‘The Good Place’ Recap: Death Becomes ThemRolling Stone — Alan Sepinwall
A review of this week’s The Good Place, “Don’t Let The Good Life Pass You By,” coming up just as soon as I walk to Edmonton to give 85 dollars to a snail charity…
And so, Eleanor Shellstrop, Chidi Anagonye, Tahani Al-Jamil and Jason Mendoza are dead.
And that’s just fine.
Season Three has definitely picked up in the last few installments, but there’s always been a sense of the series marking time here on planet Earth. The show has tried to bring in magic when it can, whether Janet building a VR simulator or last week’s flashbacks to how Eleanor and Chidi fell in love during Reboot 119. But for the most part, this was The Good Place working with one hand cocooned behind its back. The climax of “Don’t Let The Good Life Pass You By” even literalizes the problem, by having Janet realize that if even part of her is inside Shawn‘s bootleg portal to the afterlife, she gets her full range of powers back, which she uses to kick much demon ass. In that sequence, it feels like the series itself recognizing it has to keep at least a few fingers in the world beyond this one to live up to its potential. So when Janet announces that the four dum-dums will have to hide in her void — and will die again as a result — I could appreciate Chidi’s horror, even as I felt relief at knowing that this particular stretch of the story had come to an end.
And “Don’t Let The Good Life Pass You By” was a pretty fantastic conclusion to this phase of things. In the show’s most elaborate tribute yet to all things Damon Lindelof — specifically, to the iconic beginning of Lost Season Two — we open with a mystery man doing chores while we hear Cass Elliot sing the title song. The man will be revealed as Doug Forcett, first discussed way back in the pilot episode as the only human to ever correctly guess how the afterlife works. More importantly, he’ll be revealed as being played by Better Call Saul alum Michael McKean. This is McKean sticking a hand into his own portal to the afterlife, tapping into everything we know he’s capable of doing. The performance is a marvel of comic sincerity, while also painfully dramatic, as we discover the downside of living your life with only the point system in mind. He has made himself utterly miserable in order to maximize universal good, yet he accepts his agony with a smile on his face. When Doug explains that the cosmetic tests make his face feel “like wearing a mask of fire,” it’s said, amazingly, in a tone that’s equal parts agony and celebration. He can’t stand wearing this stuff, but does it for the sake of the poor animals who would otherwise be test subjects.
The show has long suggested that the points system is wildly unfair. Here, it’s revealed to be downright cruel — and, intriguingly, perhaps besides the point. Shawn seems certain that Doug will wind up in the Bad Place along with Eleanor and her friends. This either means the Good Place is even more unattainable than previously believed, or maybe that it’s impossible to get into, and Michael is too naive to realize this. Whatever is going on should provide plenty of fodder for our group as they re-enter a post-mortal plane of existence. McKean is so delightful earlier in the episode, he almost makes me wish the show could have lingered on Earth for another episode or two, just to get more of Doug. But the way things seem to be heading, poor Doug could wind up as a Good Place test case before too long. And that would be fun for us, even if it’s one more cross for him to bear.
Some other thoughts:
* If the rhythms of Eleanor’s speech to Shawn about Michael seemed familiar, it’s because the whole thing was a loving tribute to a gag from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy delivers a similar speech about Marcus Brody. Michael proves just as adept at hiding as poor Marcus. (Side rant: it’s a funny joke, and Denholm Elliott plays Marcus the oblivious twit very well, but that scene and Last Crusade as a whole sell out Marcus, who seemed utterly competent in Raiders of the Lost Ark.)
* After dominating the previous two episodes, Eleanor this week takes a decided backseat to what Michael and Janet (aka the Scoops siblings) are up to. But it felt right for her to break the news to Chidi as they were on the verge of being dragged off to Hell by Vicky or one of the other demons. Facing certain death is the best kind of truth serum. I’ll be curious to see if their time in Janet’s void will restore everyone’s memory of the many reboots, or if Eleanor will be ahead of the others for a while more.
* Jason’s “BORTLES!” Molotov cocktails had become a bit too effective of late. It’s sad he couldn’t finish the battle cry, but it made sense that the demons would know to stop him this time.
* NBC has previously broken each Good Place season into two completely uninterrupted chunks. That approach would have made this the final new episode of 2018 before the season wrapped up early next year. Instead, the show will be off for a couple of weeks due to Thanksgiving and other things, then air a single episode (titled, intriguingly, “Janet(s)”) on December 6th, then go on a brief hiatus until the home stretch begins on January 10th. It’s weird scheduling, but the plus side is that when the show returns, it’ll be part of a brief but wonderful double-feature with Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
What did everybody else think?
Previously: Welcome Back to the Neighborhood