Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Good Place makes its thrilling final pitch, for all humanity’s marbles

D’Arcy Carden, Maya Rudolph
D’Arcy Carden, Maya Rudolph
Photo: Colleen Hayes (NBC)
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

“I think I know where this is going.”—[Loud, sustained fart.]

“You’ve Changed, Man,” shows every indication that we know what we can expect as The Good Place rounds the bend into its final four episodes ever. Chidi, having woken from his coma-retrospective of every life (and afterlife) he’s lived is focused, motivated, and delightfully grounded and positive about the impossibly monumental task his friends have laid at his feet. A quick pause here to note just how goddamned delightful William Jackson Harper makes this new-and-improved Chidi. Jason, as ever, is the one person willing to blurt out that, while he loved the old, human tummy-ache Chidi, this newest iteration is “way cooler now,” and it’s hard to argue on either point. After all, the old Chidi would never—as seen in one of the episode’s most hilarious reveals—hit up Disco Janet for some cool roller skates so he could glide while pondering the one, true solution to save all of existence.

Advertisement

And ponder Chidi does, running through every permutation of ethical philosophy (look for a bump in sales, estate of Judith Shklar, author of Ordinary Vices), and suggestion from the rest of Team Cockroach. (Michael dismisses Jason’s argument against exterminating them to Judge Gen, “’Cause it would be a real bummer,” although it really would be.) Unsure though he is about the team’s most cogent proposal to create a bigger version of Mindy St. Clair’s Medium Place for those humans whose earthly ordinariness doesn’t reach the threshold for either the Good or Bad Places, Chidi yet applies himself to shoring up the argument for it in a way the old, inflexible Chidi simply couldn’t have done. After all, sending the vast majority of departed souls to what Eleanor terms “their own, personal Cincinnati” isn’t exactly a flawless manifestation of fairness and justice, but at least nobody’s penis is getting flattened.

Advertisement

It’s in this debate that The Good Place lays its cards on the table as plainly as it’s ever done before. Citing Shklar, Chidi posits “cruelty as society’s primary flaw” and makes a specific allusion to the imbalance of crime and punishment on earth. Picking the example of someone arrested for selling a joint being sent to a violent and dangerous prison as example of humanity’s skewed moral equation, he expands, “The crime isn’t cruel but the punishment is.” Expanding the comparison to encompass the overall conundrum they find themselves in, Chidi theorizes, convincingly, “The cruelty of the punishment does not match the cruelty of the life that’s lived.” So far, so good, right?

Marc Evan Jackson as Shawn
Marc Evan Jackson as Shawn
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC

Well, Shawn (and here we pause to applaud the peerless, prim, bitchy villainy of Marc Evan Jackson) isn’t having it. Being Shawn, he lets his nemeses dangle while he pretends to consider their sweeping reforms, especially since, as he puts it, “Your side is settling for a crappy deal while my side stays mostly the same,” especially once Eleanor sweetens the pot by offering up herself, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani for eternal torture. (“I for one would love to get some spiders in those buttholes,” he muses, seemingly tempted.) But, in the end, Shawn’s petty evil trumps his big-picture evil, as he gloats to Michael, “I don’t care if everyone loses, as long as you lose.” As Tahani puts it in frustration, “Even for a demon, Shawn is being a real knob.” Indeed.

But this Team Cockroach has new Chidi on its side, and Michael’s inspirational speech urging them to come together with a whole new plan in humanity’s final ten minutes (“Cool speech, now it’s nine minutes,” snarks Eleanor) gives him a lightbulb moment. Having heard Michael’s passing reference to “the best versions of themselves,” this new and improved Chidi hurriedly cobbles together a new and improved version of their plan. If the Medium Place plan smacked of the same warehousing unfairness of earthly justice, this new one is a corker, in that it incorporates much of the ethical framework the show’s been working to assemble over the rest of this season.

Advertisement
Kristen Bell, Ted Danson
Kristen Bell, Ted Danson
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC

“This is a problem of justice,” Eleanor had lit upon earlier in the episode (eliciting a serious smooch from an intellectually turned-on Chidi in response), and she’s right on the money. The Good Place has always been about how goddamned messy and complicated human life is, and how a hell of a lot of factors can cause a human being to act like a greater or lesser asshole. The moral system of the universe remained too beholden to a rigid, points tally system, a thumbs-up, thumbs-down binary whose supposed rationality (“My only concerns are fairness and impartiality,” exclaims the Judge to Janet as she marches through yet another void in search of the doohickey to erase of all of humankind) is actually all about bureaucratic expedience. Sort of a mandatory minimums approach to human experience, if you will. But such a system is how you end up with a bunch of flawed but completely endearing goofs like Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason headed straight for an eternity of diaper scorpions, when we know from four seasons’ worth of experience, redemption is possible, and that just throwing people away because they’re not reaching some arbitrary standard isn’t justice, but glib cruelty masquerading as justice.

Advertisement

Chidi’s eventual solution is to essentially treat our one earthly life as a run-up to the test that comes when you have to face the music. Only, the music isn’t the end, but itself a test, one whose difficulty is determined by how well you lived. And you get to take it innumerable times. (Eleanor, twigging to the idea, smiles as she remembers “the voice in your head” that helps guide you from reboot to reboot.) That’s until you either get it right, or, finally and exhaustively, prove you never will. (Presumably, then bring on the eyeball corkscrews for the real, deservingly irredeemably pieces of human detritus.) It’s Team Cockroach—the best versions of each member—thinking on the fly, improvising when necessary, and building their case with all the Hail Mary optimism and creativity that they’ve learned, again and again, is their greatest weapon.

William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil
William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC
Advertisement

And they need all of that, especially since Timothy Olyphant keeps butting in.

