The Good Place
Ever since The Good Place’s big twist at the end of season one, I’ve been curious to see how much of Michael’s initial fascination with pointless human ephemera was genuine. Now, it turns out the lie was rooted in at least some truth, as most good cons usually are. In this week’s “Best Self,” the damned humans celebrated how far their former torturer has come in turning “good” by giving him a present: a box of worthless junk, just like most people have scattered around their homes and offices. Car keys (“So I can lose them!”), Band-Aids (“For your stupid fragile bodies!”), a stress ball with a dumb corporate logo, and a Dr. Oz diet book. And Michael loves it all.
Here’s what so great — and so perverse — about The Good Place: This sweet moment hinges on Michael holding inconsequential but tangible objects in his hands, while the episode’s most moving scene has him drawing one of the show’s most important pictures entirely with words.
“Best Self” derives its title from what Michael claims to be a test they’ll all have to pass before they can leave behind what Eleanor calls “this miserable shirt hole” and go to the real Good Place. He conjures a complicated, unique transportation vehicle (not Optimus Prime, much to Jason’s chagrin) that looks like a magical golden balloon, barricaded by a gate that won’t open unless the passengers have truly become the best version of themselves that they can possibly be.
Predictably, the boarding process doesn’t go smoothly. First, Chidi fails, apparently because he doubts that he’s learned anything about himself in the afterlife. After his friends reassure him that he really is the best Chidi because he made everyone else around him better, he’s able to board. But then Eleanor fails because his doubts infected her. Then Tahani gets the big red buzzer, as she elbows past Janet (who’s helpfully holding a basket of gourmet snacks for the long journey) and announces, “It is I, Tahani!”
Amid all the trial and error, Eleanor begins to think that maybe the best version of herself and Chidi was in the Neighborhood reboot that she saw on Mindy St. Claire’s voyeur video — the one where they said “I love you” to each other. So she asks Michael to describe what happened there. And he does, beautifully.
“Best Self” is far from the flashiest Good Place episode. Like a lot of this season’s chapters, it takes place almost entirely in one location (the town square), and it’s more about characters talking through their situation than them taking any action. But it says something about the rich universe this show has created that Michael’s memories of a reboot we never fully saw feel as real as all the ones we did. Thanks to Ted Danson’s skills as a storyteller, it’s easy to imagine a version of the Neighborhood that was filled with kebab restaurants, and where Eleanor had an incontinent pet lizard.
Michael soon gets around to recalling Chidi and Eleanor’s first kiss, and his disgusted reaction to them mashing their “food-holes” together is funny. (“It’s not for that!”) But it’s also significant that his story is so simple and undramatic. Eleanor gave Chidi a tissue before he sneezed, he realized that he loved her, and they smooched. Even here in a nether-realm — a place intended as an eternal Hell — humans are still sentimental and able to form bonds. That’s a reassuring perspective on humanity from a show that can often be pretty pessimistic.
That attitude affects what the episode turns into, too: a kind of touching valedictory. Eventually, Michael admits that his balloon was never going to take off, because he actually has no idea how to get them all to the Good Place. He’s been stalling all this time, and though he’s wracked with guilt about it — or “after-sad,” as he dubs it — he’s also a little miffed that Chidi’s ethics lessons have forced him to feel something other than the only two emotions any entity needs: “anger” and “confusion.”
So Eleanor asks Janet for “a million bottles of your finest booze,” and they all start to enjoy what they expect to be their last night together before being sent to the actual Bad Place. Then, during their charmingly drunken dance party, Tahani comes up with an idea that she should speak to a “manager,” so she can do what she did on Earth whenever things didn’t go her way: wag a finger disapprovingly. Michael gets excited about the thought of doing the most human thing of all — “Attempt[ing] something futile with a ton of unearned confidence and fail[ing] spectacularly” — and comes up with a plan that will take them through the Bad Place to a meeting with the universal Judge.
What follows is a farewell to the Neighborhood. Eleanor and Chidi have a bittersweet moment in their old house, looking at his trusty old blackboard and her horrifying clown paintings, while quietly reflecting on the relationships they might’ve had across hundreds of reboots. Later, as their train pulls away, the episode concludes with one of the most awesome special effects the show has ever attempted, as this quaint little town dissolves into pixels.
It’s a poignant and poetic end. How is it that these humans feel such a sense of melancholy, saying good-bye to a place designed to be their Hell? Isn’t it amazing, the attachments we create?
In the Neighborhood
• This episode is one of the best showcases for Manny Jacinto’s performance as Jason, nicely balancing the character’s childlike sweetness with his dangerous idiocy. He bursts into tears while conceiving of a Hell that’s just a Skrillex show with no bass drop. He surreptitiously slaps five with Eleanor after suggesting that the best versions of the Neighborhood were probably either number 69 or 420. He greedily gobbles up the last of the frozen yogurt while admitting that the stuff gives him diarrhea. (“We’re about to be on a balloon, man!” Chidi snaps.) And he hilariously irritates Tahani with a long story about how he once cost his mom her job as a pet store manager … in what turned out to be a dream.
• Good Janet action this week too, including her usual round of corrections (“Not a robot… not a girl”) before she admits that, yes, “straight-up hottie” does describe her pretty well. Also, her fleeting petulance over Eleanor’s description of the Janet-Jason-Tahani love triangle shows that when it comes to learning how to be human, Michael isn’t the only student on the honor roll.
• Shawn has trouble with his autocorrect and texts “soup” when he means “soon,” then adds that in a “so random” coincidence, he was actually turning a human into soup at the time he texted that. Demons! They’re just like us! (No, really, that’s kinda the whole premise of this show.)