This The Good Place review contains spoilers
The Good Place Season 2 Episode 11
The Good Place is such a fundamentally sound show.
As observed last week, the acting is superb, particularly from the untested newbies like D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, and William Jackson Harper. The writing is excellent. The direction is excellent. The art direction somehow believably created a version of heaven and then tossed it aside for hell all on a network budget.
Still, there are plenty of fundamentally shows on television. And there’s only one The Good Place. Season two’s second to last episode “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” shows us why.
All the sound creative decisions in the world are nice. But those sound creative decisions are elevated to pure brilliance when the show is able to pull something off like having its four lead characters watch animatronic versions of themselves verbalize all of their own worst qualities in Hell’s literal museum of torture.
“Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” is one of those episodes that makes you take a step back and marvel at the creative boldness of The Good Place. This is an exciting episode, a funny one, and an unexpectedly poignant one. It’s the end result of a show taking its already creative premise and stretching it to satisfyingly logical and emotional extremes.
Also we find out there’s an Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes (IHOP) in which the pancakes eat you.
“Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” tells a briskly-paced, (unsurprisingly) fundamentally sound story. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Janet, and Michael are on a train straight to the Bad Place. Once they arrive at the train station, where all trains are three hours late every day, Michael tells the others that he is going to need to go get them all senior staff pins so they can access the portal to the Judge’s quarters. Janet doesn’t need one as she counts as a carryon. “I’m luggage!” she excitedly chirps.
In the meantime, they’ll all have to stay here at the only place Michael could think of that was safe enough for them: the Museum of Human Misery.
“Is there a gift shop?” Jason asks.
“Jason, this is hell. Of course there’s a gift shop,” Michael responds.
So Michael takes off to meet up with Shawn and grab some pins, and the humans are left behind at the museum, unknowingly about to participate in a gallery opening of an exhibit about their own neighborhood, 12358W.
This is all interesting enough to begin with but what’s really remarkable about “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” is the level of humor its able to achieve while also telling this old-fashioned undercover sitcom story.
The Good Place writers have always clearly had fun dreaming up what potential minor torments demons could inflict upon human beings in a TV-14 friendly setting. This used to mean coming up with dozens upon dozens of food-related puns for the shitty restaurant in the various neighborhoods. Now, it’s as if all those food puns were training for their masterpiece: museum exhibits about human misery.
Here is a list of every various exhibit that ends up onscreen.
– First Person to Floss in An Open-Plan Office – Ethel Blerch – Baltimore, Maryland, USA May 6, 1952
– First Man to Send an Unsolicited Picture of His Genitals.
– First Waiter to Approach a Diner with An Empty Plate and Say “I Guess You Hated it.”
– First White Person to Wear Dreadlocks. And First Person to Call Ultimate Frisbee “Ultimate.”
– First Man to Say “Well Actually to a Woman” – Sir Geoffrey Frumpton Newcastle Upon Tyne, England September 12, 1642
– First Person to Say “I Need a Vacation…From My Vacation” – Terrence Davis, Club Med, Bahamas February 11, 1981
That’s just amazing. And if that weren’t enough there are all the other little touches of torture and torment placed throughout the episode. The best is certainly when Michael arrives in Shawn’s office and the very first thing Shawn says is “Welcome home. Axe up.” and throws him a can of Axe body spray. This is a Transformers scent. It’s supposed to make you smell how the Transformers movies make you feel.
Of course will go on to tell Michael that he won’t need extradition papers to get the humans back from Mindy St. Claire’s in the Medium Place. He’s a demon and a “naughty bitch.” This leads to a hellish Seal Team Six invading Mindy St. Claire’s home while she’s making great use of Derek and his wind chimes.
Back at the museum our human protagonists are stuck at a cocktail party for the opening of their exhibit and have all adopted new names and personas. Tahani is Rhonda Mumps, a demon with an American accent who works at a hotdog factory (there are 9 hotdog-related departments in hell). Eleanor is Diana Tremaine. Jason is Jake Jortles and works in the Molotov cocktail department. And Chidi…well, Chidi is having a hard time lying.
Some demons, led by Mr. Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, approach Chidi and force his hand. He is now Trent, Dax Shepard demon’s old buddy from the Decapitations Department. This demon is now in the Toxic Masculinity Department and is having a hard time with a new soul to torture named Brant and the genius Trent can surely help. Suddenly Chidi has to lie about much more than just his name to keep the ruse going and he and his friends’ plan alive.
Almost every passing second of “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” is a wonder. Each new item, person, or place that appears onscreen is unexpected, funny, clever or all three. Every little hellish detail is just a writerly homerun – like when a waiter demon is passing out appetizers at the shindig and mentions they have “soul food from Maine, bagels from Arkansas, Hawaiian pizza, of course, and egg salad from a hospital vending machine in Azerbaijan.”
Those little details are served by a (once again) fundamentally sound story that puts our characters in real danger before getting them out in both intellectually and emotionally satisfying ways.
When the exhibit for neighborhood 12358W is revealed, some of the demons can’t help but notice that the humans from the neighborhood resemble their new friends, including “Trent” who gave such great advice about giving Brant books to torture him.
Michael arrives just then to rescue them but they are out of options. So Jason rises to the occasion and does what he does best: throws a Molotov cocktail. The diversion works and the crew is soon in front of the portal again where they suddenly have to confront a real life trolley problem of their own.
Michael didn’t get enough pins. Tahani, Jason, and Chidi are tossed through the portal leaving Michael and Eleanor as the only ones left and one pin between them.
“Hey guess what. I just solved the Trolley problem,” Michael says as Shawn and the demons begin to arrive.
The answer is self sacrifice. Michael pushes Eleanor through the portal and is left behind to face the consequences of his aiding and abetting humans.
“Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” leaves us in the same exact position as last week’s episode did: not knowing what will come next. Presumably the humans and Janet will be in front of the Judge. But who is the Judge and what does he look like? Michael will face some sort of punishment at the hands of his demon coworkers. But what does that look like?
It’s a treat to get to watch a show that can have moments like the animatronic Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason in a hellish Museum of Human Mystery. It’s also a treat to have sincerely no idea what the next animatronic main character moment will be.
Somehow a show with a limited budget, cast, and episode count has created a thrilling sense of “what will happen next” along with the unspoken assurance that whatever it is: it will be funny.