“The words are nice, but the tone is scary.”
So, mission accomplished?
“Mondays, Am I Right?” leaves off with our heroes all piled into Michael’s (working this time) golden hot air balloon and sailing away from the in-progress but functioning afterlife they’ve made, flush with the knowledge that they, finally, have done it. The Judge has stepped in and, since, as Michael puts it, “Turns out that saving everyone in the universe is worth a few points,” they’ve won. They’re going to the Good Place. Not the mailroom thereof, not an insidiously mocked-up simulacrum—they’re going to paradise, the delighted Jason bellowing a triumphant “Foles!” to the assembled, waving crowd of Good and Bad Place architects seeing them off.
Well, Team Cockroach has won before, and, if there’s one thing The Good Place has taught us (alongside the utter worthlessness of capitulating to evil for the sake of compromise), it’s that there’s always a catch. The thing is, this eleventh (of fourteen) episode cruises along like that balloon throughout—easy, delightful, a bit bumpy, perhaps a little silly. If it were the end for real, it’d be pretty disappointing, as much as the thought of these six characters getting the ultimate happy ending they deserve is what any just and wise TV universe would give us. But even if it’s not the end (remember-three left), I’m still calling “Mondays, Am I Right?” a little disappointing.
Naturally, I’m grading on a curve. “Disappointing” means something else on a show as consistently great as The Good Place than it does to 99 percent of all other shows on TV at the moment. But “Mondays, Am I Right?” feels rushed, scattered, and a little slight—and that’s in an episode where it appears Michael has successfully implemented a creation-wide retooling of the ultimate scales of eternal justice, so that’s sort of a neat trick, if you think about it.
As to the rushed feeling, Michael’s task—involving as it does the recruitment of his resentful (and demonic) former Bad Place architects, the design of a whole new form of human evaluation, and fending off yet another challenge from showboating nemesis Vicky—is all wrapped up in about 20 minutes. And that’s including time spent on a truly unsatisfying cul-de-sac in Chidi and Eleanor’s relationship. The uncharacteristically frustrating nature of the enterprise here smacks of a show forced to wrap things up in a hurry, but, as we know, Michael Schur and company chose this fourth season to be the natural end of the story a long time ago.
I may be guilty in these reviews of cutting initially puzzling plot twists some slack, and assuming that Schur has a bigger plan in mind. To be fair (to me), I’ve almost always been right. So here I’m going forward with the caveat that things are clearly not what they seem—the gang’s plan sailing through with only the minor hitch of Vicky’s desire for a climactic West Side Story dance battle to slow things up isn’t the cue for Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, Tahani, Michael, and Janet to just canoodle around amiably in heaven for three episodes. There are some reveals a-coming. (The next episode is titled “Patty,” starting the meter on the frantic awesome-casting guessing game as we wonder just who or what Patty is.)
But, caveats aside, there’s a sense of incompleteness here that even place-setter episodes of the past haven’t left me with. There’s so much work to be done in Michael’s plan. And the introduction of some new, very funny Bad Placers (played by Carl Tart, Fran Gillespie, and Dave King) suggests that we’re going to spend more time fine-tuning the new human-testing process than we eventually do. Admittedly, what we do see is completely hilarious, as Gillespie’s Megan, attempting to adapt to Michael’s new, subtler way of tormenting the dead, keeps reverting back to the old “bear with chainsaws” stand-by. (The second, smaller bear politely asking test subject Tahani the episode’s title before whipping out the saws is explosively funny as a demon’s idea of taking it down a notch.)
But Michael’s switch to what looks suspiciously like petty jealousy once Vicky (who describes herself deliciously as “a strong, independent acid snake in the skin-suit of a strong, independent woman”) proves especially adept at both adapting and teaching her demon colleagues plays like manufactured conflict. Michael’s later explanation that he’s panicking because he—after millennia of Sisyphus-like toil—is about to be without a purpose is played beautifully by Ted Danson and D’Arcy Carden. But that can’t undo how under-motivated his actions feel in the doing. If there’s a bigger picture that will pay everything that happens here off with a satisfying click of purpose, then more fool me. But that necessarily brings up the question of whether an incomplete piece to a complete whole is itself a good episode of television.
