A review of this week’s The Good Place, “A Fractured Inheritance,” coming up just as soon as I bend down to adjust my toe ring at a Rascal Flatts concert …
It’s hard to describe an episode where Eleanor casts a write-in vote for Bofa Deez Nuts in a PTA election, and one where both Chidi and Jason compare one of Kamilah‘s paintings to a pair of boobs, as fairly dramatic by The Good Place standards. But “A Fractured Inheritance” is among the more purely emotional episodes the show has done to date.
This current story arc about the Soul Squad trying to help their loved ones avoid eternal damnation is forcing them to confront previous traumas in a more direct way than the show could attempt when the gang was up in the afterlife. Jason’s reunion with Donkey Doug couldn’t really go there, because neither man is smart or articulate enough for it. But Eleanor gets to confront Donna (now using Eleanor’s old Diana Tremaine alias) about what an awful mother she was, while Tahani helps her sister find closure about how their parents pitted them against each other throughout their childhoods. It’s riddled with silly jokes and puns like always — the Eleanor/Donna plot goes to town on the many strange things about Nevada — but Kristen Bell and Jameela Jamil both get to play at the more serious end of their ranges. Even Eleanor’s favorite insult is deployed in an utterly sincere manner, as she helps Donna recognize that it’s okay for her to be happy as a boring suburbanite by softly telling her, “No, Mom ya basic.” It’s not the first time the show has combined silliness with something utterly heartfelt, but it’s a darned effective moment, nonetheless. Both mother and daughter have gotten better, to the point where Eleanor can feel jealous of her stepsister Patricia for getting the caring mom she didn’t, even as she can be happy for Donna for getting her act together.
This episode and “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” do leave me wondering something, though: how successful are these Soul Squad missions actually going to be? Back in the pilot, Michael suggested that the Good Place only accepted “the true cream of the crop.” If we assume that speech, like everything else about the fake neighborhood, is accurate to how the actual Good Place works, can Donna possibly accumulate enough points just by being an awesome wife, mom and PTA secretary? Pillboi seems a bit better positioned because his job allows him to help lots of people every day for years on end, but even that pales in comparison to, for instance, the life credited to the “real” Eleanor back in Season One. Even Kamilah’s charitable works to date are probably, like Tahani’s, discredited because her motivations were impure. Is it possible that Michael was lying or misinformed back then about the standards for admission? Or is this particular story arc going to tie back into previous intimations the show has made that the entire afterlife system is absurdly unfair and should be replaced by something better?
Those larger questions will likely have to wait a bit, as the episode also pulls up anchor on some ‘ships. Janet is giddy that the “effortlessly charming” Jason is so excited by her limitless knowledge. And Michael throws Eleanor for a loop in the episode’s closing scene by filling her in about her romantic history with Chidi across the many reboots. The show has mostly put the latter on hold this season while Chidi was dating Simone, but now we’ll have to see how, or if, this news complicates the Soul Squad’s current mission.
Whatever happens next, though, “A Fractured Inheritance” was, like one of Dave‘s margaritas, awfully satisfying.
Some other thoughts:
* Leslie Grossman, who’s only a few years older than Kristen Bell, is about as convincing playing a wrinkly, aging Donna as Bell has been at playing Eleanor in her late teens or early 20s. It’s better that they didn’t recast the role, but sometimes you just have to go with it as a viewer of a show that bends time and space this much.
* Andy Daly is always so perfect playing gregarious sweethearts like this that I have to assume the only description of Dave in the script was, “An Andy Daly type.” And then they got the genuine article.
* So, does Michael have genitals? That he gives Dave architectural plans that don’t include bathrooms suggests he does not. But we also have no idea what he looks like under that human suit. Is he a fiery demon like some of the other ringers in the fake neighborhood?
* Alan Wants a Web Series: I want to know much more about those two Kamilah fanboys and see what their lives are like when they’re not mindlessly approving of everything she does.
What did everybody else think?
Previously: The Ballad of Donkey Doug