“Okay, that was an insane thing for us to do.”
That’s Michael, not wrong, as he and Janet bolt through the Judge’s magic door into a Sydney restroom. After all, the pair of semi-immortal beings are now powerless (although Janet still knows stuff that happened prior), they’ve defied the orders of the one all-knowing being who was at least temporarily on their side in trying to give the show’s human heroes a chance, and, as they discover, the Doorman’s key to Earth allows Judge Gen to pop up on a viewscreen to yell at them. “I have never been this angry in my life,” sputters Maya Rudolph’s Judge, “Which is the age of the universe!” Yup, this was an insane thing to do.
But The Good Place continues to posit that wild, idealistic, doomed gestures in the face of a universe whose moral code seems rigged against you is sometimes—or perhaps always—the only reasonable course of action. When you think back on everything Michael has done—pitching a whole new level of Hell, deceiving nigh-omnicient evil boss Shawn, secretly rebooting his neighborhood’s reality over 800 times, fleeing to Judge Gen’s chambers, convincing the neutral (if loopy) arbiter of all things into bending the rules, channeling a particular legendary bartender to shift the game once more, bringing four disparate oddballs together in Australia—it’s no wonder he’s looking a bit frazzled. But, for the second episode in a row, “The Snowplow” sees The Good Place looking a little frayed around the edges too, as the show rushes toward an ending that promises yet another major shift in the show’s trajectory.
With Trevor cast into the void, the group (who apparently have stuck with Trevor’s “The Brainy Bunch” moniker in goofball solidarity) continues testing out Chidi and Simone’s theory on near-death experiences and ethical thinking. As Michael and Janet set up a command center in St. John’s completely abandoned journalism department (“Bad for the world, good for us,” muses Michael), complete with mics and spy cameras to monitor their four charges, the episode (credited to Joe Mande) zips along through the next six months via some nifty split-screen shortand. (Immortal, inhuman beings though they might be, Janet and Michael really get into the holiday spirit, decking out their office with every gaudy Christmas/Hanukkah tchotchke they can find.) Meanwhile, we get glimpses of the four humans adapting to their new reality with varying degrees of comfort.
Eleanor, broke in Australia, and noting that her telemarketing and microwaving skills aren’t all that marketable themselves, thinks she might have to return to Arizona, so Michael convinces Janet to, well, cheat. Having complete knowledge of all previously printed scratch-off lottery tickets, she wins Eleanor 18 grand. Tahani restlessly takes up Jason’s invite to watch the time-zone-delayed Jaguars games on his computer, intending to bed to hunky ding-dong. Michael and Janet, sensitive to any disruptive influences that might splinter the group, instead maneuver Tahani into the path of an old flame, the previously mentioned black sheep of the Hemsworth acting and handsomeness dynasty, Larry (Ben Lawson). As Michael puts it to the skeptical Janet, it’s not cheating so much as acting like the titular snowplow, “clearing a path for Eleanor so that she can more easily drive along the path toward improvement.” Janet, looking to be convinced, is, as she uses her infinite knowledge to remove obstacles.
So far so good. After all, Janet and Michael are already so far out on a rickety bridge of their own making that the only alternative to going forward by any means necessary is following Trevor into the abyss. But, as “The Snowplow” builds its hectic momentum, we see how untenable all this improvisation is when it comes to ensuring the desired outcome. Eleanor can stay, but her old patterns reemerge once Tahani and Larry hit it off to the degree that they intend to get married and move to London, at least party so Larry can escape his ever-present shame of being only a pediatric surgeon with “barely an eight-pack.” Chidi and Simone simultaneously drop the bomb that their phase of the study is over, and that a new group of subjects are needed to test their data. As Michael puts it when adopting yet another helpful guise (Nathaniel Cookswell, caterer to the stars) to urge Eleanor to tell the group how much they mean to her, he understands what it’s like “feeling like your little team is the last thing standing between you and oblivion. That at any moment the universe can fold up around you and squeeze the last breath from your dying lungs.” Clearly, things are falling apart.
Except they’re not, not really, not for the humans. Chidi is happier than he’s ever been, his connection with the group and his thriving romance with the gloriously cool and grounded Simone providing a personal and professional focus he’s never known. Jason, in addition to a free trip to Australia from the literally sinking swamp-city of Jacksonville, is having a blast, especially once he finds the few other Jags fans in Sydney and comes giddily into the study group slathered in Jaguars body paint and completely hammered. Tahani has found love with Larry, whose disfiguring inferiority complex toward his famous brothers is a challenge, sure, but it certainly matches up with Tahani’s complex about her ludicrously acclaimed sister. And even Eleanor, rebuffed into cake-smushing preemptive rejection once more by her friends’ decision not to heed her Michael-prompted appeal to stay together, finally opens up to the capable and unimpressed-by-tantrums Simone. Everyone’s just living, happier than they were before they met, and using their time together to better navigate the necessarily confusing and painful journey of being human. Yes, their immortal souls apparently depend on them racking up enough cosmic brownie points to avoid an eternity of lava monsters and Richard Marx, but they don’t know that.
