After last week’s episode was titled “Tahani Al-Jamil,” focusing as it did on Jameela Jamil’s irritatingly perfect philanthropist, model, muse, and (as we find tonight) award-winning event planner, one might ask who, exactly, “Jason Mendoza” is about. After all, we haven’t met any Jason Mendozas among the happy denizens of the good place. As it turns out, Jason is the real name of Tahani’s supposed soulmate Jianyu, the silent Taiwanese Buddhist monk who revealed himself to Eleanor as another undeserving admittee to paradise.
It was an effective shock at the end of last week’s episode, The Good Place once again yanking the rug out from under our expectations of just what its game is. Thankfully, Jason also turns out to be a welcome addition to the show, with the serene Jianyu transformed into the blissfully dumb Jason, a former aspiring EDM DJ, body spray inventor, hip-hop backup dancer, and drug dealer, who gratefully latched onto the whole vow of silence thing once Ted Danson’s Michael brought it up. Manny Jacinto looked destined to be a Wilson, Mrs. Hernandez, Morn-style gimmick of a character as the watchful Jianyu, but Jacinto unveils some serious comic chops as he reveals his backstory to Eleanor (and us, flashbacks).
Every Michael Schur-led show has reaped big laughs by introducing a uniquely drawn cast dum-dum, but Jason is an especially tricky case. Sure, he, feeling liberated by Eleanor’s knowledge of his situation, immediately sinks back down to the life of juvenile indolence that marked his time on Earth. Introduced to his “bud hole” (another lowbrow groaner akin to the whole “fork” equals “fuck” running gag), Eleanor remarks that its clutter of video games, bitchin’ electric guitars, and posters of chicks on sports cars looks like “12-year-old boy meets 13-year-old boy,” and, with Tahani out of the house, he blasts his music while draping a football jersey over his monk’s robes. “My whole situation here is getting more and more dicey,” exclaims Eleanor, quickly exasperated by Jason’s constitutional inability to stay on-topic for more than ten seconds.
Thankfully, Jacinto and Schur have put more thought into Jason’s particular brand of stupidity. After all, if he, like Eleanor, wasn’t meant for the good place, then there has to be a reason, more than being the amiable stoner ding-dong he first appears to be. Eleanor’s flashbacks have shown her to be a full-on inconsiderate asshole, with just the faintest hint of underlying pain as cause. Similarly, there’s a suggestion that Jason’s life was marked by just enough secret soulfulness to offset both his bro-centric lifestyle, and the fact that his vague sense of entitlement led him to do some awful things. Scorned by the douchebag EDM superstar who conned him into wearing his signature giant cat mask for a gig, Jason confides to his equally gonzo pal Pillboy (Other Space’s Eugene Cordero, very funny), “Jason Mendoza is a beautiful, unique soul who has so much to give this world.” It’d be more beautiful if he didn’t immediately follow up by tossing a molotov cocktail at the deejay’s speedboat. (That Jason asks for “the thing that blows it up” rather than knowing the proper term is just right.) Jacinto has a way of letting Jason’s lazy pronunciation trail off mid-sentence (mid-word, really) that brings Jason’s fundamental indifference toward existence to hilarious life. When he flashes on memories of things he actually cares about (like his Eleanor-aborted tale of “the wing-eating contest that I lost and the barfing contest that I won”) Jacinto brings his eyes alive, but you can watch them burn out the longer he talks.
In the end, poor Chidi finds himself with another student, Eleanor’s desire not to get caught thanks to Jason’s impenetrable dimness seeing her once more doing a sort-of nice thing for essentially selfish reasons. (Even if Jason confidently asserts that he’s there to learn about “ethnics.”) William Jackson Harper continues to make Chidi’s put-upon ethics professor distinctly alive as well. It’d be easy to see Chidi as a merely reactive character, but Harper’s delivery is ever finding little fillips of individuality that make him as enduringly funny as he is endearing. Harper has the best comic bafflement on TV right now, his drawn out “Oh noooo” upon witnessing the true shallowness of his new student’s thought processes vying with his shocked, accusatory “Eleanor, you broke Jianyu!” upon seeing Jason decked out in his DJ togs.
