[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Thursday's episode of The Good Place, "The Answer." Read at your own risk!]
Our old pal Chidi (William Jackson Harper), the one who got an anxious tummy ache as a li'l baby, is gone. Not gone gone -- there was no great disaster as Michael (Ted Danson) reassembled Chidi's memories from the "giant bowl of M&M Peep chili" that is his psyche, even though I thought maybe something was going to go horribly wrong and he would end up mind-melded with Jason's (Manny Jacinto) Duval Ditch Water. Chidi is fine. But his anxiety has taken a back seat after so many hundreds of trips through the afterlife, leaving us with a Chidi who might actually be calm enough to save humanity.
We saw signs of this Chidi in Season 3 as his relationship with Eleanor (Kristen Bell) mellowed him out, but The Good Place's midseason finale reveals he really went full Enlightened Chidi when he hit on an epiphany at the least convenient time: right as Michael was getting ready to erase his memory. Now that he's awake and all his memories are back, he remembers what he told Michael that night: "Life isn't a puzzle that can just be solved one time and it's done. You wake up every day and you solve it again."
Chidi has been obsessed with answers since he was a kid. His parents were fighting a lot, so at age 8 he sat them down for a lecture on why they should stay married -- and it worked. Young Chidi and his Adorable Sweater Vest took this at face value and assumed he'd fixed his parents all by himself, which taught him that every problem can be solved if you just think hard enough. (Young Uzo: "I know you're really smart but that sounds wrong.") "The Answer" flashes back through the major events of Chidi's life and afterlife to trace his slow, slow journey toward unlearning that lesson and chilling out.
There's a little bit of irony at the heart of this episode: Chidi realized there is no one answer to any problem, and that realization became the answer to his anxiety. Is it a little too simple? I don't know; can "there is no answer" ever be a simple idea? The Good Place loves this kind of brain teaser: All the most complicated problems have simple answers (just try your best to be better day to day), and all the simplest answers only lead to more questions (like how to reformat the entire afterlife around that idea). Chidi wrote a thesis so mind-numbingly boring it sapped his advisor's will to live, and the only thing his advisor wanted him to learn was how to put his heart into something. He wanted to answer every question in the universe, and put your heart into it was the answer.
Which brings us to Eleanor. Before his memory was erased, Chidi wrote a note to himself and asked Janet to give it back if she ever saw him -- with his memories -- again. The note, which he gets back at the end of the episode even though he already remembers what he wrote, says, "There is no 'answer' but Eleanor is the answer." Eleanor's relationship with Chidi is the main theme of this episode's afterlife flashbacks; she's spent all season focused on how much she loves and needs him, but "The Answer" makes it clear she's good for him too.
And it lands! It's been hard sometimes in past seasons to believe the whole universe hinges on Chidi and Eleanor's romance, since so many of their actual romantic experiences kept getting erased from their minds. They kept falling in love because they learned that they had been in love in the past, which didn't always feel organic. But "The Answer" gives those memories space to breathe -- it even elaborates on a scene we saw in Michael's montage in the Season 3 finale, when Eleanor kissed Chidi while they were walking home from studying philosophy. This episode is basically a clip show if most of those clips are scenes we haven't seen before, filling in all the blanks -- giving us the answers -- in a way that makes those answers feel both obvious and important. It's telling us something we already knew but still needed to hear.
That being said, the thing that made me most emotional was Janet tearing up when Chidi handed her his note.
Anyway, like the note says, there is no capital-A Answer. Eleanor isn't the only person Chidi learned from in the afterlife; "The Answer" shows him asking both Jason and Tahani (Jameela Jamil) for advice on how to be confident and go after what he wants. Everyone played a part in making everyone else better. But the lesson Chidi learned from his relationship with Eleanor was the key. As Michael put it, "If soulmates do exist, they're not found. They're made. People meet, they get a good feeling, and then they get to work building a relationship." Eleanor is Chidi's answer because they chose something together and made it work, just as everyone on Team Cockroach will have to do to save humanity. "The journey is the destination," Chidi says. Then he goes a little bit Parks and Recreation: "Let's get to work."
Lines of the night:
- Chidi's dad was right: "He has a brilliant mind. One day he will use it to solve the world's biggest problems."
- Chidi: "Hey, so for the past 300 years have I been super annoying?"
- Jason: "Where I'm from, most things blow up eventually, so I learned that when something dope comes along, you gotta lock it down. If you're always frozen in fear and taking too long to think about what to do, you'll miss your opportunity and maybe get sucked into the propeller of a swamp boat."
- Chidi: "What's the biggest fish?"
The Good Place airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.