So really, the only people/things completely screwed in this whole thing are Michael and Janet—and us. We aren’t satisfied with four flawed but striving humans working shit out. That’s what we’re doing, and The Good Place has offered a universe where we humans are given a glimpse of untold possibilities, so the thought of Tahani and Larry snuggling together in neurotic but blissful co-dependent luxury or Jason heading back to Jacksonville and the glory of jalapeño poppers and street dancing just isn’t going to cut it. So when Michael rants sweatily to Janet, “No more waiting! This is all we have, Janet!,” he’s right—for them. And for us. We need Michael to whip out Jeff’s key and open another forbidden portal back to the Judge’s chambers to, as he imagines, reboot actual reality as he did his fake Good Place. Possibly by unplugging it and plugging it back in again.) We’re on board for whatever desperate gambit he’s got up his sleeve to keep this adventure going. Janet, once more, is skeptical (especially since Michael’s first plan was to perform a little light arson where he speculates only five innocent people will get hurt), but she goes along, too, D’Arcy Carden’s eyes doing a lot of work toward expressing the chaos in the depowered Janet’s lovestruck but sensible mind. Michael tells her, nervously bouncing on the balls of his feet as they stand poised on the brink of another wacky twist in The Good Place’s narrative, “If we can’t get them enough afterlife points to get them into the Good Place, then there’s no point in us even being here!”
Theorizing about where The Good Place as a series is headed is both a delight and a hazard. There’s no show on television right now (and precious few ever) that have so delightfully and brilliantly toyed with our expectations, not only with its own narrative, but with our preconceptions and expectations about TV plotting. Michael’s wordy restatement of the show’s current mission sounds clunky—and I think it’s supposed to. We thought we knew what the comic setup was when Eleanor got to the Good Place. We thought we knew the game when Michael’s deception was so shockingly revealed. We were knocked back by the show’s abrupt dissolution of its entire reality to that point, and to this present, earthbound reboot. And it’s been a delight, frankly, each successive twist and swerve as eye-bulgingly surprising as it is ingeniously, improbably right.
Things on Earth this season have at times felt a little forced in their wackiness (I like Larry, but his whole shtick doesn’t feel like a keeper), even as the show’s track record has reassured us with the sly little tickle of its evident grand design. The plot Michael sums up is a tower of babble that, in a lesser show, would suffice. Here, its prosaic tumble of panicky detail throws up the red flag that the next twist is going to be—once more—something a lot more interesting than we’d been expecting. The humans see the door. The Good Place smilingly dares us to imagine what’s on the other side.
- Michael covers up Trevor’s sudden absence with the note, “I am too ugly and stupid to stay in the study and I am going home to my mommy.”
- Tahani, after initially expressing sympathy at Eleanor’s $18 thousand windfall: “From context, I see that that is actually a large sum of money.”
- After Eleanor marvels at the potential stress of lugging around Tahani’s engagement ring, Tahani reassures her that girls of her social class enter ring-training at a very young age.
- Kirby Howell-Baptiste remains a formidably delightful presence on the show. Unlike Lawson’s amiably disposable Larry, Simone’s got staying power as a character, her soulmate-level match with Chidi the very real threat to the Eleanor-Chidi shippers out there that actual conflict is made of.
- I especially loved her response to Eleanor’s practiced speech about not wanting to take part in any in-office celebrations, countering Eleanor’s refusal of a proffered treat with “Cool stance. Counterpoint, these are delicious free cupcakes, get over yourself and eat one.” Eleanor eats one.
- Similarly, she’s not having post-meltdown Eleanor’s self-pity, responding to Eleanor’s request for the brain scientist to diagnose her by suggesting a child psychologist. Or a binky.
- Of course, Simone then goes ahead and helps, running down the evolutionary steps toward selflessness and understanding that, clearly, Eleanor seems to have missed. Laying out the selfish, blinkered factors that have to be overcome to truly be a worthwhile, functional part of the human race shows just how great a match Simone is for Chidi, and what a good friend she is for Eleanor.
- I admit to getting inexplicably choked up when Simone twice calls Eleanor her friend.
- Tahani dated Tom Brady, before pawning him off on her friend Gisele.
- Janet’s “snowplowing” advice to various bystanders wind up improving their lives in pretty meaningful ways. It’s like she can’t help herself from helping others.
- Larry accuses Michael and Janet of being from gossip site “TM-Zed,” at the engagement party to continue its hounding of “the hideous shame of the Hemsworth family.”
- Our weekly rundown of all the Easter eggs and other Good Place goodies you may have missed will go up tomorrow morning, and we’ll add a link here. UPDATE: Here’s our annotated list for “The Snowplow.” See you next week, or, as Eleanor might say, “A jolly good St. Ploopington’s Day to all of you!” Out.