacuzzi, and a 40), uses his Janet powers to recreate his classroom blackboard to explain the philosophical reasons why the Chidi he is now isn’t the Chidi who fell in love with Eleanor (back in reboot number 119, as we all recall). Only, this time, Eleanor isn’t having it, accusing Chidi of “barfing Wikipedia all over everyone to keep from talking about your feelings.”
- “Counterpoint: that’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said and I’m un-poofing your puppy.”
- Janet-Eleanor attempts to fake out Janet-Chidi by switching places with Janet-Jason. Sadly, she forgets how many people were in Dance Dance Resolution.
- Chidi-Janet, rattling off all the things that make Eleanor Eleanor, reveals that she calls him a “human snooze button.”
- Snapping back to herself (after morphing into a succession of people of random races, sexes, and ages), Eleanor asks Chidi if he only said all the things he said because the world was ending. Chidi, also back to himself, tries to play it cool, fails, and they kiss again. Because, again, that’s how you pull off a finale.
- Feel free to speculate on just who made it into the Good Place in 1497. Although, honestly, it’s unlikely to have been anyone famous and powerful enough to get his/her own Wikipedia entry.
- One of the duties of Neil’s staff is assigning point totals to every theretofore unthought-of act we humans come up with. “Weird sex stuff” makes up the overwhelming majority of such innovation, and is the domain of one Matt, who is understandably wishing for impossible death. He’s put in a request and everything.
- Neil sees a new action involving an eggplant, hot sauce, and nickels on his monitor, which he’s momentarily surprised isn’t a weird sex thing. (It’s a weird sex thing.)
- Walt Disney’s got some freaky stuff in his file.
- Neil might be a dead end, but he does mention, in passing, a committee that has some responsibilities in The Good Place universe. Stay tuned.
- All the point-hacking—and the presiding administration’s unwillingness to confront it—isn’t without its real world resonances.
- Because we aren’t in the Bad Place (no matter how the real world keeps suggesting otherwise), The Good Place has just been renewed for a fourth season. Suck it, Shawn.
- As ever, check out The A.V. Club’s rundown of the stuff you probably missed in “Janet(s),” posting later today.