The Good Place: A Fractured Inheritance

“No, mom. Ya’ basic. And that’s okay,”

When I volunteered to write this episode review, I didn’t really think about what I was going to write. I never really considered what it is about this series that elevates it above its own concept. So here I go, attempting to do just that.

My relationship with the show is kind of odd. I started watching it as a 'I’ll watch this because it stars Kristen Bell,' and honestly, I thought: 'Okay, that pilot was really weird.' Then I found the next episode turned out to be pretty good, and I thought, 'Well, I’ll give it another episode.' And, I’ve never really stopped feeling like that, as if I was stuck in a loop of, 'I'll just keep watching and waiting for something undefinable and elusive.' Maybe I was waiting for it to turn me off, as pretty much every show does nowadays. Or maybe I was waiting for this episode, because it was kind of deep... yo.

The Good Place has always been subtext as text with a healthy dose of self referential awareness and meta-textual comedy. Its concept is absurd but also incredibly deep: a goofy take on the afterlife, which at the same time is an exploration into the nature of goodness and humanity. Each character embodies traits that we all fear in ourselves. Tahani is vain and self-absorbed, Jason is dim to the point of criminal, Chidi is overly intellectual and indecisive, and Eleanor is not just rude, crude and painfully mean, she’s the kind of troll that doesn’t hide behind an online avatar.

Except, Tahani is also inherently generous, Jason is incredibly sweet and innocent, Chidi cares deeply for others, and Eleanor is honestly the best of them, a natural leader with a genius level deductive mind and the ability to adapt to any situation. When together, they are far better people and when given the chance almost always grow into good people deserving of any version of heaven. Yet they are always reset and never allowed to fully flourish into the people they are meant to be. If they were given all their memories back, they would be fantastic people, not just worthy of the Good Place, but clearly capable of running the place if what we’ve seen of the afterlife’s middle and upper management is any example.

So, what is the point? Why are they now on Earth relearning everything that have learned again and again? Because on Earth they are capable of finally facing what held them back as people, so that they can truly move on to greater things. Or at least that’s my take on it. Because in this episode Tahani and Eleanor learn that their long held beliefs about their loved ones, which had festered into a dark place, were basically wrong.


Tahani spent so much time fighting and competing with her sister; even her own death was originally due to that struggle. It was never their choice, though. It was a contest devised by their horrible parents as a way to keep them amused, and away from each other. Tahani had to almost get arrested to realize that in Kamilah’s art, there was an unspoken message about the cruelty of their competition. I love that they are still competitive, but perhaps they can now forge a healthy relationship with one another. In a very real way, Tahani has finally passed her test.


Eleanor spent the entire episode suspecting her mother of being the same selfish, money-grubbing woman who abandoned her own daughter when things got bad. Yet given Eleanor’s true nature, after assuming the worst, she investigated doggedly until she discovered the truth, and then she adapted to it as she always does. She allowed herself to admit why she was so upset with the idea of Donna moving on and finally becoming an adult, that by finding a good family and even perhaps being a good influence on Patricia, she was making up for being a rotten mother to Eleanor. What really struck me though, was how in their goodbyes, Donna told Eleanor that she was good person now.

I guess what I’m saying is, I realized in this episode that I love this show and I can’t wait to see what the next part of the story is going to be, and what wild new direction things are going to go.

Bits:

I want Janet to admit her feelings for Jason. No matter how bizarre their relationship was, it was my favorite ship.

Donna's reason for abandoning her daughter was so unbelievably absurd, but totally fit her character.

Chidi didn't have a ton to do in this one, but I really liked how he tried to confront Kamilah for Tahani and ended up being one of her groupies.

I didn't really mention Michael, but he was really wonderful in this episode as Eleanor's surrogate father (will we ever learn about her real father?). Can I say how great Ted Danson is in this series? His humor and warmth really ground the series and he is probably my second favorite character.

This season has been a fun experiment, and I do miss the afterlife stuff, but I feel we'll get back to it eventually.

Quotes:

Eleanor: "I wanted that mom! I wanted the mom who made me afternoon snacks instead of telling me to look for loose fries in the McDonald's ball pit."

Tahani: “I’m going to hug you because I love you. I’m sorry our parents were such wankers. And I understand that you can’t accept my apology because that would quench your creative thirst. They forced us to compete and that competition has fueled your art for decades. It’s so awful and I’m so sorry,”
Kamilah: “They were wankers, weren’t they?”
Tahani: “The absolute biggest wankers on Earth.”

4 out of 4 Unresolved family issues finally resolved.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

4 comments:

Billie Doux said...

What a lovely review, J.D. Possibly one of your best.

Lamounier said...

A lovely review, indeed.

I liked how Eleanor's mother was a better person but still held to her old impulses, and I loved how Eleanor gave her the strength to leave them behind. The writers also managed to reunite the Al-Jamil sisters and make their reconciliation believable. This show accomplishes so much in 20 minutes.

This season has been a fun experiment, and I do miss the afterlife stuff, but I feel we'll get back to it eventually.

Agreed. Even though I miss the afterlife stuff, the story that is being told this season makes so much sense, like a natural and essential part of the four humans' journeys.

Victoria Grossack said...

We saw Eleanor's father lying in a casket in an earlier episode, and Michael and Janet have confirmed that he really is supposed to be dead. Of course, this is a show about the afterlife so we may meet him there.

sunbunny said...

I wasn't a HUGE fan of this one, like, it was good but not great. Have to say, I'm not a fan of the way they've been breaking up the team. The Soul Squad (or Team Cockroach, or The Brainy Bunch) works best when they're an ensemble, not divvied up. If Michael told Eleanor about the big I Love You, doesn't that mean he has to tell Chidi too. And honestly how did that get left out of the big reveal? Does that mean no one but Janet and Michael know that Janet and Jason used to be a thing?

Totally empathize with Eleanor watching her mom be a good parent to someone else. It's hard watching someone who hurt you be good to others. Especially when they raised you.