When last we left our heroes, they were sure they’d uncovered a massive conspiracy, involving Bad Place demons manipulating the numbers to make sure no one ever gets into the Good Place. As our favorite cursed humans and their afterlife guardians made a daring escape to the Good Place — or at least to the mail room, just next door — it looked like the show was setting up for an old-fashioned, epic good-versus-evil battle, sort of like Janet’s big kickboxing explosion from a couple episodes ago, but on a literally universal scale.
But that wouldn’t be The Good Place, would it? This sitcom’s core contention has always been that living an exemplary life and making it to paradise is hard. Also, the show’s already been renewed for a fourth season, and can’t really end its third with the gang living happily ever after in heaven.
So by the end of this week’s “The Book of Dougs,” we find out that maybe reality wasn’t broken by the forces of evil. Maybe we did it.
The title of the episode refers to all the other Dougs — besides the excruciatingly kindly yet still doomed Doug Forcett — who’ve been judged since the dawn of creation. By comparing Dougs from hundreds of years ago to Dougs from today, Michael recognizes a disturbing trend. It seems that once upon a time, nice gestures were easy to assess: someone gave a gift, that person got positive points. Now though, due to our grossly inequitable global economy, the accountants have to take into account where gifts come from, and who may have been oppressed to make them so nice, and so affordable. These days, there’s almost no way to do anything generous without inadvertently causing harm.
I’ll leave any larger sociopolitical implications aside for now. The Good Place creator Michael Schur will undoubtedly lean harder into all this in the season’s remaining two episodes … though perhaps not too hard, since this show has always focused less on the big picture than on the individual people (and demons) within it.
For example, consider what prompts Michael to double-check the Doug ledger in the first place: it happens because Tahani tells him all about her disastrous attempt to straighten out the love triangle between herself, Jason, and Janet. After Jason admits to Tahani that he finds Janet’s attraction to him exciting (“It’s nice to know I can talk about girls with my wife!”), she graciously tries to step out of their way, but in the process makes the humanoid supercomputer “feel both pitied and put on the spot, so … that’s fun.”
Consider also what happens when Michael convenes a committee of Good Place representatives to present his suspicions about celestial accounting errors. The people who arrive are all super nice and very concerned — plus, they come bearing a reusable tote bag full of pluots — but because it’s in the nature of “good folks” to be conscientious and not rash, they also admit that it’s going to take them 400 years to just to pick a team to conduct an investigation. They leave Michael frustrated and fuming … but also with a warm feeling, because they shower him with compliments while he’s waiting for their ruling. (“Your jawline is extraordinary! You’re a nice height!”)
The point this episode makes over and over is that nothing’s as easy as it seems. Throughout “The Book of Dougs,” the humans roam around a mail room that resembles a church fellowship hall — complete with tastefully arranged coffee tables and stained glass — where they can faintly smell their favorite aromas. (For Eleanor, an overcrowded, barf-y Arizona water park; for Chidi, warm pretzels and absolute moral truth; for Tahani, the curtain between first-class and coach; and for Jason, the smell of Blake Bortles winning a Super Bowl MVP trophy … and weed.) They’re one locked door away from the Good Place. Two inches of wood. Four Oreos thick, according to Eleanor. But they’re still not there.
The next stop on their journey is going to be rough: they’re off to the Inter-dimensional Hole of Pancakes, to meet with Judge Gen. To stay strong, they’ll have to carry with them their memories of the Good Place mail room — a place so close to perfection that even when Eleanor starts crying, her tears taste like nacho cheese from her favorite multiplex.
But at least they know two things now: (1) that the Good Place does exist; and (2) that because of who they are, they can be stressed and depressed even on the outskirts of Shangri-La. Tahani can still do something socially awkward. Janet can still become cripplingly self-conscious. Michael can be arrogant. Jason can be … Jason.
As for Chidi and Eleanor? Well, even when he makes her dreams come true by dressing up as a mailman and surreptitiously sneaking off with her to have sex, she’s still upset. “Is this a horny cry?” he asks. Her reply: “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I blame you.”
So it goes on The Good Place, where even romantic bliss has a downside.
• How delightful is the Good Place mail room employee, Gwendolyn? Trusting to a fault, she greets every one of Michael’s fibs and feints with an upbeat attitude — including when he asks, hypothetically, if he could use her telephone to call the Good Place without her knowing. (“What a fun thought experiment!” she gushes.)
• Trying to think up a reasonable lie as to why he’s in the Good Place with four humans, Michael suggests they all say they won a contest. (When Gwendolyn questions why they’d win a trip to the mail room, Michael shrugs, “Take that up with the folks at Weird Contest Magazine.”) When he floats this idea to the humans, Eleanor rolls her eyes and say, “Really?” but Jason — thinking he’s actually won something — excitedly yelps, “Really?!”
• As is often the case, Jason’s well-meaning idiocy is a low-key highlight of this episode. The man’s needs may be so simple that he can be placated with (according to Michael) “a lollipop shaped like a Transformer,” but at least he tries to be a valuable part of the team … like when he comes up with an impromptu excuse for Gwendolyn by telling her that that they were all chased into the mail room by a Dracula with a bazooka. Jason’s best line this week, though, comes when he describes how he ended up with Tahani: “We met in brain school, and then we got married because nothing matters.”
• I’ve rarely been right whenever I’ve predicted what’s going to happen next on The Good Place, but y’know what? Part of the fun of writing about a show like this is getting to make wild guesses about what the heck’s going on. I promise I’m not saying this just because next week’s episode is called “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife,” but to me, it would make sense, going into next season, to give the characters a mission that could support a half-dozen or so episodes. And if the problem with the afterlife points system is rooted in the distant past, well … it could be time-travelin’ time.