The Good Place 2x10 "Best Self"
What Does It Mean To Be Human?
After the frenetic events of last episode, this episode opens upon a unique premise: the fake Good Place is entirely empty except for the four humans, a demon, and an artificial intelligence (not a robot). This allows the full half hour to focus entirely on the six main characters and their relationships with each other as they strive to reach the real Good Place.
“Best Self” serves as both an ending and a beginning, closing the chapter on this neighbourhood that the characters have occupied since the pilot, and thrusting them into the unknown. As it does so, it reflects on how far they’ve come since that beginning. As they have no way to get into the Good Place, Shawn (the Demon Boss) will soon return and send them to the Bad Place (and Michael into early retirement).
It’s Tahani who figures out the only possible way out of this sticky mess: to go “speak to the manager,” AKA the judge who presides over disputes between the Good Place and the Bad Place. Unfortunately, the only way to get there is to make it through the actual Bad Place unseen, and even then the chances of them winning their case and being allowed into the Good Place are vanishing small.
But Eleanor displays yet another endearing human tendency (to attempt something futile with a ton of unearned confidence, ready to fail spectacularly) and declares, “What have we got to lose?”
What it Means to be Human
My favourite aspect of this episode was the questions it raised (and facetiously answered) about being human. The gate to the hot air balloon, which someone must be the best version of themselves in order to pass through, provides opportunity for the humans—specifically Eleanor and Chidi—to reflect upon how much they have changed since their time on Earth.
Chidi, unsurprisingly, gets caught up in the semantics of “best version”: after all, he asks, if this is the 802nd time Michael has rebooted them and they have no memory of the first 801 times, how can they possibly know that this version of themselves is the best?
It’s Eleanor who steps in, with her wisdom that is becoming less surprising as the show wears on, to tell Chidi that as he is the one who enabled the rest of them to become their best selves, he is already the best version of himself. As Chidi realizes, “So, in a way, it doesn’t matter if I was better in version 492 or whatever, because the best version of me is just as much about my effect on the world around me as it is about my own egocentric self-image.”
Having convinced himself that Eleanor is correct, Chidi is able to pass through the gate without a problem. But now it’s Eleanor who gets turned back, as she’s remembered the video of her and Chidi at Mindy’s house (something that has been weighing on her with increasing heaviness since Mindy revealed it to her) and how vulnerable and emotional and honest she had been with him, in a way this version of herself wasn’t. So doesn’t that mean that Version 119 of Eleanor was better than Version 802?
Which leads to the question: is what you believe about yourself the most accurate representation of your character? Must you believe yourself to be a good person to actually be a good person, or is it how others perceive you that’s more important?
(The main question it raised for me was one not addressed by the show: if one is the best version of one’s self, does that mean there is no longer any room for improvement? As—and this is something the show has impressed upon us frequently—humans can constantly strive to better themselves, is it even possible to become a best version?)
Of course, in the end Michael reveals that the hot air balloon was a sham because he doesn’t actually know how to get into the Good Place, although he has tried over a billion possible solutions.
Michael’s development from a cold-hearted demon into a demon with emotions has been by far one of the best things about Season 2 (here we see him feeling “What’s it called, where you did a thing and you’re sad after it?”) and he is always the one who provides the most astute observations about humankind.
Those observations range from disparaging—“You humans have so many emotions! You only need two: anger and confusion”-—to genuine pleasure at the inanities of human nature: “A stress ball with a dumb corporate logo. Oh, I can’t wait to keep finding this and then almost throw it away and then think, ‘No, I’ll use it!’”
Michael has always exhibited these dualities, as far back as Season 1. He’ll ridicule humans in the same sentence as longing to be more like them. It’s unclear whether this is a common attribute among demons, or whether it left Michael uniquely susceptible to Chidi and Eleanor’s attempts to humanize him.
While there is little doubt that Michael is currently the best version of himself, the same cannot be said of Janet, who—torn between her nature as a computer whose operating system is constantly being updated and her unresolved feelings for Jason, made more complicated by her own increasing humanity after each progressive reboot—breaks the scale when it can’t determine whether she is or isn’t the best version or herself. Janet is no longer just a computer program, she’s something else entirely.
Which leads us to one of the probable themes of these season. Neither demons nor computers are human, and yet both Michael and Janet are shown becoming more and more so. This begs the question:
What does it mean to be human?
Chidi and Eleanor: Soulmates?
Eleanor’s feelings for Chidi are in full force this episode, from the numerous longing looks she gave him while convincing him he was the best version of himself, to laying her head on his shoulder while they danced, to outright telling him that she has feelings for him, since they’ll all be sent to the Bad Place come morning.
