The Good Place
Over the course of 20-plus episodes, The Good Place creator Michael Schur and his team of writers have concocted dozens — nay, hundreds — of ways to make humans miserable. Even in this week’s midseason premiere “Leap to Faith,” Eleanor Shellstrop and her motley band of condemned mortal souls are threatened with having their brains batted around like beach balls and their arms peeled like bananas … and that’s before they’re forced to attend a party where the only music an airhorn-wielding DJ Bad Janet plays is either Puddle of Mudd’s “She Hates Me” or Elmo & Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (or, for her big finish, both simultaneously).
Yet nothing devised by Shawn, Vicky, Trevor, or any of the other demons has ever been as diabolical as what Michael subjects his victims to in this episode: His excruciatingly unfunny version of a “comedy roast.” What fresh hell is this? What fresh, magnificent hell?
There are few things more torturous than a roast: for the hosts, for the panelists, for the guests of honor, or even for the audience. All these folks plaster on strained grins, as they skewer each other with “jokes” that sound more like deeply held opinions. It’s the perfect Good Place contraption: a situation that’s supposed to be fun but really isn’t, where everyone’s pretending to be someone they’re not, but just barely.
Making matters worse for Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, they don’t know whether or not Michael’s sudden defection from their ethics class is permanent, or another long con. At the start of “Leap to Faith,” the big Bad Place boss Shawn drops by to announce that the experimental application of the “neighborhood” concept to torture has been deemed a success, and will soon be scaled up, to the great surprise of everyone back at the home office who’d previously called Michael “the Thomas Edison of incompetence” (or, less charitably, “that dick”). So when Michael calls his humans in to say, “Surprise, idiots!” they’re unsure if his unexpected reversal of fortune means that he’s no longer an ally.
If he indeed backslid into demonism, our heroes didn’t have a lot of options. Shawn has Janet shackled with magnetic restraining bracelets, which render her powerless and staggeringly tipsy (the latter of which manifests as her asking passing women if she can braid their hair). This means Janet can’t drive the train to Mindy St. Claire’s house, leaving Chidi to suggest that their best recourse might be to rat Michael out to Shawn, coming clean about all the failed attempts at rebooting the neighborhood.
Though “Leap to Faith” is a consequential episode in the larger Good Place plot, it’s not always an enjoyable one to watch, largely because what Michael puts the humans through is so painful — both for them and for us. The roast, of course, is horrible. After Shawn orders the shutdown of the neighborhood, the demons throw one last orgy of destruction and viciousness, which starts with Michael picking apart his former friends one by one. It’s a rough few minutes of television.
It’s hard to decide which of Michael’s insults is the meanest, though one of the worst is when he shreds Chidi for dying alone. (“Speaking of Chidi … is something one ever said because no one likes Chidi.”) The roasting sequence especially hurts because it comes after Eleanor has reflected on the profoundly humane moment she shared with Michael in the previous episode, which convinces her to tell her friends to trust him. Eleanor, the skeptic, has chosen to count on someone for a change, and she’s worried that this choice has bitten her “in the ash.”
But it’s because of all the difficult moments in this episode that the payoffs are so satisfying. Eleanor cracks Michael’s code, figuring out first that his pointed reference to Kierkegaard in front of Shawn is a cue that they should have faith. This prompts her to go point-by-point through his roast “jokes,” starting with his fairly blatant misidentification of Jason’s favorite football player as “Derek” Bortles. Piecing everything together, she realizes that Michael wants them to hide under the train — driven by Derek — while he schemes and maneuvers to get Shawn, Vicky, and the rest of the bad guys out of town. When Michael succeeds, and finds the humans all safe, his heartfelt cry of, “You guys, I was so scared for you!” is honestly moving.
And so The Good Place moves on to the next stage of its story, with Michael, Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, and the now un-manacled Janet left behind in a trashed neighborhood, with all the entities who mean them harm out of the way. Don’t expect that we’ve heard the last of them, though. When Shawn announces Michael’s promotion by handing him a “senior staff pin” that looks like a Facebook “dislike” thumb, it’s a reminder that what makes The Good Place’s demons so demonic is that they so closely resemble the people who annoy all of us every day. That’s the real brilliance of this show, that its metaphysical explorations of what it means to be “good” and “bad” are rooted in the worst of the real world — from mean-spirited comedy to nü-metal.
In the Neighborhood:
In addition to setting up new narrative directions as season two zooms towards its end (with season three already confirmed), “Leap to Faith” subtly suggests some future points of discord. At the end of the episode, Chidi notes that with the demons gone they’ve gotten “everything we ever wanted,” which echoes something Michael said earlier after getting promoted. There’s a split-second insert shot of Michael during Chidi’s comment, in which his face seems to fall. Is he thinking about — and regretting — what he just gave up?
A lot of the exposition in this episode emerges from slight gestures rather than broad. Before Eleanor decides to trust Michael, for example, she’s seen staring at the table where she recently talked to him about their hopes and fears. Without making too big a deal about it, the writing, staging, and performance of the scene gets across what’s going through Eleanor’s mind.
The title of this episode comes from Chidi’s correction of Eleanor when she says that Kierkegaard — or, as she calls him, “what’s his name … the super-depressing religious guy” — advises the common “leap of faith,” rather than the radical suggestion of a leap into faith. (Eleanor also, after giving the matter way too much thought, determines that the opposite of a leap of faith would be “a sit of doubting.”)
The big bash on the neighborhood’s last night gives The Good Place’s special-effects team a chance to cut loose, filling the background with everything from wild giraffes to our favorite lava monster, Todd. “It’s a party, Vicky!” Michael enthuses, before encouraging her to go celebrate by ripping a cat in half.