The Good Place: Janet(s)

“This is going to be tricky. How do we even tell them apart?”

It’s tempting to just quote Eleanor and let her words speak for this review: Holy Forking Shirtballs!

I can’t do that, of course, so I'll start by praising D’Arcy Carden, who went full Clone Club to imitate, perfectly, four very different actors for moments both emotional and bizarre. (It’s always bizarre when Pill Boi is involved.) She nailed Chidi’s brainy pauses, Eleanor’s cynicism, Tahani’s tea-time manic energy, and Jason’s…Jasonianism.

What got us there—and where we got it—is equally fascinating. After Janet pulled everyone into her void to save them from the demons in the previous episode, the Soul Squad are safe, but look like Janet and even have some Janet powers. In this episode, our heroes work through their issues while Michael and Janet try to get the Accountant to realize the Bad Place has hacked the point system.

Did they, though? It has been 521 years since anyone got into the Good Place. Even Mr. Abnegation himself, Doug Forcett, won’t make it. It doesn’t sound to me like the system has been hacked. It sounds like the system has always been rigged.

Stephen Merchant’s Accountant, with his dot-matrix printers and corner slices of cake, has absolute faith in the perfection of the “cold, objective, and airtight” system. As though coldness, objectivity, and a lack of leakiness are signs of goodness! His character demonstrates precisely how self-righteously rigged such a system could be and how easy it is to function therein.

(Although I do wish Michael had asked what the placement rate was before that. A millennium ago, did many people get in? Or is it more like only one person every 500 years or so gets in? More data would help us hypothesize!)

Those are questions the show won’t get to for a while, I assume, as this is a mid-season finale. And The Good Place got renewed for a fourth season, so they have a while to topple the dominant paradigm of good-works based moral tyranny. The most urgent matter is likely the personal stuff.

Like Chidi and Eleanor, who are inevitable. That delights me, as they are perfect together. There’s something wonderful about their push-pull resistance to pairing up: Eleanor briefly does the “why do I need a guy to define me?” routine, but that’s just using second-wave feminism as a self-protective barrier. Then Chidi realizes he loves Eleanor as he lists the many, many things he knows about her. Isn’t that exactly how an intellectual would fall in love? By listing evidence, assessing it, coming to a conclusion, kissing their loved one, and then ruining the moment by using the word “sexy”?

But that’s not this episode’s only great pairing. The platonic chemistry between Janet and Michael has only improved as Janet has advanced in powers, knowledge, and experience. Michael’s desperation to save her from exploding, and her faith in Michael to solve cosmic problems, are born not only of necessity but also of true affection. I’m so impressed by how Janet has become even more vibrant and Michael even more well-intentioned over the course of this show.

Maybe that’s how they wound up in the Good Place after all.

Where is Down? It’s Up Here. It’s Dope!

• Jason: “Let’s all say white-people things. Billy Joel. I found it on Etsy! There was nowhere to park. Did you refill the Brita?”

• Eleanor: “And all I know is that you’re just barfing Wikipedia all over everyone just to avoid talking about your feelings.”
Chidi: “Let’s talk about David Hume.”

• Janet: “My molecular essence is fragmenting, and it’s giving me the worst headache.”

• Tahani: “No, darling, this is not where the Mac and PC guys live.”

• Chidi: “I really want to play this cool, but I’m afraid that I’m going to ruin it if I try to be sexy. I already ruined it. Saying the word ‘sexy’ is not sexy.”

• In an episode that leans heavily on philosophical questions of identity and the delusion of the coherent self, it’s interesting that the show sidesteps exactly what Janet’s void means for Janet’s powers. Then again, the philosophy in this show often plays the same role as medical care on Grey’s Anatomy: it gets us where we need to go, but it’s not the destination.

Four out of four Janets. But not the neutral Janet; she’s a black sheep for a reason.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

4 comments:

Victoria Grossack said...

I agree that this episode was absolutely amazing. What a set of brilliant performances by D'Arcy Carden!

sunbunny said...

What a great episode. Instant classic. Not too much of Tahani!Janet tho. Wonder if D'Arcy had trouble with the accent. I love how we didn't even need clothes to tell them apart it was really obvious who everyone was immediately. Also terrific: Eleanor's look of joy when she realized she couldn't curse and they really were in the Good Place.

I really don't think the Bad Place hacked the system. That would be too easy. I think the whole system is, as Eleanor might say, bullshirt.

Lamounier said...

I echo all the praises, what a terrific episode and terrific performances by D'Arcy. I loved the transition from Janet!Chidi kissing Janet!Eleanor, to Janet!Chidi kissing Eleanor, to Chidi and Eleanor at last.

I know that he was just finding ways to keep Eleanor away, but Chidi's take on identity was very interesting, and necessary, even, considering how many times these characters have been rebooted.

Billie Doux said...

Absolutely fabulous episode. How do they keep doing this? As in, coming up with something that absolutely works on a show like this one when there aren't any other shows like this one?