This The Good Place review contains spoilers
The Good Place Season 2 Episode 4
The first two weeks (which constitute three episodes) of The Good Place season 2 were incredible in both concept and execution.
Week one saw Michael’s grand “re-set” come to a spectacular end with Eleanor meeting back up with Chidi and realizing they all lived in a false reality almost immediately. Then week two detailed Michael’s efforts to get version 3 started…that eventually dovetailed into versions 4, 5, 6 and all the way to 802.
“Team Cockroach” begins right at the end of attempt 802 with Michael coming to a stark realization. He can’t pull this off. And the price for failing once again will be worse than eternal damnation, so he must team up with the gross, cockroach-like humans to fool Vicki into thinking that Eleanor and company…are, well fooled.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least slightly disappointed that The Good Place’s wild narrative experimentation was seemingly coming to an end. Last week’s “Dance Dance Resolution” was so profoundly interesting and funny that I almost forgot I was watching a network sitcom. Why couldn’t every week be an existential clam chowder-party like this?
The answer of course, is that if every week of The Good Place were to detail attempts 802 through 1604 and so on, the boldness of it all would certainly begin to wear off almost immediately. This is a show that cares about its characters and its characters’ souls. The narrative has to be going somewhere, whether that means them reaching ultimate paradise of realizing the Bad Place isn’t so bad after all*.
*I mean…clam chowder is really good! I know a river of it would look gross but I’d rather swim in that river than Styx.
So “Team Cockroach” sets up what appears to be “the new normal (TM NBC)” for the show going forward…or at least for another few weeks or so.
I’m sad that the party has ended but at least the new normal comes along with some promise of its own.
“Team Cockroach” is about as close to a bottle episode that The Good Place can attempt. Almost the entirety of it takes place in Eleanor’s clown-decorated home as she, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani negotiate with Michael as to where they go now.
Michael’s offer is a simple one: we team up. Soon Vicki will be resetting the neighborhood once again and Michael will not reset the humans’ memories so they can all pretend to be tortured for the rest of eternity while in their spare time they can just mess around on iPads or whatever.
“Let’s not get caught up on who lied to who and which one created an alternate reality to inflict eternal misery on who,” Michael says to begin his offer.
That’s seemingly as good an offer as any of them are ever going to get. They’ve been through this 802 times and this is the first time they’ve ever been offered anything different. Still, each person has their own set of reservations.
Jason’s reservations are obviously the simplest and most easily mollified. He seems pretty content with the news that he can just hang out in his Bud Hole for eternity. He also seemingly understands that the Jaguars aren’t winning the Super Bowl anytime soon so why bother caring about anything else anyway.*
*Michael Schur’s previous show Parks and Recreation, predicted the eventual Chicago Cubs World Series win. Something tells me lightning won’t strike twice with the Jags.
Chidi, however, has the deceptively brilliant idea to just ask some questions. The longest attempt was 11 months. The shortest attempt was 8 seconds (Michael sat on the reboot button). The Medium Place and Mindy St. Clair is indeed real.
Michael merely answering these questions in a believable, logical way seems to be enough for Chidi and he acquiesces to the new plan.
“Team Cockroach” doesn’t have the flair of “Dance Dance Resolution,” but its smaller-scale bottle episode-style exploration of its characters is effective in its own right. It’s satisfying that Jason is convinced by a promise of comfort and Chidi is convinced by having his questions answered. Eleanor and Tahani need a bit more, however.
Tahani’s biggest struggle is her own ego. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, she just cannot accept that she belongs in the Bad Place. So Michael brings out a special piece of information he had been holding for a rainy day – the details of Tahani’s death.
Tahani’s far more famous sister, Kamillah, is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland just 6 months after her debut album was released. In response, Tahani flies to the city that LeBron built to confront her sister at the induction ceremony. After Kamillah is predictably nasty to her, Tahani pulls down a golden statue of her sister that happens to land directly on top of her, killing her instantly.
There’s no symbolism quite like being killed by an actual golden statue of your most successful sibling to humble oneself, so Tahani decides to join in on Michael’s plan.
Still, Eleanor needs even more. What Eleanor requires from Michael to be able to continue on with this plan is “Team Cockroach’s” niftiest narrative trick. It’s almost as impressive as the 802 Good Place ruse attempts last week.
Television has always appreciated a good antihero – particularly ones who are able to believe deep down are decent people. Eleanor has been a real asshole in her life. Still, there’s something about her that’s always been appealing. Being portrayed by Kristen Bell certainly helps but there is still something more to Eleanor beyond that.
After “Team Cockroach” it seems clearer: there is something deep within Eleanor that is crying out for self-improvement. Of course there is a surface-level Eleanor that is content just to be content. She very nearly absconds to the Medium Place with a train full of cocaine to live out the rest of eternity with Mindy St. Clair.
Chidi, bless him, intervenes and Eleanor has second thoughts. She then asks Michael if there were ever a reboot attempt in which Chidi didn’t try to help her. Michael says no.
“Pesky little nerd. Always stuck with you and helped you overcome your problems.”
So Eleanor realizes what she needs to continue on with Michael’s deal. Michael had previously promised that he could try to get them to the real Good Place. Eleanor does him one better. They’re all going to study with Chidi and try to become better people to get to the Good Place.
“The Bad Place is about to be outsmarted by a cowardly traitor, four dumb dumbs and a robot,” she says.
To which Janet cheerily responds “I’m not a robot.”
Michael accepts Team Cockroach’s terms and those four dumb dumbs, a cowardly traitor, and a robot being their attempt to convince Vicki that they’re all being secretly tortured. Shouldn’t be too hard with how much Vicki likes to sing.
“Team Cockroach” puts in some seriously great character work and in the process rescues what could have been a boring “return to the new normal” reset episode. Not only that but one of the show’s main themes now seems clearer than ever before: improvement. Eleanor believes in it so I believe in it too. I won’t be surprised if in the end, there is no good place or no bad place – just an eternal void where formerly living beings continually try to get better.