Kristen Bell, too, keeps Eleanor dancing unpredictably as she navigates her increasingly untenable deception. It’s going to be hard for The Good Place to keep Eleanor’s sharp edges as she, once again here, finds herself doing something at least marginally altruistic. (She actually reads—twice—David Hume’s A Treatise Of Human Nature at Chidi’s urging). But Bell makes Eleanor’s greedy pinprick stare her driving motivation as she tries to stay one step ahead of the forces of the universe, and Bell’s delivery in exchanges like this one remains outright hilarious.
Eleanor: “Our only help right now is this kind, selfless, amazing nerd.”
Chidi: “Do you have to call me nerd so much?”
Eleanor: “I said a lot of other nice things, okay? Toughen up, nerd.”
If there’s a crack in the ambitious world-building going on in The Good Place (other than the giant sinkhole Eleanor creates tonight by destroying a delicious-looking cake in order to prevent Jason from blowing his cover) it’s a lack of urgency. After all, and sinkholes notwithstanding, Eleanor’s presence has wrought apparently unprecedented mayhem in what’s been presented as a perfectly ordered moral system. Part of the fun of the series so far is in guessing just how much of what Ted Danson’s first-time neighborhood supervisor Michael tells us can be taken at face value, but Michael has spent the last two episodes engaging in fiddly side-tasks one might expect he’d put off until the whole “giant ladybugs and guys turned into Picasso paintings” situation is resolved.
Tonight, Danson’s a delight as usual, with Michael taking inordinate pleasure in trying out the unwieldy human concept of suspenders. (“So dumb! So much dumber than belts!,” he crows ecstatically to Tahani as he shows them off.) But, apart from Eleanor’s reference to her new position as Michael’s assistant investigator, for the second episode in a row, Michael’s attention is focused on helping a supporting character find something to do. Last time, he helped Chidi find a hobby, tonight, it’s Tahani’s turn, as he directs her irrepressible energy toward helping another resident open her dream restaurant. There’s a lot to like about this B-story, as it allows the show to fill in some more tantalizing details about the good place. Michael informs us that: every resident “will fulfill his or her soul’s true purpose;” that matched soulmates sometimes take a while to really click; and that—like Eleanor’s sinkhole—damage done to the good place fixes itself “in about three days.” (He also reveals that’s it’s possible to achieve 104 per cent perfection—that’s how we got Beyoncé.)
But, as Tahani sees at the end of the episode, the sinkhole is growing, not shrinking, suggesting that The Good Place will have to deal with just what’s wrong with the good place sooner rather than later.
- While the boat-bombing wasn’t the cause of Jason’s death, he gives a hint that his poor decision-making eventually got him, telling Eleanor, “You should listen to me. I came up with hundreds of plans in my life and only one of them got me killed.”
- That laying-on of hands trick he did on Michael was something a nurse did to calm Jason down after he ran his jet ski into a manatee. “Yeah, I’m from Jacksonville Florida. It happens a lot.”
- Jason’s theories on what the good place is: alien zoo or prank show.
- Eleanor had simply blurted out her secret to Jianyu while she was hammered at that party during the pilot.
- Jameela Jamil keeps finding the right note of comic insufferableness in Tahani’s perfection, whether picking orchids for her “nightly orchid bath,” cheerfully correcting the omniscient Janet’s pronunciation of “Barcelona,” or coming home to exchange her afternoon gloves for her early evening gloves.
- Michael’s tickled reaction when he figures out the punning name of the new restaurant (“The Good Plates”) is yet another chance for Danson to provoke giggle-fits.
- Another compelling thing about the good place: Everyone is served a perfect meal at the restaurant, consisting of the food they associate most strongly with a favorite memory. (One person appears to be having a heaping bowl of peanut M&Ms.) That’s great news for Chidi, who receives his grandmother’s lovingly prepared mafé. Less so for Jason (a block of Jianyu’s unflavored tofu) and Eleanor (nothing, because of that time she went on a hunger strike to protest Bolivian sex trafficking).