The Good Place
Throughout this season of The Good Place, our heroes’ ostensible goal has been to prove that the Neighborhood’s new human subjects — as representatives of all humanity — can become worthy of actual heaven once they’re removed from the soul-crushing grind of everyday life on Earth. But during this experiment, the original band of misfits has been improving, too … and perhaps none more than Jason Mendoza. From episode to episode, our favorite Jacksonville DJ (“Go Jags, obviously”) has become incrementally savvier, almost like a Janet Baby who keeps getting rebooted.
It’s Jason, for example, who comes up with this week’s best analogy. This episode, “Help Is Other People,” is set in the final hours of the grand Neighborhood experiment. Eleanor is so nervous about how the universe will assess their performance that she tapes a special message for the residents, urging them to do as many good deeds by midnight as possible, “just in case.” Yet when unexpected trouble bubbles up among the four new humans, Eleanor decides to lay back and run out the clock, hoping that “our early successes make up for the embarrassing mess we’ve become. Like Facebook. Or America.”
Jason, though, disagrees, comparing Eleanor’s strategy to football’s “prevent defense,” where the team in the lead tries to avoid giving up big plays, and in the process lets the trailing team slowly catch up. That strategy is predicated on the idea that time will expire before the comeback is complete. But there’s an old saying among football fans, which Jason knows well: “Prevent defense just prevents you from winning.” If Eleanor & Co. don’t go big, they may be going home. (“Home” in this case being literal hell.)
This isn’t the only smart comparison Jason makes in this Good Place. When Michael concocts a desperate plan to open up a gaping hole beneath Brent — in hopes that his friends will save his life, and earn a bunch of last-minute Good Person points — he worries that he should’ve picked something more appealing to send down the hole, like a baby panda or a box of doughnuts. Brent, as everyone knows, is the opposite of a box of doughnuts … or, according to Jason, “a toilet full of broccoli.”
Why exactly is Michael hoping that someone will rescue this broccoli toilet? Because as the big timepiece in sky ticks down to zero, the good guys have just discovered that their cover’s blown. Simone has compiled a big bulletin board full of evidence that she, John, Chidi, Brent, Tahani, and Jianyu are different from the other residents, just based on how much time Eleanor and Michael spend with them each day.
John initially shrugs Simone off, saying, “Who else are they going to talk to? Dumb Shorts Kathy?” But then he spills the tea he’s been holding for months, and outs Jianyu as Jason. More secrets come out, in a rush. Chidi admits that he doesn’t want to believe Simone because Eleanor told him — but just him — that he and Simone are soul mates. And Brent confesses that he’s been told he’s going to “the Best Place.”
This last revelation shatters the group … because, c’mon. They’ve all spent a year pretending — most of the time — that Brent’s not absolutely terrible. But this is still the same dope who tells his story about the Best Place and then mentions that Eleanor and Michael told him, “That’s where you’re headed, amigo.” Something’s fishy here. Brent? The guy who once boasted that he was going to fire Janet? That Brent?
So Michael and Eleanor throw their Hail Mary (another keen Jason analogy) by dropping Brent into an abyss, intending to get their humanity-saving test cases to work together one last time. But instead, Simone and John flee the Neighborhood altogether — because, as John puts it, “Giant holes are bad and we should go.” And Chidi? He tries to help … and then promptly falls into the fiery pit, too.
The closing scenes of this Good Place chapter are a Hail Mary in more ways than one. Michael’s move is indeed big and bold, coming at the end of this long experiment. It’s also, just from a storytelling perspective, a way to add some juice to an episode that for its first 15 minutes or so is fairly dry.
As always, I mean this in a relative way. Even a middling Good Place has plenty of funny running gags, such as Michael’s attempt to do Earth magic — which is much harder than demon magic or Janet magic, as he repeatedly stresses. (When “the Magnificent Dr. Presto” botches a coin trick, he asks if the Janet Babies can clap harder, and Janet sighs, “They see what they see, man.”) There’s also a wonderfully weird aside or two about Michael’s fitful attempts to write songs like “The Purple Train to Groovy City.”
But for the most part, this episode dutifully drives the season’s narrative arc to where it needs to be. The experiment is over now, and the subjects didn’t do that great … especially at the end. We now anxiously await the results, presumably arriving in next week’s episode.
That said, in its final minutes, “Help Is Other People” has a couple of genuinely cathartic moments. First off, Chidi finally gets to haul off and tell Brent exactly what he and everyone else thinks of him. Chidi also pulls a classic Eleanor and announces, after piecing all the clues together, that “This is the Bad Place!” — which is exactly what she and Michael wanted Chidi to realize. Together, they do a delightful double version of Michael’s evil laugh, and then leave the room, in hopes that Brent will be chastened enough to apologize at last for being a total tool.
Instead, time runs out before Brent can say he’s sorry — if indeed he was going to apologize. Either way, it’s exciting to see it finally dawn on everyone involved with this experiment that Brent can’t be reformed until he truly understands just how awful he is. After all, our first four humans started to become better people once they grasped the actual stakes of being … well, meh. Perhaps this is what the experiment should’ve been along. Perhaps, as Jason Mendoza well knows, you can blow up the same thing twice.
In the Neighborhood
• Before we get too excited about Jason’s new smarts, we should keep in mind that on the day in the Neighborhood when everything was chocolate, he was excited to eat a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup that was all chocolate.
• During the Magnificent Dr. Presto’s magic act, Janet wears an outfit that looks exactly like her regular dress, only covered in glittery sequins. She looks so fab that it’d be hard for anyone to look away from her — even after midnight strikes and she begins violently eating her Janet Babies.
• No matter the reality, Chidi will always remain convinced that he’s been damned for eternity because he loved almond milk.