After blowing up its premise at the end of its first season, The Good Place only continued to evolve alongside its characters in its sophomore outing, proving there's even more to love about it than first expected. But teaching a demon to feel empathy or Eleanor (Kristen Bell) falling for Chidi (William Jackson Harper) weren't the most eye-opening developments of the second season. No, that honor belongs to the understated love story that's been developing between Janet (D'Arcy Carden), a Siri-like artificial intelligence, and Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), a relatively simple-minded but lovable man obsessed with Blake Bortles. Yes, really.
The show isn't necessarily breaking new narrative ground by introducing this type of love story of course — there are a number of examples of human/AI relationships to be found throughout pop culture. But said stories are most often told from the perspective of the human half of the couple where the AI offers up an image of a seemingly perfect partner, eventually teaching the human that what they want is someone real and flawed. On The Good Place, however, creator Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation) and the almost-annoying-they're-so-talented writers opted to use Janet and how she's processing her confusing new emotions as the audience's entry into this story, and ultimately this decision is what gives the accompanying exploration of what it means to experience love a refreshing, unique spin.
Although she knows literally everything and is constantly learning and evolving, Janet does not initially understand how or why she has fallen in love with Jason. Her confusion is not because he was an amateur EDM DJ from Florida who loved jalapeño poppers and who once threw empty spray paint cans at flamingos for fun, but because she is not human and is not supposed to be able to experience the human emotions associated with falling in love — or the pain that comes when those feelings aren't reciprocated.
Once she discovers she possesses these feelings, however, Janet becomes the show's equivalent of a young heroine grasping to understand love for the first time. She at first resists the idea, and although we've seen the beats of that same narrative play out across plenty of TV shows before, by switching out the young woman for an artificial intelligence as it's evolving into something more advanced and yet still more human, The Good Place manages to breath new life into what is otherwise a familiar, straightforward story. And once Janet accepts what's happening to her — after learning that Jason has fallen in love with Tahani (Jameela Jamil) — it only gets better.
Eschewing the classic break up haircut, Janet skips straight to asking Michael (Ted Danson) to kill her and turn her into a marble. Her reaction is ingenious and hilarious, but also speaks to Janet thinking heartbreak is a system malfunction. It is a clever and unexpected reaction that at first appears to contradict the more familiar, irrational emotional responses humans experience as a result of falling in love and being jilted for the first time. But upon closer inspection, it actually calls to mind the similarly extreme reactions of young lovers everywhere.
By the end of the season, Janet starts to come to terms with her emotions and the fact that she is evolving beyond her initial programming. She is no longer just a Janet, she is human-like, at least in the way that matters most. This development seems to suggest that experiencing human connection is the truest and highest form of living. This idea ultimately dovetails nicely with Michael's path in Season 2, which sees him evolve and come to understand compassion and friendship with a little help from the humans he was meant to torture for all eternity. But although Michael's personal journey receives more screen time overall, Janet's journey is arguably more important, because even though Michael is a demon, he is never incapable of experiencing feelings or emotions — he did hate humans, after all — he just needed help to understand them. But when Janet begins glitching after finding out Jason has fallen in love with Tahani, it hints that something much bigger is going on. Her ongoing evolution indicates that no one, not even an all-knowing artificial intelligence like Janet, is immune to emotions or the most basic component of what makes us human: love.
Janet's reactions and responses become a bit more obviously human as the season progresses, like when she takes Eleanor's bad but obvious advice and creates for herself a new boyfriend in the form of Derek (Jason Mantzoukas), an infantile being with a broken brain and wind chimes for a penis. Like many humans before her on the road to happiness, Janet attempts to fill the void inside her — not to be confused with the void in which she lives, of course — by throwing herself into a relationship with someone else only to remain unfulfilled when it does not work.
Although it's easy to want to stop Janet from making these types of mistakes, that in itself would be a mistake, because her missteps are what speak to her ongoing evolution. Janet is currently going through something that every single human likely has gone through or will go through in their lifetime, but she has not yet become jaded and cynical as a result. She is still in the early stages of discovering her emotions, and by the end of the season seems to have made significant progress, understanding that love is a good thing and changes everyone. She also understands that in order for it to last, she must be willing to grow and evolve alongside it. And while there are many lessons to take away from The Good Place, that might be the most important one of all.
The Good Place will return for Season 3 later this year.