This The Good Place review contains spoilers
The Good Place Season 2 Episode 12
The expectation that The Good Place set back in the season one finale is that almost nothing we were seeing could be trusted.
You know you’ve got an excellent episode of television on your hands when every subsequent episode must be viewed through the new context that episode provides. And that’s what The Good Place provided us with the season one finale, “Michael’s Gambit.”
That established a new paradigm for the show in which everything we’re seeing could be the work of omniscient demons or angels just outright fucking with our protagonists.
That’s why I don’t blame our heroes in “The Burrito” for looking for theological loopholes wherever they can find them. Unfortunately for them, however, those loopholes just aren’t there.
Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani all arrive at the judge’s quarters and find only a sparse, bank vault-looking room with a burrito sitting on a mahogany desk. The group debates whether the burrito is actually the entity that will be judging the,.
“I’m just saying we’ve seen weirder things than an all-knowing burrito,” Eleanor points out.
But the burrito isn’t the judge. Something almost as random and satisfying is: Maya Rudolph!
“Hi, I’m the judge. That’s a burrito,” she says.
Maya Rudolph is Gen, short for “hydrogen” as that was the only element in the universe when she sprouted into existence. Rudolph continues her 2017-18 trend of having the absolute time of her life in whatever roles she chooses to pick up. It’s hard to imagine whether she had more fun inhabiting an all-knowing judge with an appetite for burritos or a hormone monster but regardless her joy is infectious each time.
Gen is a pleasant enough judge. She seems level-headed, fair, and organized. Well, as organized as she can be given her eternal circumstances. She’s supposed to keep an eye on all the human beings on Earth. That usually leads to her binging Ken Burns’ Vietnam though.
“I mean, I’m immortal but that thing is loooooong,” she says before adding as an afterthought “Anywho, your case is denied. Please leave through that portal.”
Yes, the Judge almost immediately rejects the humans as their resumes just do not stack up. But Eleanor convinces her to hear their case anyway. If they all pass the judge’s tests, they’re through to the Good Place. If one of them fails, they’re sent back to the Bad Place.
The best part of “The Burrito” is how it inverts the expectations that the show has built up since “Michael’s Gambit.” The characters fully expect that they could be being fucked with all the time, and the viewers follow suit. What’s the angle here? In season one, Michael proved to be a demon and pulled the ground out from under us. What is Gen’s angle? Is she on our side? Are we all destined for the Good Place anyway and this is just the final test we have to pass?
The answer, at least the answer we have for now, is a resounding no. Gen is a nice enough eternal being. She’s smart enough to not want to start watching Bloodline because Kyle Chandler can never be anything but Coach Taylor. But she’s a judge, first and foremost. She’s not on our characters’ sides. There is no trick to this. No grand lesson to be learned. There are just tests to be passed and if they don’t pass them, they’ll go back to hell.
This show has continuously and refreshingly reestablished the beyond life and death stakes of its premise time and time again since season two began and yet I still find myself surprised each time. Visually-speaking this is a bright show. The color palette is bright almost to the point of cartoonish. Even the demons in hell mostly look like New Yorker cartoon versions of businessmen. And the meanest things they do to one another (on screen at least) is fart and call people “fat dinks.”
Still, in episodes like this, The Good Place reminds us that this is all “real.” Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason can’t talk themselves out of this or find common ground with the judge so that she’ll understand that no human deserves eternal torment. No, in the reality of this show apparently some humans do deserve eternal torment. And its been our characters jobs to put in the work to get better to avoid that fate.
Based on the results of their various tests in “The Burrito,” they still have a lot of work to do.
Jason fails his test…obviously. The judge guides Jason to a room where he is to play Madden – only he cannot play as the Jaguars. He must play as the dreaded Tennessee Titans. The test was supposed to measure Jason’s self control and he has none. He even told the judge to shut up so he could play the game.
Tahani is directed to walk down a hallway and open a red door. The catch is that all the doors she passes will have people from her life talking about how they really feel about her. She does an admirable job and ignores some truly juicy rooms.
“Quvenzhane Wallis and Stephen Hawking In the same room discussing me? I guess they must have made up,” she remarks.
She cannot, however, avoid the final room. The room in which her parents are discussing what they really think of her. Spoiler alert: it’s not good. Tahani’s parents are still singularly obsessed with her sister. Ultimately the experience is helpful for her though. She comes to realize that there was nothing she could have ever done to win her parents approval anyway. That’s cathartic certainly and it seems like it should be the kind of self-improvement that a judge would reward, but no. This is not that lesson. Tahani fails because rules are rules.
Chidi takes 82 minutes to choose between two hats. He fails.
Only Eleanor passes her test. And it’s not because she’s special, or because she’s smarter. She passes because she put the philosophical work in and she has a natural and deep understanding of her friends.
At first it seems as though Chidi and Eleanor are actually destined for the Good Place. The judge presents them with a decision. Head to the Good Place now and leave their friends behind, or all head to the Bad Place together. Eleanor and Chidi debate the topic extensively, holding glowing orbs that will serve as their ticket to heaven. It’s when Chidi unexpectedly comes to a decisive decision, that it would technically be moral to leave their friends behind, that Eleanor realizes she’s being tested.
She tells the Judge that Chidi would never be this decisive and that there is a difference between what’s technically morally correct and what’s right. This is a fake Chidi. She’s right and Eleanor gains real passage to the Good Place.
Still, rules are rules. They all agreed to go together or not at all. And the Judge sticks to those rules. Again, this is not a situation where “close enough” or “we all learned a nice lesson today” counts. “The Burrito” sticks to its rules. Touchingly, Eleanor lies to her friends and says she failed her test too so that no one will feel bad.
“Aright. Off to eternal damnation!” Gen says. Then Michael arrives.
The Michael portion of “The Burrito” isn’t nearly as thrilling or complex as the human portion. It does, however, have its unexpected delights.
For starters, how on Earth do I keep falling for the most obvious ruses? Of course Bad Janet was really Good Janet! That is the simplest, most direct way out of this jam for Michael.
Shawn and “Bad Janet” taunt Michael for a bit and then lead him to his final punishment. Retirement is too good for Michael. It would only make him a martyr and Shawn can never let the other demons know what Michael did.
Michael is instead to be placed within a locked room full of New Yorker magazines for eternity.
“I’ll never read those,” Michael says.
“Of course you won’t. But they’ll just keep coming,” Shawn responds.
Good Janet then chooses to intervene and she and Michael head off to the judge’s quarters. Still, if this is to be the end of Michael and Shawn’s interactions, Michael did finally get to reveal to Shawn that there were 802 iterations of the neighborhood.
Michael tells Shawn fully expected the humans to torture one another but each and every time they ended up helping one another instead.
“They were bad people,” Michael says. “This was not supposed to be possible.”
One could forgive Michael for thinking the worst of these four hell-bound humans. We can be insufferable little shits and he hand-selected these four just because they had personality almost guaranteed to drive one another crazy.
But there is no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to human beings. That’s why this back half of The Good Place Season 2 has been so special. The cosmic forces that be – the angels, the demons, the judges, the Janets – all expect human beings to fit into neatly prescribed good and bad boxes based a simple collection of behaviors and habits. Eleanor and company have proven time and time again that those old ways of thinking about humanity are not going fly much longer.
Gen would have known that if she had just watched Bloodline.