The same goes for Chidi and Eleanor’s mini-conflict, only more so. Finding out that, as part of their plan to evaluate potential test subjects from the realm of the dead, they have complete, uncensored access to literally every fact about every person who’s ever lived, naturally Eleanor sets out to find out which U.S. Presidents were secretly gay. (She lands on James Buchanan, as have others. More power to him.) Also realizing, however, that that means they all have access to each others’ unexpurgated life histories sends Eleanor and Chidi into something of a tailspin. (Jason’s fine. You can siphon gas out of so many things.)
They’ve got different worries. Eleanor thinks that Chidi finding out about her long, only partially revealed history of Arizona assholery and romantic entanglements might turn him against her. Meanwhile, Chidi worries that he’s too boring to spend an eternity with, especially for a woman who still doesn’t know how she woke up in a Rubbermaid tub in that family’s basement on the day after Halloween 2013. First up—Chidi’s worried? Eleanor asks him why “cool, confident Chidi” is getting so uncertain all of a sudden, and I’m right there with her. The new Chidi was such a successful evolution (and happened so recently), that backpedaling this quickly just makes no sense. And, sure, William Jackson Harper and Kristen Bell ultimately make something out of this blip—Harper’s initial guess that Eleanor’s panic is some sort of “sex game, somehow” partakes of that playfulness that new Chidi’s got going on. And it’s genuinely sweet how Chidi looks over Eleanor’s ten-times-longer rap sheet than his (including that time she was subpoenaed by the Make-A-Wish Foundation) and comes out admiring her more than ever for her strength in muddling through a life essentially un-parented and alone. But there are just no stakes here, a narrative shortcoming The Good Place generally avoids. In the end, they get over it, and that’s that.
As a late-stage hiccup in The Good Place’s endgame, “Mondays, Am I Right?” would be a bigger bummer if it weren’t so damned funny along the way. And, as rushed as it feels, the reveal that the first elegant chime of Good Place acceptance is meant for the gang is a genuine goosebumps moment. Still, come reassure us, Patty, whoever or whatever you are.
- As part of their preparations, Chidi, Jason, and Eleanor are tasked with picking some slam-dunk Good Place candidates:
- Jason’s list: Evel Knievel, Mini-Me, The World’s Most Interesting Man, Kool-Aid Man, D.J. Jazzy Jeff, a genie (so they can wish for infinite candidates), Fat Bastard, The Karate Kid (Macchio, Swank, or Smith not specified), Wendy from Wendy’s, that helpful GPS lady voice, and Grumpy Cat.
- Chidi’s list: Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Norman Borlaug, Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela, Chiune Sugihara, Toyohiko Kagawa, Siddhartha Gautama, Chidi’s hero René Descartes, Oskar Schindler, Anna Maria van Schurman, Derek Parfit, Fred Rogers (obvious, that one), Erasmus, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
- Eleanor’s list isn’t shown, although, upon hearing the sound of the first person being admitted to the new Good Place, she muses that, if it’s not Prince, then they forked up this whole universal reboot something huge.
- Erasmus is known to have said, “When I get a little money I buy books. And if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” Which suggests why Chidi might have him on his list, considering that, as Chidi tells Jason, his idea of paradise was, “a 600 square foot apartment that was essentially a bookcase and a toilet.”
- Tahani rebuts the Bad Placers’ objection that their torture tactics are the way it’s always been done by noting that that’s exactly the excuse bigots and misogynists have always used to fight change. “This chick gets it!,” exclaims Carl Tart’s Steve, happily not getting it.
- Michael tries to placate Bad Placer Phil by praising his work in the Performative Wokeness Department, to which Phil responds, “Wow, way to mansplain my own department to me. I’m triggered.”
- Jason: “You have a tell.” Chidi: “I do?” Jason: “Yeah, you telled Eleanor before that you were upset and I think you still are.”
- In the end, it’s really Jason who talks Chidi out of his funk. “Against all odds I know what you mean and I gotta give it up,” concedes Chidi. “Chess-mate,” responds Jason, because Jason.
- Eleanor, consoling Chidi about their eternal compatibility, does admonish, “If Frida Kahlo wants to make out with me in heaven, we’re gonna have to have a conversation.”
- Vicky, proving adept at the new way by creating a simulation of Tahani’s family, stresses that the trick is now, “to flatten the penises of their hearts.”
- One of the architects appears at Vicky’s new Afterlife Architect Training School in the form of a panda bear. No word on whether that’s a Good or Bad Place thing. You’d think Good, but…