The Good Place 2x12 "The Burrito"
After jumping through the portal at the end of the last episode, the four humans—minus Michael and Janet, who were left behind—find themselves in the offices of the Judge, played by Maya Rudolph (best known, by me at least, for her portrayal as the bride in Bridesmaids, and a guest starring role in Season 4 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine).
The Judge agrees to hear their case, primarily out of boredom since it’s been thirty years since she’s last had one to adjudicate, and chooses to evaluate their worthiness by assigning them all a test they must pass in order to be allowed into the Good Place. After everything they have been through together, the humans decide that they will only go to the Good Place if they all pass their tests and are able to go as a group. (Which is, says the Judge, such a terrible plan that she would send them to the Bad Ideas Place, if such a place existed.)
Jason’s test is simple: he needs to play an NFL football video game—except he is playing against his favourite team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, as his team’s arch-rivals, the Tennessee Titans. Jason needs only to win the game to pass his test.
Tahani must walk down a hallway without opening any of the doors she passes and make it through the red door at the end. The catch: behind each door are people who are discussing what they truly think of Tahani, ranging from childhood friends to famous superstars. Although tempted several times, Tahani doesn’t open any doors until she gets to the room that contains her parents; overshadowed by her sister her entire life and needing to hear her parents talk about her, for a change, Tahani gives into temptation and walks into the room.
But behind the door, Tahani’s parents are still only comparing her to her sister, and Tahani realizes that that’s the point: no matter what she does she’ll never be good enough for them, so it’s best for her to let go of those expectations. Although she ultimately fails her test, at least Tahani is at last able to get closure in her relationship with her parents.
Eleanor and Chidi are told that there is no test for them, and that they’ve already been accepted into the Good Place; the caveat is that Jason and Tahani didn’t make it, and so they must go on without them. When Chidi begins acting suspiciously un-Chidilike (specifically, asking Eleanor to “forget about ethics for a second”), Eleanor realizes that this is her test: to decide to selfishly go to the Good Place and leave her friends behind, or to stick with her friends despite the personal cost to herself.
As for Chidi, his test is simplest of all: to choose between two hats; one brown, one grey. Not realizing that there is no correct choice, Chidi agonizes for nearly an hour and a half before settling on brown.
Once they have all completed their tests, the Judge issues her ruling: they will all be sent to the Bad Place, since three of them failed their tests (Eleanor, although she passed, pretends she failed for the sake of her friends). However, before the humans have a chance to actually go anywhere, Michael and Janet show up, just having defeated Shawn.
This episode didn’t sit right with me for reasons I’ve been trying to put my finger on for the past couple of days. For one, this episode was largely pointless—after completing their various tests, the Judge decides to send all the humans to the Bad Place anyway; and before that can happen, Michael and Janet show up, effectively erasing all the work of the past half hour—which seemed like an odd choice, given that it was the penultimate episode of the season.
For another, all of the humans are being judged on a single character trait which deems them worthy of entry into the Good or Bad Place. For Jason, it’s his impulse control; for Tahani, her intense need to know what others, especially her parents, think of her; for Chidi, his indecisiveness; and for Eleanor, her selfishness.
With the exception of selfishness—which Eleanor proves she has overcome—is there anything inherently bad about any of those other traits? Certainly, they can all be seen as character flaws, but in any case is that flaw actually going to prevent someone from being a good person? Are we to assume that anyone who makes it into the Good Place is magically devoid of any flaws?
Tahani’s desperation for her parents to approve of her doesn’t take away from the fact that she raised billions of dollars for charity. Chidi’s indecision didn’t stop him from pursuing a life of moral purity. Jason has shown very little change from who he was in Season 1, and yet we’re to believe that his only irredeemable flaw is his impulse control and that he’s equally as deserving to get into the Good Place as the other three.
In fact, the argument can be made that the only characters who have made any real progress are Eleanor and Michael. (And Janet. An AI has been developed more consistently than most of our actual human characters.)
The entire premise for this episode is built upon the rather shaky foundations of Season 1, which is that the reasons Chidi and Tahani, in particular, were sent to the Bad Place in the first place have always been flimsy. So to see Chidi get sentenced to eternal damnation for not being able to choose a hat, or Tahani for seeking her parents’ approval, stings a bit, as does the idea that Jason only failed his test because it never occurred to him to say “No.”
Maybe this is intentional on the part of the show: maybe we’re supposed to see the failure of three of the humans as proof that none of them have changed as much as we (and they) thought they did; maybe we’re supposed to see the judge’s tests as asinine and futile and the qualifications for getting into the Good Place as absurd. But mostly I think I’ve been putting too much weight on a show that is, at its heart, a lighthearted sitcom.
One thing the episode did get right was the storyline involving Michael and Shawn. Head to head against his former boss, Michael’s change from a demon who believed humans deserve to suffer for eternity to one who is sympathetic to the complexities of human nature shines through.
Michael tries to appeal to Shawn’s (perhaps non-existent) better nature by telling him that because the humans helped each other instead of hurting each other in every one of his simulations that a mistake must have been made, and that they belonged in the Good Place instead. Shawn, of course, doesn’t have the same faith in the humans Michael does, believing that they will screw up their chances with the Judge because “[humans] always do.”
Shawn plans to torture Michael by locking him in an unmarked room for the rest of eternity, with only a stack of New Yorker magazines as entertainment. Michael is saved by Good-Janet, who had finally perfected her imitation of a Bad Place Janet, but is eager to get back to being “good” after they escape from Shawn.
The finale episode is titled “Somewhere Else”, which makes me believe that Michael and co. will plead with the Judge to be allowed into a place that isn’t Good or Bad, but something else entirely (maybe using Michael’s self-sacrifice points as leverage, because I still desperately want that to be relevant). Undoubtedly, the Season 1 finale was the strongest episode of that season—as well as changed the entire genetic makeup of the show—so my expectations are high for Season 2 to pull off a similar feat.
The Good Place airs Tuesdays at 7:30/8:30c on NBC.