'The Good Place' Recap: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Rolling Stone
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‘The Good Place’ Recap: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

After a touching heart-to-heart with Michael, Eleanor begins problem-solving like a pro

"A Girl From Arizona""A Girl From Arizona"

Kristen Bell in the second half of the 'Good Place' Season Four premiere.

Colleen Hayes/NBC

A review of this week’s The Good Place, “A Girl From Arizona, Part Two,” coming up just as soon as I leave H&M wearing more underpants than I had on when I came in…

In my review of last week’s episode, I noted that it must have begun life as a one-hour story before being split in two, which meant we’d spend the final season’s first two weeks in table-setting mode. Instead, this week’s “Part Two” immediately starts paying off many of the ideas established in the first half-hour — some comedically, some dramatically — in a really effective way that left me feeling frustrated we didn’t get to see it all at once.

In particular, Eleanor and Michael’s conversation on the fake This Was Your Life talk-show set — which features the episode’s titular phrase about who she is and where she’s from — was just tremendous. Ted Danson is most famous for comic roles, but he has a long and impressive resume of serious performances. And Bell, you may recall, first broke out in a mostly dramatic role. They’re two quick-witted goofballs, but they’ll rip out your heartstrings if you’re not careful. Eleanor is so broken down and vulnerable from all that’s gone wrong since she took over the neighborhood — not just Chidi, but all of it — while Michael is incredibly kind and eloquent in pointing out just how much more capable Eleanor is than she allows herself to think. It’s among the loveliest scenes this show has ever given us — on par with Michael telling Janet that he can’t kill her because she’s his friend — and nicely steers us out of the calamity that occupied the season to this point, and into Eleanor finding ways to fix both Brent and Simone(*).

(*) A subtle costuming touch: After Michael’s pep talk, Eleanor ditches the suits and goes back to more casual sweaters and blouses. She tried dressing like Michael as well as acting like him, and then he reminded her that she’s great just being her. So her clothes in the episode’s second half reflect that. 

Both prove especially tough nuts to crack, for very different reasons. Since Brent’s apparently here as Eleanor’s nemesis, it makes sense that she would try a variation of the same nightmare scenario that Michael unleashed on her at the start of the series, with everyone being dressed in Princeton colors instead of Michigan’s. But where con-woman Eleanor saw the monster stampede through the neighborhood as yet another sign that she was too bad to be there, Brent’s entitlement and ignorance regarding his many shortcomings only convinces him that he belongs in a better place than this one. Eleanor’s solution is both simple and full of potential minefields. By telling Brent vaguely about the point system, she gets him doing good deeds, but with a suspect motive that won’t help him any. But, as she cleverly argues to Michael, once upon a time she was only trying to be good to avoid the Bad Place, and eventually the act became real. Brent’s probably going to need more repetition than she did, but it’s a start, at least.

To illustrate the point of how fundamentally good Eleanor has become, she performs a big piece of self-sacrifice to deal with the Simone problem: by telling Chidi that he and Simone are soul mates. What was once a way for Michael to torture his human guinea pigs is used here to encourage Chidi to reel Simone in from her belief that this is all a hallucination of her comatose mind. Chidi’s solution — asking her to start treating everyone with kindness and respect, in the incredibly unlikely event that this situation is real — is as much of a band-aid as what Eleanor does with Brent, but it’s also about building up muscle memory for good behavior. (And the joke about Chidi’s books flying to him from “Part One” has a hilarious payoff here when one of them beans him right in the noggin.)

When “Part One” ended on a muted note at the train station, I cited the lack of a cliffhanger as more evidence that NBC had split a one-hour episode in two after the fact. But “Part Two” is also free of the show’s trademark surprise endings, instead concluding on the amusing note of Jason almost leaving Eleanor hanging for her “dat ash!” joke. This time, though, it doesn’t feel off that there’s not a clear To Be Continued element. There’s obviously a lot to be done in this current scenario (including figuring out what to do with Tahani nemesis John) before the show flips the script on us five or six more times. More importantly, though, the experience of this episode is so satisfying — and would have been even more so had the two half-hours aired together — that no last-second twist feels needed. When The Good Place is firing on all cylinders like it was this week, we’ll come back, baited hook or not.

Some other thoughts:

* The Eleanor/Michael scene was the episode’s best. But perhaps the most quintessentially Good Place moment came when Janet temporarily dumped Jason to focus on keeping the neighborhood together, then immediately followed that with the devastating news (from 2019 earth, but applicable at this moment because of Jeremy Bearimy) that the Jaguars cut Blake Bortles. What other show could take a dumb running gag about a terrible football player with a silly name, and use it not only as comic relief for an otherwise sad scene, but leave you genuinely wondering which piece of news hurts Jason’s feelings more? (The saddest part is that the entire final season was filmed before Jacksonville fandom got to meet their new quarterback, mustachioed wonder — and delightfully named — Gardner Minshew.)

* Finally, as was the case last week, Tahani doesn’t have much to do, but her scant screen time is choice, particularly as she explains to Jason that her own post-breakup routine involved champagne and Alanis Morissette: “Not the singer,” she notes with seeming humility, before adding, “I would listen to her albums at my friend Adele’s house.”

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