The Good Place
If you follow football at all, you probably know that the Jacksonville Jaguars are just one AFC championship game away from reaching the Super Bowl … with quarterback Blake Bortles leading the way. If you’re a regular Good Place viewer, you know what that means: Despite all the times that Michael and Eleanor have made fun of both Bortles and the Jags, Jason Mendoza’s dreams may be about to come true. Too bad the dude’s dead.
Last week’s episode was a great one for Jason (and for the actor who plays him, Manny Jacinto). As Eleanor and her fellow dirtbag humans prepared to say good-bye to their Neighborhood, Jason’s combination of naïveté and enthusiasm came off as genuinely charming, such that for a fleeting moment, he seemed genuinely Good — in the capital-G, worthy-of-the–Real Good Place sense.
This week’s “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” is another great Jason episode, but for a different reason: It’s a reminder of what a sleaze our failed Jaxson DJ was on Earth. Most of this episode takes place at a party in Bad Place headquarters, held at the Hall of Low-Grade Crappiness in the Museum of Human Misery. For much of the time that we’re in the museum, Jason — in disguise as “Jake Jortles” — is surrounded by agents from the Bad Place’s “Department of Toxic Masculinity.” He fits right in with the bros’ surprise crotch-punches and ranking of MMA ring girls. This is his crowd.
It’s good for Jason that he meets these jamokes, because otherwise his masquerade was doomed. When Janet whips up a suit for him to wear, he complains that the clothes remind him of court. When she throws him a briefcase, he does his best impression of what he thinks a businessman might say: “Take my credit card to the hedge fund! I’ll meet you at the martini store!” But once he’s in the heart of the Bad Place, Jake Jortles is a natural. He admires the awesome museum exhibit of the first white man to wear dreadlocks (also the first person to call Ultimate Frisbee “ultimate”) and he declares that he’s from the Molotov cocktail torture department, because that’s a subject he actually knows a lot about. On Earth, every time he had a problem he’d throw a Molotov cocktail, “And right away I had a different problem!”
While Jake Jortles sails through the Bad Place, Chidi is struggling. Uncomfortable with the idea of lying even to save his immortal soul, Chidi’s problems are compounded by the fact that a random demon (played by Kristen Bell’s real-life husband Dax Shepard) thinks he’s a former co-worker named “Trent,” who’s a master torturer. Fighting against his own moral compass, Chidi finally embraces his alias by suggesting the Toxic Masculinity demons “think outside the bun,” and force their victim to read moral philosophy textbooks. Then he taps one of the dudes hard on the nards and trills, “That’s what you get for questioning Trrrrrrent, the torture master!”
Chidi gets (im)moral support from Eleanor, who’s dubbed herself “Diana Tremaine” from “123 Whatever Street, Canada City, Canada.” Even though she’s using her favorite old fake-ID info, Eleanor is still enough of her Neighborhood-trained “best self” to recall what she learned from Chidi’s books about “moral particularism,” and how it relates to what’s commonly called situational ethics.
The central dilemma for our heroes as they try to make their way to the real Good Place is whether they can convince the ultimate arbiter — the mysterious Eternal Judge — that they’ve changed. Eleanor clearly has. Even if she’s ultimately using her newfound education to exploit loopholes and beat the system, she’s doing it primarily because she now cares about other people. The jury is still out as to whether Chidi has fully overcome his irritating indecision. As for Jason? Yeah, not much has improved either for him or for Tahani, who’s disturbingly at ease in the Bad Place pretending to be a hot-dog-themed torturer named “Rhonda Mumps.” (Tahani credits her facility with lying to dating Johnny Depp, where she learned to say, “No, your whole thing isn’t exhausting at all!”)
“Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” doesn’t really resolve whether our humans deserve to graduate from Bad to Good. But there is a moment late in the episode when Eleanor & Co. see animatronic versions of themselves immortalized in the Museum of Human Misery, and as with Michael’s cruel comedy roast in “Leap to Faith,” the simplified versions of our heroes in the exhibit seem … unfair? Incomplete? Whether this bunch ultimately qualifies for the Good Place, there’s certainly more to them than their worst traits.
Visually, this episode is a stunner. It’s becoming clear why so many chapters have been confined to one or two sets: Presumably, showrunner Michael Schur has conserved his budget for the likes of “Dance Dance Resolution” and “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent,” which demand more locations, more costumes, and more special effects. If so, that choice pays off in this particular half-hour, which has wonder aplenty, from the train ride through limbo to those robotic versions of Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason. And that’s not even taking into account Bad Place headquarters, which are just as imposing as the last time we saw them. A mix of The Apartment and an overbearing ‘80s Super Bowl commercial, the Bad Place offices reflect the personality of Michael’s boss Shawn, who purposefully took the form of a 45-year-old white man so that everything and everyone would conform around him, even when he’s wrong. (“I can only fail up,” he boasts.)
Of course, the gang’s trip through the Bad Place ceases to be an undercover mission after their likenesses go up in the Hall of Low-Grade Crappiness. They quickly hightail it to their designated exit-portal, where they discover they’re one executive pin short of being able to get all four humans plus Michael (plus Janet, who counts as “luggage”) into the void. Michael sacrifices himself for Eleanor, saying that he’s “solved the trolley problem” … and perhaps proving that he’s the only one in the group who’s actually earned his redemption. The credits roll.
That’s a lovely emotional button to an otherwise action-packed and riotously funny episode. But there’s another moment during the escape that’s just as nice, if not as immediately obvious. Remember back during Jason’s season-one flashback, when we saw him toss a Molotov cocktail at a yacht while shouting, “Bortles!” (If you were on Twitter at all during the Jaguars’ win last weekend, surely you saw it multiple times in GIF form.) Well, when Jake throws his booze-bomb this week, he naturally yells, “Jortles!” Then, as he’s leaping to the void he shouts, “Portles!” in tribute to his favorite quarterback.
Maybe Jason sees a difference between the jerky Jortles and the awesome Bortles? If so, maybe that means there’s still hope for this dopey, destructive Floridian.
Beyond the Neighborhood
• Marvel at the wonders in the Museum of Human Misery! See the first person to floss in an open-plan office! Witness the 19th-century photographer who sent a woman an unsolicited picture of his junk! Endure the first waiter to clear away an empty plate while saying, “I guess you hated it!” On your way out, be sure to stop at the gift shop! (“This is Hell, Jason,” Michael says. “Of course there’s a gift shop.”)
• How bad is the Bad Place? Chidi feels nauseated almost all the time while he’s there, but he doesn’t want to go to the bathroom to vomit because there are mirrors on the toilet and “you really confront what you’re doing.”
• Among the departments in Bad Place HQ: “Children’s dance recitals” and “Holiday weekend IKEA.”
• As soon as Michael walks into Shawn’s office he has to “Axe up,” spraying himself with a new scent that “makes you smell the way Transformers movies make you feel.” Later, Eleanor describes this aroma as “loud and confusing.”
• As an Arkansan, I’ll try not to be too offended by the notion that party apps in hell would include “bagels from Arkansas.” If Jaguars fans can handle getting ripped by The Good Place, I can too. (I will confess to some small amount of pride that given a choice of garbage foods, Jason takes the bagel.)
• Next week, we’re off to an entirely new location: the neutral zone between the Good and Bad places, where the Eternal Judge shares office space with accounting, the Janet warehouse, and the Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes. Be careful! The pancakes will try to eat you. Follow Jason’s advice and order the eggs.