Unfortunately for Eleanor, Chidi doesn’t yet appear to return those feelings, even going so far as to hope that soulmates actually do exist—”I mean, you know, for all of us,” he hastily corrects when noticing the glum expression on Eleanor’s face.
It seems hard to believe that the show won’t eventually put these two together, as they have been written that way ever since Season 1, when they both believed they were each other’s soulmates. In many of the reboots since, they were not purposefully made to be each other’s soulmates, and yet in every single version they came back to each other. Which, to me, is one of the most classic definitions of “soulmate”.
Do soulmates exist? I suspect in the way the show originally introduced them, the answer is no. A soulmate is not someone you’re given, it’s someone you choose. Eleanor and Chidi choose each other, over and over, in every version of their reality Michael can think to throw at them. If that’s not a soulmate, then what is?
I think Eleanor is perhaps closer to these realizations than Chidi is (because Chidi, who gets trapped between the smallest of choices, would much rather have a soulmate assigned than have to choose one himself) but the journey these two will continue to go on will hopefully have them both actively realizing that choosing to be with each other is all that it takes to be “meant to be.”
Chidi’s admission that he wishes he and Eleanor had met under more normal circumstances (although he has no realistic idea of what those might be) as well as bringing her hand up to his heart while they danced are hopeful indications that he may have feelings for her, too, they’re just inaccessible at the moment.
Highway to Hell
The episode ends with the gang on a train, willfully bound for the Bad Place. With them, the show transitions out of its established setting (with the neighbourhood literally dissolving behind them as they leave) and thrusts both the protagonists and the audience into the unknown.
This is uncharted territory, so what can we expect to come next?
Season 1 was about Michael’s mini-experiment of creating a Bad Place that mimics the Good Place, and torturing human beings for eternity with their most persistent fears and anxieties. The fact that every single attempt he made failed is a testament to the tenacity of humans and the lengths that we will go to solve problems, as well as the everlasting hope we have that things will get better. This persistence and hope was ultimately the undoing of Michael’s plot, each of the 802 times he tried.
Season 2 was a mini-experiment in itself, as Chidi, Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason attempted to improve their own as well as Michael’s moral standing in order to be accepted into the Good Place. This experiment—one which had a positive goal in mind, rather than a negative one—is ultimately successful, as Michael declares himself fully on the humans’ side despite being previously offered his dream job by Shawn, and in this episode is awarded the title of “Honorary Human”.
Both of these experiments took place in this neighbourhood that is a Bad Place dressed as a Good Place: first actively trying to live up to its first name, and then actively trying to live up to its second. As it’s the second experiment that succeeded as they leave this neighbourhood behind, I’m hoping that we’ll get to see it on a bigger scale as the characters transit through the real Bad Place.
After all, if they were able to turn a demon like Michael into an honorary human, what’s to stop them from doing the same to other demons?
If these people who were destined for the Bad Place managed to improve themselves enough to be allowed into the Good Place, then shouldn’t those currently in the Bad Place be offered the same chance?
I think this ethical question will weigh particularly hard on Chidi—although the others have been learning from him and will likely wonder the same—once they’re inside the Bad Place and seeing firsthand what tortures humans like them are undergoing. It will no longer be hypothetical, it will be bone-chillingly real.
So how can we expect humans who have only strengthened their moral compass to witness the torture of people like them and at the end ask only for salvation for themselves? We can’t.
My ultimate hope for this series is that we see a complete upset of this system that has been in place since the beginning of time, and this episode took us one step closer to getting there.
- “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” “Oh, come on, everyone knows that’s worse!”
- Considering last week Shawn deadpanned “Can’t you tell? I’m squealing like a little girl,” the texts that he sent to Michael this week had me rolling. “so random 😂”
- I didn’t get the chance to talk about it in my main post, but I really appreciated the character work put into Tahani this week. Her realization that she’s the only one who can fix the situation for herself is an important one and one a lot of real people have to come to terms with at some point.
- Michael’s elation at receiving a box full of human things (“Bandaids! For your stupid, fragile bodies!”) was both pure and endearing.
- “I’m pretty good at turning every place I go into my personal hell, so I think they’ll have a lot of options for me.” Oh, Chidi. I truly hope he finds a way to ease his anxieties at some point.
- Jason continues to fall flat for me. Outside of being the fulcrum in the bizarre Tahani-Jason-Janet love triangle, his only purpose seems to be to provide comic relief. As it’s the type of humour that generally falls flat for me, I could do without most of his contributions.
- “In a way, the Good Place was inside the Bad Place all along.” Besides being a good line, I wonder if this aphorism will be something that still holds true as they enter the real Bad Place.
The Good Place airs Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.