This The Good Place review contains spoilers
The Good Place Season 2 Episode 9
Welcome back, you dinks!
The Good Place has returned just in time for everything to go to shit. The first “half” of season 2 was excellent by almost any metric. The next entry into the Michael Schurniverse* came in at 3 in our countdown of the best 2017 TV comedies, which was good enough to take the Best New Comedy crown (remember part of season 1 actually aired in 2017 if you can wrap your mind around that).
*Yes, I choose to believe that The Office, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and The Good Place all occupy the same continuity.
The Good Place has become the modest critical and cultural phenomenon it was always meant to be. Based on “Leap to Faith,” that designation won’t go away anytime soon.
“Leap to Faith” is good enough to assuage and relax my gentle frustration with some of the first half’s post “Dance Dance Resolution” offerings. Part of me was worried that the show was going to settle into philosophy lessons with Chidi for the rest of eternity. That’s a perfectly fine use of all our time as The Good Place is always winsome and funny – I just wanted to feel more like the ground could be pulled out from under us at any moment.
“Leap to Faith” doesn’t have any ground-pulling moments like the season 1 finale or “Dance Dance Resolution” (how could it?) but its dedication to yet another potential zag in its storytelling show why this is one of TV’s best shows.
The first zag comes when Michael’s visit from Shawn turns out to be a “happy” one. Marc Evan Jackson’s gloriously deadpan line reads operate as a twist this time. Shawn’s “shut the door, have a seat.” wasn’t for bad news. It’s for good news…he thinks.
Shawn is “jubilant like a school girl” as he tells Michael that his idea for this neighborhood has vastly exceeded all of their expectations. The demons in the Bad Place used to think of Michael as “The Thomas Edison of incompetence” or “that dick.” Then Michael just had to go ahead and devise the most ingenious torture scenario in the history of hell.
Michael is granted a pin that designates him as senior Bad Place staff and the neighborhood will be shut down while Eleanor and the rest are sent to the Bad Place for their brains to be examined and for Jason’s testicles to be used for beer pong.
Michael and Shawn call Eleanor, Tahani, Jason, and Chidi into Michael’s office to deliver the “news” that they’re in the Bad Place. The humans are potentially more confused than they were the first time they heard the news.
This sets up the central conceit of “Leap to Faith” rather brilliantly. The Good Place is so good at putting its beginner-level philosophy lessons into comedic action. The four humans immediately try to plot their next move and understandably they all have different ideas – being the volatile, creative species that they are.
Chidi proposes that they hatch a deal with Shawn and trade their information about the many reboots for a “reduced sentence. Logical. Tahani proposes that they hop a train to go to Mindy St. Claire in the Medium Place. Also logical. Jason proposes that they do whatever Tahani says. Perhaps the most logical thing he’s ever said.
Eleanor, however, proposes something completely illogical: trust Michael. She argues that she really believes that Michael cares about them and he will find a way to get them out of it if they just go along with whatever he says. To this Jason responds “I never thought I’d be the one to say this but this has gone far enough. I think we should go to the cops.”
In hindsight the episode “The Trolley Problem” set up the perfect formula for the ideal episode in this particular “era” of The Good Place. The humans are introduced to a philosophical concept, in this case, Kierkegaard’s leap of faith (which is more accurately translated as a “leap to faith,” Chidi says to everyone’s annoyance), and then circumstances conspire to make them to put that philosophy into action. I really was silly for fearing an eternity of episodes just like that. And now that the setting looks like it could potentially be changing, I’ll undoubtedly miss it.
The humans decide to go with Eleanor’s plan. That immediately becomes easier said than done when Michael and Shawn entreat them to an art form that was invented by the Bad Place: the comedy roast.
Of course Michael was never going to betray the main characters’ and his new friends. Plot-wise it’s a dead end for the show to just have its characters’ defeated and sent to hell for eternal torment. Also structurally it goes against the forming of characters into communities that every Schur show values. Michael is too sympathetic now. He’s on Team Cockroach! He’s learning philosophy! He’s Ted Danson!
Still, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t entertain the notion that the show could actually turn Michael back to bad for the tiniest fraction of a second. That is how truly brutal Michael’s roast is.
“Jason might not be the smartest guy in the world but he is the dumbest guy in the world, And he’s always going on about Derek Bortles.”
“Tahani Al-Jamil. Elegance, grace, sophistication. But enough about your sister.”
“Eleanor Shellstrop. One of us is a manipulative demon who makes everyone miserable. And the other is me.”
And if all that weren’t enough, he responds to a snippy comment from Eleanor by revealing to all the demons on hand that she loves Chidi and he doesn’t love her back. Holy shit, Michael.
As the humans retire to the after-party* for the demons to celebrate their work, Eleanor is forced to confront the possibility for the first time that maybe logic has failed her. Maybe this “leap to faith” was for naught. Then Jason complains about how Michael can’t even get the name of his favorite quarterback right. It’s Blake Bortles Not Derek…..Derek……Derek. Derek!
*DJ’ed by Bad Janet playing “She Hates Me” by Puddle of Mudd and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” on a loop.
Blake (Derek) Bortles makes Eleanor realize that Michael was speaking to them in code. The humans are supposed to summon Derek for help since Janet is incapacitated, drunk off magnets. Then other comments about Tahani leaving parties and Chidi being thrown under trains helps them formulate a plan to hide under the train until the demons have accepted that they’ve run off to the Medium Place.
For a show partially about logic lessons, this isn’t a very logical or inventive plan. But it works. And the important thing is that it vindicates Eleanor’s trust in Michael. Michael’s blubbering reaction to seeing his human buddies safe and sound is one of the legitimately touching and great moments of the season thus far. It doesn’t matter that Eleanor only worked out 4 or 5 of the over 1200 clues that Michael left them: they’re safe.
The best part of “Leap to Faith” is that its conclusion suggests something new may be on the horizon yet again. The demons have all abandoned the neighborhood and will be looking for the humans at Mindy St. Clair’s. There’s only one place left for our characters to find refuge: the Good Place. The real Good Place.
Even more impressively, in the process Eleanor and her friends prove that they may just be worthy of the Good Place after all. Philosophy and logic have made them all better people. Still logic alone got Chidi to the Bad Place. Eleanor proves that sometimes being a decent human being means taking a leap of or with or to faith as well.