[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Season 4, Episode 10 of The Good Place, "You've Changed, Man." Read at your own risk!]
Sweet Timothy Olyphant -- The Good Place really did it. The NBC sitcom is pulling out all the stops as the end approaches, which in this case means rewriting the entire afterlife system and satisfying the Judge's (Maya Rudolph) thirst for the star of Justified. ("That is, like, 50 gallons of man in a 10-gallon hat.")
The midseason premiere of The Good Place tasks Chidi (William Jackson Harper) with designing an afterlife system that both the Good and Bad Places could agree on, all while the Judge searches every Janet's (D'Arcy Carden) void for the clicker that wipes out all of humanity. In return, Chidi only asks for warm pretzels, a copy of Judith Shklar's "Putting Cruelty First," and Disco Janet's roller skates. Remember, Chidi is chill now. His lesson prompts Michael (Ted Danson) and Eleanor (Kristen Bell) to come up with one possible alternative solution, which is basically the same one Eleanor suggested in the beginning: Medium people should get to spend eternity in medium places, like Cincinnati. It isn't the most inspired idea, but they're on a deadline, so they run with it. Hugely relatable.
But when Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) makes it clear that he plans to shoot down everything they propose, Michael challenges Eleanor, Chidi, Jason (Manny Jacinto), and Tahani (Jameela Jamil) to use their last 10 minutes in existence to go down swinging. If they're going to lose, they might as well lose with a plan they really believe in. So Chidi comes up with a new afterlife system, which works as follows: It's the plot of The Good Place.
Basically, as Eleanor puts it, the system treats life not as "a test that you either pass or fail but instead a class you take." The test comes in the afterlife, when a Good Place architect and a Bad Place architect team up to design a customized scenario that forces you to confront your moral flaws. The test can be anything -- from being sent to a fake Good Place "by mistake" to reliving a version of your life -- and its difficulty depends on the number of points you earned before death. Regardless of points, if you don't pass the test you're rebooted to take it again and again, with the hope that one day you'll learn enough to ace it and get into the Good Place.
"But wait," interrupts the version of Timothy Olyphant Janet conjured in her void, "how do you learn and grow if you're rebooted?" Thanks for asking, Tim. The trick is that after every reboot, you retain a vague memory of what you learned in your evaluation -- like, in Eleanor's words, "a little voice in your head, helping you become a better version of yourself."
Eleanor looks at Chidi when she explains the concept; Chidi was that voice in her head, as she was in his. But even though we all know what "voice in your head" really means to them, the idea behind this system feels a little too isolating for this show. This episode treats Chidi's confidence as a byproduct of having 800 versions of himself stuffed inside him all at once; he's been rebooted, like Janet. But that idea flattens out the message of the midseason finale, which credited Chidi's newfound confidence to the lightning-bolt realization that there is no answer, but Eleanor is the answer -- that, in other words, we make meaning through the relationships we choose to build. Chidi has gone from chilling out because he met Eleanor to chilling out because he met himself.
It's a subtle change, but it leaves the show feeling a little emptier and more self-centered, shifting the focus from relationships to a borderline technological quest for self-optimization. The ethics of The Good Place are rooted in the idea that we only become better by recognizing what we owe each other. When everyone around you in your afterlife test is a demon or a simulation, where's the sense of community between real people? I'm hopeful that this is all building to something intentional and that by the end of the season we'll see Team Cockroach tweak the afterlife to give people the chance to learn together.
At least they'll exist long enough to tweak it. Michael gets Shawn to agree to the new system -- because Shawn is, at his core, a messy binch who lives for drama -- and the Good Place committee agrees to absolutely everything, so the new afterlife is a go. And the Judge can get back to watching Justified.
Lines of the night:
Judge: "That is so interesting because last time I checked I didn't have a dad. That's why I'm attracted to all the father figures on the TV shows I watch, mkay?"
Jason: "You live your life, screw up a bunch of stuff, like a lot of stuff, like to the point where people are like, 'This is messed up even for Florida,' but you can't hear them because you fell into the swamp trying to spray-paint a Taco Bell logo on a snapping turtle."
Chidi: "This is the problem with the current system: Live anything less than the most exemplary life and you are brutally tortured forever with no recourse. The cruelty of the punishment does not match the cruelty of the live that one has lived. Now, watch this spin."
Chuck (Paul Scheer): "The fair thing for us to do is just keep on giving out more and more stuff we want unilaterally until this demon's finally happy."
Shawn: "You corkscrew your first eyeball and you're like, 'Man, I can't believe they're paying me to do this.' By the trillionth it's like, 'I should've just been a teacher.'"
Jason on why we shouldn't cancel the Earth: "Because it would be a bummer."
The Good Place airs Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.
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