The Good Place 2x11 "Rhonda, Diane, Jake, and Trent"
The episode opens as the train hurtles along tracks suspended in a void, bound for the Bad Place. With a lengthy bit of exposition (featuring a pancake detour), Michael explains the objective of their mission: they need special pins in order to pass through the portal and reach the judge, so the rest of the crew will lay low while Michael sets about obtaining enough pins for all of them (minus Janet, who counts as carry-on).
In order to pass through the Bad Place undetected, the four humans don proper Bad Place disguises (which are really just fancy clothes with a 1920s vibe) and aliases. But, predictably, the idea of lying about who he is rattles Chidi because it conflicts with his moral principles: “Principles aren’t principles when you pick and choose when you’re going to follow them.”
This is a brilliant line and although I’m more on Eleanor’s side here (I think lying to demons who want to torture you for eternity is acceptable) it’s a good reminder that it can be all too easy to justify your actions and behaviour based on circumstance.
Once in the Bad Place, Michael leaves the humans and Janet in the “Museum of Human Misery”, a place where classic examples of bad conduct are put on display.
The museum is filled with behaviours of varying degrees of badness: “First person to floss in an open-floor office,” “First man to send an unsolicited picture of his genitals”, “First waiter to approach a diner with an empty plate and sarcastically say ‘I guess you hated it’.” The implication is that any of these actions alone (despite the fact that some are more harmful than others) are enough to get you sent to the Bad Place, again showing the imbalance that exists between the Bad Place and the Good Place.
Michael and Eleanor have a rather adorable moment of parting, where Eleanor asks him to be careful and Michael is shocked that she cares. While Eleanor attempts to cover up her genuine caring behind a pretence of self-interest (“I’m worried about you because you’re our ticket out of here”), Michael is delighted to find out that she worries about him. The short exchange showcases the development both characters have undergone individually (Michael’s transition into a demon-human with feelings, Eleanor’s transition into a person who cares about others as much as or more than herself) as well as the relationship that has grown between them.
While the humans attempt to remain inconspicuous as the museum quickly fills up with demons, Michael returns to the architect's office, intent on stealing enough pins to get them all through the portal. Here, he’s reunited with his boss Shawn (whom I thought had discovered Michael was on the side of the humans last episode, but I guess I was wrong), who quickly ruins Michael’s plans with plans of his own.
Meanwhile, Chidi, who finds it impossible to lie for himself, is almost immediately mistaken to be a demon by the name of Trent. While Jason fits in with the demons just by being himself and Tahani is mysteriously able to flawlessly imitate one, Chidi struggles much more with being forced to lie about who he is.
Michael, too, finds that fitting in with demons isn’t as easy as it once was for him, as he can’t just get rid of the morals Chidi and Eleanor have instilled in him. When Shawn suggests doing something illegal to get the humans back (not yet realizing that they’re already in the Bad Place), Michael is clearly horrified, so much so that I was certain he was going to blow his cover.
As Chidi panics about lying who he is, Eleanor sits him down to talk to him about “moral particularism”—a topic they never covered in their classes but that suggests that there are no fixed rules that work in every situation—in order to convince Chidi that in some situations, lying about himself is okay. I absolutely adore how Eleanor understands Chidi well enough to know exactly what to say to him to calm him down—i.e. convincing him that his actions are ethical—and that she took his philosophy lessons to heart so much so that she began reading up on it on her own. (As Chidi later says himself that everyone hates reading philosophy books, I think the fact that Eleanor took the initiative shows just how much she cares about him.)
Once the demons realize that the humans aren’t at Mindy St. Claire’s house, Michael makes a run for it. Meanwhile, the newest exhibit to the museum is none other than mechanical versions of the humans themselves, whose cover is finally blown as several demons realize that “Trent” is actually Chidi and “Rhonda” is actually Tahani.
Michael finds the humans just as Shawn finds Michael, and as they’re surrounded by demons it seems like a situation they won’t be able to extract themselves from—until Jason throws a Molotov cocktail and they’re able to make a run for it.
However, when they reach the portal, Michael realizes that he’s short one pin, which they need to get through the portal and reach the judge. As Chidi, Tahani, and Jason jump through the portal, Michael and Eleanor are trapped on the other side, with only one pin between the two of them.
“I’ve finally solved the Trolley Problem,” Michael tells a confused Eleanor. “See, the Trolley Problem forces you to choose between two versions of letting other people die, and the actual solution is very simple: sacrifice yourself.” And so Michael puts the last pin on Eleanor’s shirt and the two have another goodbye—this one heartbreaking rather than sweet, as Michael tells Eleanor that the others need him and she refuses to accept his sacrifice—and pushes her through the portal.
I had a lot of praise for Michael’s development from demon to near-human in my review of the previous episode; perhaps it would have been better to hold off on that for a week, since in this episode Michael completes the transformation. After all, in the previous episode Michael admitted he was wrong, which, as Chidi says, already makes him better than 90% of humans. The act of self-sacrifice, I’m pretty sure, launches him into the 100th percentile of all humans.
(Wasn’t self-sacrifice listed as the ultimate point-getter for humans back in Season 1? If Michael was a human and still alive, he would have just booked himself a ticket to the Good Place. And since he’s a demon and the afterlife is his first life, I think they should immediately let him in anyway.)
Between the humans being effortlessly able to (for the most part, anyway) pass themselves off as demons, and a demon becoming more and more human by the day, I have to ask the same question I did last week: What makes us human?
I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of Michael. Aside from Ted Danson being a national treasure, this doesn’t seem like the type of show to kill off a main character during an act of bravery. It seems much more likely that Michael will be reunited with the rest of his friends (I think it’s safe to call them that now) sooner rather than later.
How? We’ll have to wait and see to find out. (Although I’m secretly hoping that he just magically gets transported into the judge’s office for committing a self-sacrificial act, or that Eleanor and Chidi use that fact to argue with the judge to let him in.)
I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the Bad Place, but I’m excited to see where the show takes us next!
Did anyone else think the map of the neutral place look like a brain? Am I reading too far into this now?
“Oh no, in this dimension, IHOP stands for “Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes. You don’t really eat these pancakes, it’s more like they eat you.”
“Any time I had a problem and I threw a Molotov cocktail, BOOM! I had a different problem.” I love how this show vacillates between complex moral solutions to problems and explosive solutions to problems. In this episode, the two come together to save the humans.
“Ooh, stuffing people sounds fun. Is that like stuffing [hot dogs] in the throats of vegans?” “Yes. Throats.” I don’t know what about this is better: Tahani’s immediate ability to calmly come up with a form of torture, or the implication from Michael that the truth is somehow worse.
Janet producing multiple glasses of water reminds me of when she produced dozens of cacti, and is just as funny.
If all trains are delayed by three hours every day in the Bad Place, then are they actually delayed or has the schedule just changed?
“Jason, this is hell. Of course there’s a gift shop.”
“Well, I was going to try to get the humans back by going through the proper channels, but then I remembered: I’m a naughty bitch.” Shawn continues to steal the show and Marc Evan Jackson is a gift to humanity.
“I took the form of a forty-five year-old-white man for a reason. I can only fail up.” This is hilarious but since I’ve long imagined that Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place take place in the same universe and Shawn took on the form of Kevin Cozner because...who wouldn’t want to be Kevin Cozner, I’m mildly offended.
As much as I understand where Michael is coming from, isn’t his trolley problem analogy a little bit off? Wouldn’t sacrificing yourself just leave the trolley without a driver?
The Good Place airs Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.
Sam’s episode rating: 🐝🐝🐝