A review of this week’s The Good Place, “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will,” coming up just as soon as they use this place to shoot porn…
This has been a tricky season for The Good Place. Sending the four dum-dums down to Earth (and then having Michael and Janet follow them) seemed like the next logical step in the story. And there have been plenty of highlight stories and scenes throughout. The show’s too clever, and has too much talent on both sides of the camera, to not work on some level. But even with plenty of jokes about the ways that our world has become indistinguishable from the Bad Place — like, tonight, Eleanor and Michael hiding out at an otherwise-empty library co-sponsored by Tostito’s and GoDaddy — the series has very much missed the magic that the afterlife provided.
“The Worst Possible Use of Free Will” only underlines this. Without hitting the reset button yet again, it nonetheless finds a way to temporarily bring us back to the Bad Place. As Eleanor — who has always believed herself incapable of expressing love for another human being — grapples with what Michael told her at the end of the previous episode, he decides the only way she will believe it is if he shows it to her. So with the help of one of Janet’s VR simulators, we get to revisit the neighborhood(*), with glimpses of several different simulations that tell the tale of Eleanor and Chidi‘s romance.
(*) Big week for Michael’s neighborhood (aka the European street set on the Universal lot), which also appeared in an early episode of Amazon’s Homecoming.
The episode gets as much mileage as it can out of the craziness of the neighborhood, particularly with Tahani picking a “mirror centaur” as a pet, only for Tahania to turn out to be even snobbier and more judgmental than Tahani herself is. (“I don’t want to be in flats like some common glue factory hobo horse!”) We get the briefest glimpse of yet another failed reboot, where Chidi is for some reason trapped in a purple space bubble, evoking the many delightful flashes of last season’s “Dance Dance Resolution.” And we get to see yet another reboot where Michael has simply given up, out of sheer frustration over Eleanor’s ability to outwit him again and again. I admire the hell out of this show’s ability to shed status quos like a snake sheds skins, but watching all of this made me realize just how much I missed the neighborhood, and the afterlife in general.
It helps that this is a subplot-free episode. Until the scene at the airport parking garage — where Michael prepares to take them all to rural Canada to meet the most Good Place-worthy person in the world — Eleanor and Michael are the only main characters to appear outside of flashbacks, and even Jason, Janet and Tahani are used minimally in the neighborhood scenes. This is a story about an intersecting set of three characters: Eleanor and Chidi, and Eleanor and Michael. Eleanor and Chidi’s love for each other has at times felt more like something the show needed to happen than something it had earned. But when it puts everything else on pause to dwell on their relationship like this, Kristen Bell and William Jackson Harper demonstrate oodles of chemistry. In those moments, Eleanor’s feelings for him start to seem like more than just a symbol of how she’s improving as a person, but as something she genuinely wants. So all of that was lovely. So was Michael’s continued attempt to be vaguely paternal — or, at least, reminiscent of Sam the Eagle — towards Eleanor, and to help break through her emotional walls back on earth. It’s another important breakthrough for Eleanor, and unlike last week’s, it feels specifically like something that could happen on this show and only on this show.
At the rate the story’s moving, I wouldn’t expect the series to get back to the afterlife full-time until the end of this season at the earliest. To compensate, though, the episode concludes with more of the afterlife coming on down to Earth. Shawn‘s minions finish building an illegal portal(*) out of the Bad Place, and he and Vicky (unzipped from her cocoon to be a canary in this particular coalmine) and Glenn all go through to see what havoc they can wreak. I look forward to it.
(*) Jason Mendoza: “Portals!”
Some other thoughts:
* Enjoy this screencap of the chart of fears and enemies that Michael showed Eleanor during Reboot 445. My favorite is that several of her rivalries are one-sided, but in the case of Neil deGrasse Tyson, it’s one-sided, but from his side:
* Kudos to the makeup and FX teams for the work they did on Eleanor being bald in the aftermath of her first VR glimpse of the afterlife. And to answer her question, she did not look hot, even though her head was technically smoking at the time.
* Eleanor’s pet was previously mentioned in Season Two’s “Best Self.” Michael described the reboot where she and Chidi fell in love by mentioning the lizard that used to poop on her. As adorable as that thing crawling all over Kristen Bell was, I can’t be the only one who felt disappointed that her pet wasn’t a sloth, right? If only to see if Hollywood’s premiere sloth lover could have stayed in character?
What did everybody else think?
Previously: A Fractured Inheritance