This The Good Place review contains spoilers
The Good Place Season 2 Episode 10
Let’s begin with a peak behind the critical curtain.
NBC released the first three episodes of the second half of The Good Place Season 2 over the holiday break. I watched them all in a row while lying down with my laptop like the grotesque human beings in Wall-E as I am oft to do. The first episode “Leap to Faith” and the third episode, next week’s “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” are thrilling action-packed adventure stories.
The “middle chapter,” this week’s “Best Self” is a slower-paced affair and initially struck me as the worst of the lot. After rewatching it this week, however, my feelings changed. It still might be the worst (next week’s is so good, you guys) but I see it’s value in a much clearer way now.
“Best Self” seems like a narrative (and budgetary) calm down period that this show has sometimes been know to do. We spend the entire hour with only our six main characters: Michael, Janet, Eleanor, Tahani, Jason, and Chidi. There are really only two sets: a portion of the neighborhood with a hot air balloon and another portion of the neighborhood where the six hold their symbolic “end of all things” party.
Regardless of its paucity, however, “Best Self” is a really wonderful, understated episode of television.
The first half isn’t perfect. Michael tells his human friends and Janet that even though they just escaped capture from Shawn and the demons, getting to the Good Place is going to be pretty tricky. There’s no train to catch. But there may be another vehicle. Jason hopes it’s Optimus Prime and calls “right nipple,” which is shotgun on Optimus Prime.
He’s disappointed to hear that Optimus Prime will not be carrying them off to heaven but is then heartened to see that a golden hot air balloon will. “Top of the balloon. Ultimate shotgun,” he says in wonder. Michael explains that the balloon will transport the humans to the Good Place but they can only enter it if they’ve achieved the best version of themselves.
The problem with the first half of “Best Self” is that stepping onto and then off of a scale is not that visually or emotionally dynamic. The idea of self-actualization is an important and easily understood philosophical (and psychological) concept but it’s not paired with a narratively impactful event like last week’s “leap to faith.”
Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason initially pass their “best self” tests and Chidi fails. This leads to a rather touching moment where Eleanor is the only one who knows how to get Chidi to calm down. Chidi worries because he now knows there have been 802 versions of himself. How can he be sure that the 802nd is the best one and not the 116th or the 587th?
“Or the 69th or the 420th?” Jason asks, and Eleanor fist bumps him.
Eleanor calmly explains to Tahani that he usually peters himself out during this freakout but this time he’s ramping up so she intervenes. She says that if she, Tahani, and Jason are the best version of themselves then surely their teacher is as well.
Chidi steps back onto the scale and passes. As do Tahani and Jason. But then Eleanor tries again and fails.
Thankfully, Michael ends this charade and says the scale isn’t real. He was just buying more time once again because he doesn’t know how to get into the Good Place. He’s researched more than a billion different ways and still the only way he knows how to is to be a good person on Earth.*
*This line stuck out to me for some reason. It makes me wonder if this season, or maybe even the series is leading up to the characters being sent back to Earth for a second chance living their lives properly to get into the Good Place.
Michael tries to explain that he feels guilty but still doesn’t quite know how to identify that emotion.
“You humans have so many emotions! You only need two! Anger and confusion,” he says.
Feeling some anger and confusion, herself, Eleanor says they should react to this news the only way that Shellstrops know how: ignore all their problems and drink heavily.
The Good Place has one of the best comedic casts on television. Ted Danson and Kristen Bell were gimmes but the rookies D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto*, and Jameela Jamil have been surprisingly great as well. The second half of “Best Self” lets them all just get drunk and bounce off one another and it’s one the season’s best decisions yet.
Sure, it may have been motivated by a necessary narrative “comedown” period after the madcap “Leap to Faith.” But getting to just sit back and rely on this cast for 15 onscreen minutes is such a boon to the show. The interactions at play here all are funny and affecting.
Eleanor and Chidi finally have a much-needed conversation about their “thing.” She has feelings for him and she knows he doesn’t share those feelings, which fill her with anger and confusion (“Man, Michael was right on the money,” she says) but she still wants him to know she loves him. Chidi responds by saying his brain is like a fork stuck in a garbage disposal. He wishes they had met under different circumstances, which is sweet.
Meanwhile, Tahani and Jason have a chat, the whole gang dances to a fun version of Lorde’s “Green Light,” and Michael is named an honorary human and is gifted a Human Starter Kit.
“Car keys so I can lose them and say ‘has anyone seen my car keys?’” he says, delighted. “Band-aids for your stupid fragile bodies. A stress ball with a stupid corporate logo. I can’t wait to go to throw this out and then be like ‘well I might need this one day.’ A Dr. Oz diet book because you’re all such suckers. This is all such garbage that I have no real use for. Thank you.”
Shawn texts Michael that the neighborhood is being officially demolished tomorrow and a train will be arriving to take him away to find the missing humans. That appears to be the end and the gang ruminates on what hell will be like.
Jason thinks hell is a Skrillex concert without the bass dropping. Eleanor thinks hell will be camping forever. Chidi comments that he’s basically good at turning wherever he is into his own hell so they’ll have a lot to work with for him. Tahani says the Swiss Alps in Autumn.
This sets off another round of Tahani impressions and jokes in which they demand to “speak to the manager,” which leads Tahani to have an important revelation.
The “off-hand comment said in jest that gives another character an important idea” trope is never exactly crackerjack writing. The show was able to turn it on its head last week by revealing that Michael was leaving them Blake (Derek) Bortles-sized verbal clues. This week is lazier.
Tahani realizes that “talking to the manager” is exactly what they should do! Isn’t there some sort of celestial judge? Yes there is, Michael says, but it’s futile to try to get with him or reason with him. It would mean invading the Bad Place to reach a portal and even then it’s unlikely he would hear their case.
But it’s their only shot, so Michael, freshly off being made a key-carrying human being happily agrees to do the most human thing of all: “Do something futile with a ton of unearned confidence and fail spectacularly!”
“Best Self” isn’t destined for The Good Place’s all-time highlight reel. It’s not flashy or outrageously consequential as any given episode has the potential to be. It’s the kind of episode, however, that highlights how deep the talent on this show goes and how effective its characters are. I love this show because of its creativity and ever-changing story landscape. I also love it because sometimes six funny people get drunk and talk to one another.