This The Good Place review contains spoilers
The Good Place Season 2 Episodes 1 and 2
Shortly after The Good Place season 1 ended and collectively blew our minds, I wrote a tribute to the sheer ballsiness of its twist.
In it I compared the quality and transformative nature of the twist at the end of the finale* to that of The Sixth Sense. To me, the reveal that the good place wasn’t really the good place after all but rather the very bad place was for peak TV twists what The Sixth Sense’s Bruce Willis reveal was for late ‘90s film renaissance twists
*And overused the term “paradigm shift” if the commenters of said piece were to be believed. But those were all conveniently wiped out when Den of Geek switched to Facebook commenting. MWA HA HA!
Here’s the thing about the two though – The Sixth Sense ended with its big paradigm shift (damn it, now I’m saying it again) while The Good Place is continuing on.
How can The Good Place continue to not only surprise and delight us now that all the cards are on the table.
Pretty easily as it turns out.
The best and worst aspect of the two-part season 2 premiere is that it is almost a continuation of the twist ending of season 1. To go back to The Sixth Sense for a moment – rememberl how after the big reveal in M. Night Shyamalan’s film, the viewer is treated to a brief montage of all the moments we misinterpreted? Oh, Dr. Malcolm Crowe’s wife wasn’t just upset with him – she didn’t see him!
That montage is the byproduct of somewhat lazy story writing from the pre-Wikipedia age. Shyamalan clearly didn’t trust his audience to be able to crowdsource all the various easter eggs on their own so he just showed them. At the same time, however, it’s a completely fair thing to do at the end of some sort of magic trick. It’s “the prestige” and a little gift to the audience.
Well, “Everything Is Great” is like that expository Sixth Sense montage writ-large. It’s the full prestige. Only this time it’s as satisfying narratively as it is logically.
The Good Place audience is blessed with Wikipedia and Netflix unlike those poor ’90s souls so we were able to suss out all the clues in hindsight on our own but it’s still immensely satisfying to watch everything start all over again with a new perspective.
“Everything Is Great” picks up almost literally where “Michael’s Gambit” leaves off. Eleanor, Jason, Tahani and Chidi are beginning their cycle of torment in the fake good place yet again. Michael is going to make sure it works this time – he needs it to work or else his boss Shawn will “retire” him to an eternity of creative torture.
The best choice that this premiere makes is to focus on Michael as a lead character. Not just because Ted Danson is fully unleashed as a marvelous, duplicitous asshole but because his character currently feels all the pressure. Back in season 1, we thought the stakes were “when will they find out Eleanor doesn’t belong here?” Now they’re more like “is Michael going to be able to actually pull this off?”
It’s weirdly charming to see Danson to be his winsome self, yet in a whole new context of actual evil. He’s delighted at the subtle changes he’s made to the neighborhood this time around. “All the coffee is from those little pods. Diabolical!” Then when Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani all arrive Michael/Danson is just absolutely on another level.
The “well-meaning but incompetent goof who ruins everything” is a TV archetype as old as time itself. That’s partially why we bought into the artifice of season 1 so completely. Based on our cultural knowledge – it was totally valid that the lead architect in heaven could make his charge’s afterlives hellish through sheer bumbling incompetence.
Watching these new (but incredibly familiar) circumstances unfold, it’s almost like a violation of a deep pop cultural norm. Have Homer Simpson and Barney Fife been agents of Satan this whole time? When Michael presents Eleanor with her “Best Person” sash it is so easily interpreted as his naiveté by her but it’s clear to us now that this is a carefully calibrated attempt at torture. Same as when Jason is gifted a “soul mate” who will mutely follow him around for eternity or when he casually removes the second floor of Tahani’s already tiny house because such a charitable person doesn’t need such extravagance.
And Chidi…oh poor Chidi. I would almost rather watch a full season of Chidi facing the penis flattener or butthole spiders than witness the absolute pure torture that Michael brings down upon him. First Michael presents Chidi with the most horrifying thing in the world to him: a choice. He is given two choices for a potential soulmate as the “algorithm” says that these two options are close enough.
Chidi, bless him, actually kind of makes a choice for the first time in his life! He is on the verge of declaring his feelings (very reservedly of course) for the perfectly compatible Angelique when Michael shows up and announces that the algorithm actually had picked a soulmate for Chidi – the other girl. Jeez, Michael. That’s intense.
Chidi and the rest of the damned souls, however, remain surprisingly tertiary characters for the majority of “Everything Is Great.” They each get their moment and in the case of Tahani – even get a moment that doesn’t belong to her when she drunkenly crashes Eleanor’s “Best Person” speech. The focus still never moves far from Michael. Tahani’s big moment of drunken intervention is not the climax of the episode because it’s humbling or embarrassing for her – it’s the climax because it’s when Michael realizes that something is seriously wrong here.
There’s no way Michael can pull off the chaos sequence tomorrow based on Tahani’s meltdown because Tahani actually believes she belongs here. And Eleanor’s new soulmate with his frequent gym-going ways isn’t helping.
Of course, things aren’t going right this time around and Michael doesn’t find out why until the end. Eleanor successfully “finds Chidi” as the note she wrote to herself and stashed away with Janet commands. That arguably leads to a series of events that craters this whole new experiment. Chidi recognizes the page from a book he knows and realizes he must know Eleanor and then as demonic actor after actor storms into Eleanor’s place, she realizes the truth once again. This is hell.
Michael is almost relieved to discover the note as it’s a sign to him that this wasn’t all on him again. The note was a fly in the ointment and if he gets rid of that, this next attempt will finally all be ok. I’m not so sure, however. Watching this premiere, knowing what we know, Michael’s evil ways feel more transparent that I ever would have though possible. Hawaiian pizza? Come on, dude.
The Good Place’s hasty resolution and subsequent second “resetting” to its cliffhanger from last year is very bold and very Good Place-y. Where things stand right now, I’m not entirely sure it was the right decision, however. The restart at the end of “Everything Is Great” makes it feel like more of a coda to the end of season 1 than it does the beginning of season 2.
Still, iff there are few shows on television that have done more to earn their audiences trust than The Good Place. The Good Place earns our trust with an excellent, if overly pat premiere. I can’t wait for it to violate that trust in the best way possible yet again.