The Good Place 2x13 "Somewhere Else"
After a disappointing previous two episodes, The Good Place got back on track with its Season 2 finale! Michael pleads with the Judge that his experiment—in which he saw the humans, over and over, improve themselves against all odds—is evidence that the entire system by which they judge people for being “good” or “bad” is fundamentally flawed and hundreds of millions of souls have been wrongfully condemned to an eternity of torture. Impressed by his argument, the Judge agrees to help them.
While Michael and the Judge try to come up with a plan to save the humans’ souls, the humans themselves have soft moments of connection, reminiscent of “Best Self” (the last time they thought they were going to the Bad Place with no hope of escape). Tahani tells Eleanor about the test set to her by the Judge, and how she told off her parents at the end of it; Eleanor is suitably impressed and tells Tahani how much progress she’s made, at which point Tahani acknowledges that it was being friends with Eleanor that allowed her to grow and change.
Janet tells Jason that she loves him, and that she had made excuses for not telling him before by convincing herself that she needed time to work through her complex feelings. Chidi, overhearing, realizes that he has been making excuses about his feelings for Eleanor in much the same way. Making perhaps the snappest decision of his entire life, Chidi approaches Eleanor and kisses her, leaving Eleanor somewhat shellshocked.
Michael and the Judge’s original plan is to put the humans into each of their own Medium Places while Michael comes up with a way to get them in to the Good Place. The problem is that each human would have to go to their own Medium Place—since they’re tailored to whatever is considered “medium” for each individual—and they could be trapped there for upwards of a million years.
When Eleanor complains that neither option (going to their own Medium Place or going back to the Bad Place) is just, the Judge says that she believes the only reason any of them improved in Michael’s neighbourhood is because they believed there would be a reward at the end of it— whereas good people do good things because they’re good, not because they’re seeking “moral dessert.”
Michael, on the other hand, believes that they would have become good people if they’d just gotten a push in the right direction. There’s only one way to prove that people will become good people without seeking out a reward, and that’s to put them in a situation where they don’t know that there’s a reward waiting for them; and so Michael comes up with the idea to put the humans back into the life they were living before they died (before they knew there was a Good and a Bad Place) and see if they would become good people if given the right push.
The rest of the episode focuses on Eleanor, back on Earth in the moments before she died. After having her life saved by a mysterious stranger (Michael), Eleanor makes the decision to become a better person: she quits her job selling fake medicine to old people, joins an environmental rights group, goes vegetarian, and is upfront and honest with her friends over some poor decisions she’s made in the past.
However, being good isn’t as easy as Eleanor thought it would be; in fact, she finds that doing the right thing often has more negative consequences than positive. So, after being kicked out of her friend’s apartment and while fighting off a lawsuit, Eleanor decides to revert back to the person she was before.
Seeing the decline in Eleanor’s progress, Michael decides to intervene; one year after the day she nearly died (which also happens to be her birthday), Eleanor winds up alone in a bar and Michael introduces himself to her as the bartender. Michael invites Eleanor to tell him about her year, and she ends up opening up about why being a do-gooder is so hard: because no one cares.
So Michael gives Eleanor an impromptu ethics lesson, telling her that she’s seeking moral dessert—or the concept that if you do something good, you deserve a reward. Instead, he says, one should do good things to appease one’s conscience.
“What do I owe you?” a bemused Eleanor asks Michael, to which Michael replies, “The real question, Eleanor, is what do we owe to each other?”
At the end of it, Eleanor goes home and Googles “what we owe to each other,” which leads her to a video of a lecture Chidi performed at a university in Sydney. (If you remember, the book What We Owe to Each Other is what led Eleanor to Chidi during the very first reset back in the Season 2 premiere.) When invited out by her roommate, Eleanor decides to go somewhere else entirely, and purchases a plane ticket to Sydney.
The episode ends with Eleanor and Chidi reunited (although neither knowing that this is far from their first meeting), and Eleanor asking Chidi if they can talk; thus beginning, one presumes, yet another round of ethics lessons which will help Eleanor genuinely become a better person.
(Side note: One thing that will always bug me about the foundation of this show is the fact that Chidi was sent to the Bad Place in the first place, but in every simulation and every scenario, Chidi is always the one to teach Eleanor and the others to be good people. How can Chidi be bad if he’s good enough to teach others how to be good? Wouldn’t that goodness be an inherent part of himself?)
Generally, I’m not a fan of finales that focus on a single character over others, because to me, the finale should be about big moments and revelations that are best accomplished when the full ensemble is present. However, I understand the choice to focus the majority of the finale on Eleanor, although I’m a little worried that their decision to do so will either rush everyone else’s character development when we catch up with them in Season 3 (which is a problem Season 2 already suffered from) or that the beginning of Season 3 will be bogged down by the time needed to catch us up with everyone’s individual stories.
Aside from the killer plot twist that ended Season 1, I wasn’t a fan of the way they chose to reset the scenario several hundred times—for one, it made for boring television (for me, at least, because I can’t stand repetition), and for another, it erased all the character development everyone (except for Janet and Michael) had undergone, leaving them all a little short-changed for the rest of the season. So with this season essentially ending again with a reset—although of a different nature—I worry that the problems of Season 2 will only be exacerbated in Season 3.
However, with all that being said, there was still plenty about this finale which I loved. Eleanor’s decision to become good because of her near-death experience but then a regression when her goodness didn’t pay off with immediate personal benefit was extremely realistic and an accurate interpretation of Eleanor’s character. I also really enjoyed the return to pre-death Eleanor; it served as a reminder to the audience just how far she really has come.
And, of course, to have it end the way it did was brilliant and perfect. Michael had stated earlier in the season that in every single one of the simulations he ran, Eleanor always found her way to Chidi, and the same thing happens here (albeit with a bit of a push from Michael). No matter where, no matter when, no matter how, Eleanor and Chidi will always, always find their way to each other.
As for Michael: let me sing a song of appreciation for his development, which was absolutely the highlight of the entire season. In previous reviews I talked about his transformation from demon to honorary human to better-than-human, and here we see him becoming something of a guardian angel to Eleanor. Her conscience, whispering in her ear.
And what if that’s the point of everything, after all? Not to get into a Medium Place, or to traverse from the Bad Place to the Good Place through afterlife ethic sessions, but to improve humans while they’re still alive? What if the future for Michael and his ilk is not to plan afterlife torture for humans, but to guide them through life the first time around? To appear at crossroads and point people in the right direction? (Perhaps it’s worth noting that in Christianity, Michael is the archangel who led God’s armies and defeated Satan in the war in heaven.)
So this latest experiment of Michael’s (and I’m sure it’s just another one of his simulations, because I doubt he has the power to turn back time to before everyone died) he’s setting out to prove that humans have an inherent goodness in them, they just need to occasionally be guided towards the light. And if he’s successful, what does that mean for the billions of people trapped in the Bad Place? What does it mean for the entire structure of the afterlife?
Some other thoughts and questions heading into Season 3:
Janet is keeping track of Jason’s score—what has Jason been up to in his simulation?
How long will we have to wait until the entire gang is reunited?
Will Tahani, Jason, and Chidi each get episodes dedicated to their second life, or will we catch up with them through flashbacks?
Will the entirety of Season 3 take place in these second chance simulations, or will Michael pull them back into the afterlife for some higher purpose?