Dear gods (or whatever) I’m going to miss The Good Place when it’s gone. Seeded expertly throughout since the Judge’s first appearance, it only makes sense that Janet would come up with the on-the-fly idea of using Gen’s immortal but understandable crush on Olyphant to manifest the Justified star (in season 3 Raylan Givens finery) to lull the Judge into at least sitting still long enough to hear them out. And Olyphant as a courtly, countrified version of himself is not just there for the big laughs (although he gets nothing but), but the episode uses him to further the plot, as the actor (perhaps with some residual U.S. Marshall investigatory wariness) starts prodding at the team’s plan with smiling intellectual acumen. Olyphant’s delivery of his line to the annoyed Eleanor (“I don’t have a dog in this fight little lady, I’m just lookin for clarity”) is easily one of the biggest laughs of the series. It’s triumphant gimmick guest casting if ever there were such a thing.

Advertisement

Shawn’s still a knob, however, so it’s Michael—sauntering into the old neighborhood where Shawn is happily getting in one more fountain-pee before everything goes poof—who greets Shawn’s gloating with infuriating equanimity. “See you in a billion years,” says Michael airily, having had his own epiphany that Shawn doesn’t actually want the universe to end. Call it the Season Two Spike moment, where Shawn has to admit that dueling with the traitorous demon Michael and his puny human friends is the only thing that’s allowed him to feel anything in millennia. (“You know how it is,” he confides, “You corkscrew your first eyeball and think, ‘I’m getting paid for this? Then…’”) As he puts it finally, before acceding to the plan, “I was having fun again. I’m not sure I’m ready for that to end.” (At the risk of sounding positively demonic, I can relate whenever I look at the dwindling number of episodes left.)

Ted Danson, Manny Jacinto, Kristen Bell, Jameela Jamil
Ted Danson, Manny Jacinto, Kristen Bell, Jameela Jamil
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC
Advertisement

So it’s all agreed as the episode comes to a close in the Judge’s chambers, with only Jason’s accidental near-obliteration of the universe thanks to some horseplay with the doohickey. Oh, and that Chidi happily responds to Michael’s entreaty to get started crafting the actual new afterlife that he’s really more of an idea guy. As cliffhangers go, that’s not one, since everybody’s seemingly on board, and there doesn’t seem to be any ticking clock at this point. Even the idea that the new Chidi might be hamstrung from a practical standpoint by his newfound casual attitude doesn’t seem much of a real possibility. There’s plenty of ground to cover in the next four episodes—and there’s always the lingering suspicion that even this, seemingly satisfying solution is just another rug waiting to be yanked out from under Team Cockroach/us.

It’s abrupt and a little unsatisfying, is what I’m saying, which is unusual for The Good Place, but hardly crippling after such a rollickingly funny episode—that also is mainly a philosophical spitballing session. No mean feat, that.

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • For more on how the Olyphant cameo happened, read Erik Adams’ interview with Mike Schur.
  • RIP, Disco Janet. Thanks for the skates. And at least your marble is a miniature disco ball.
  • Shawn gleefully busts up some delicate glass figurines from the neighborhood cart, “Joanie Loves Tchotchkes.” Amram, I’m watching you.
  • The Good Place Committee proves as useless as ever when it comes to negotiation and problem solving, the show’s commitment to lambasting the Democratic Party’s traditional toothless tack when battling the real world forces of intolerance, cruelty, and bigotry one hopes, being taken in by the actual Democratic Party through the ether. Paul Scheer’s perpetually beaming Chuck responds to an imminently universe-ending standoff with demon Shawn by playing some especially ineffectual hardball: “We’ll just keep on unilaterally giving up more and more until this demon is finally happy!”
  • Apart from the series’ central conceit that all organized religions are about 95 percent completely wrong, The Good Place tonight offers a much slyer philosophical proposition for certain people to get angry about. Chidi’s argument pivots around the main idea that everyone has value, and that needing extra time, tutoring, and effort to get life right doesn’t disqualify you from the same eternal reward. In citing Shklar, Chidi takes aim at those who’d cry “No fair!” when their circumstances allow them to proceed faster than others. (See: Shklar’s “ordinary sins” of cruelty, hypocrisy, snobbery, betrayal, and misanthropy.) Essentially, there’s no Good Place-Plus.
  • Maya Rudolph, too, deserves a mountain of praise, as her Judge Gen is more central—and funnier—than she’s ever been. As chilling as her stalwart march through the deactivated Janets is here, Rudolph yet makes the Judge a sneakily potent commentary on the banality of institutional injustice. Sure, she can take a moment to groove out with Janet in Disco Janet’s void, but that’s only because pleasant chumminess is possible when you know exactly what you’re going to do in the end. When Janet pleads that she can’t just wipe out humanity, Gen’s response, “Why not? The system’s broken. You guys broke it!” is just reasonable enough to be terrifying.
  • Plus, when Rudolph lusts after Chidi at one point, she uses the Hormone Monstress’ voice.
  • Chidi’s untroubled happiness is, as Eleanor says, working. She catches herself when she responds to Chidi’s new confidence by asking, “Do you wanna get out of here?”, but it’s clearly an effort. (Chidi returns the question when Eleanor pitches in with some trenchant ethical insight.)
  • Same goes for when Michael notes that Chidi’s now seen the Time Knife. Chidi’s response: “Yup. I saw the Time Knife. It was neat.”
  • And his forthright “Oh, yeah, cool. I love you” to Eleanor’s hesitant check-in on the status of their complicated relationship.
  • And his no-nonsense greeting to the happily resigned Committee: “Shut up. Shut up. Hi! Shut up.”
  • Chidi, generously, to Jason’s mangling of the trolley problem: “That’s very wrong, but in a roundabout way you kind of got where you needed to be.”
Advertisement

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

Share This Story

Get our newsletter