The Good Place: Michael’s Gambit

“Holy motherforking shirtballs.”

Faced with a choice, Team Moral Philosophy nearly breaks down...

But they don’t! Because Eleanor realizes something we’ve all suspected: they haven’t been in the Good Place all this time. They’ve been in the Bad Place, a unique pilot program in emotional torture pioneered by newbie architect Michael as his first big project.

The opening scene has a series of cascading events that make the nuances of this torture even more clear. Jason seems to wish he were as great as the “amazing and incredible Jianyu the monk.” Tahani feels unloved, since she doesn’t have a soulmate, while Chidi agonizes over which of the three women in his life could be his soulmate—a choice that he avoids making, for fear his brain would break. Eleanor is still good enough to realize what she should do, but that doesn’t make her volunteering for eternal torture any more palatable. And Other Eleanor makes everyone’s easy decision even harder by volunteering to go in either Jason’s or Eleanor’s stead, which results in an epic fight that was nearly made worst by Bambajan’s well-timed entry.

It’s a sort of Tantalus/Sisyphus situation: happiness is just out of reach, but everyone keeps trying to do the impossible ad infinitum. And that’s exactly what Michael had planned for his new version of hell—an existentialist mix of Camus and Sartre, who said that hell is other people. “A filthy dumpster filled with our worst anxieties,” as Eleanor said, in which everyone tortures each other.

Ted Danson’s comic chops, which are always delightful, were running at 132% when Eleanor revealed his plan and he burst out laughing. But, just as we find out that Michael is evil, we also find out his vulnerability: as a new architect, finally promoted from apprenticeship, he just wanted his “bold new plan” to work. And it did, for a while, but not for the thousand years he’d hoped for.

As Eleanor points out, this isn’t just chance. It’s a combination of free will (as when Eleanor acts in a way Michael didn’t anticipate) and teamwork (the group has improved each other). It’s a delightful thesis for the show: what we owe to each other is the opportunity to make each other better, not through directives or manipulation but empathetic modeling and engagement.

But that’s all for nothing. Or is it? Shawn gives Michael one more shot, Michael erases everyone’s memories to start over again, and the only hope we have that Team Moral Philosophy might reunite is a slip of paper Eleanor fed to Janet. Will it be enough? We’ll have to tune in to Season Two to find out...

What the Fork is a Chidi?

• Jason: “Let’s look at this ethnically.”

• Eleanor describes the “Good” Place as “a filthy dumpster filled with our worst anxieties.”

• Michael: “The human afterlife can be more fun. For us, obviously.”

• Eleanor: “Side note, I might legit be into Tahani.”

• So, we know what landed Eleanor and Jason in the Bad Place. But Tahani and Chidi? Corrupt motivations for doing good works, and almond milk persistent harmful indecision.

Four out of four cups of decaf antimatter. With almond milk, of course.

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

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