Warning: major spoilers.
Welcome! Everything is great.
On Friday the 28th of September, the world becomes a slightly brighter place. The third series of endlessly inventive NBC sitcom The Good Place starts arriving weekly on Netflix in the UK. Mike Schur’s comedy is a masterclass in both ethics and the art of nimble plotting. The season one finale turned the entire show on its head, while the season two finale ended with another bold reinvention.
For anyone drunk on magnets or with only a Jason Mendoza-like grasp on what exactly happened last time around, here’s a refresher. Many, many spoilers ahead…
In season one, millennia-old Bad Place torture demon Michael (Ted Danson) cooked up a novel plan. Instead of using tried-and-tested techniques to give humans an afterlife of eternal anguish (hot pokers, ravenous pancakes, butthole spiders…), he was going to torture their minds. Michael’s very first Bad Place neighbourhood would take four humans, none of which had earned enough moral ‘points’ on Earth to gain entry to the Good Place, and use them to torture each other. It was a No Exit kind of deal, but the humans in question wouldn’t know they were in hell. Instead, they would believe that they were in the Good Place.
Two of them would even believe that they belonged there—moral philosophy professor Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) and socialite philanthropist Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil). The other two—Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto)—, knowing that they were more trash-bag than angel, would think they had been sent to paradise in a cosmic admin error and spend their whole afterlife desperate to avoid discovery.
In Michael’s ‘no torture too small’ vision, the humans were to have been driven slowly mad by niggling self-doubt and banal inconveniences. Between their own conflicting personalities (Tahani thinks she’s superior to everyone; Eleanor hates people who think they’re better than her. Chidi, paralysed by decisions and lies, is forced to lie when Eleanor confides in him that she doesn’t belong in the Good Place. Chatterbox Jason, who’s as dumb as a box of especially gormless hair, is forced to pretend that he’s a wise Tibetan monk who’s taken a lifelong vow of silence) and an abundance of frozen yoghurt, Michael thought the humans would be miserable.
They were miserable, each in their own way. Chidi was tortured for one, by the guilt of having ‘murdered’ the neighbourhood’s information matrix in human form, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), in order to stop her from calling a train to take Michael to his retirement/death (all a ploy). Chidi and Tahani were tortured by not falling instantly in love with the person they’d respectively been told was their universe-approved soulmate (Eleanor for Chidi, and the wise Tibetan monk/Floridian dirtbag-in-disguise for Tahani).
It was Eleanor though, who royally screwed things up for Michael by making a public confession that she was in the wrong place, exhibiting the kind of selfless honesty he never expected from her. After the confession, Eleanor was taken temporarily to the Medium Place, a zone created especially to deal with an admin snafu created when obnoxious 1980s lawyer and cokehead Mindy St Claire (Maribeth Monroe) died suddenly after donating her vast wealth to charity, before her points could be properly calculated.
As part of the ploy, Michael had one demon, Vicky, play the character of ‘Real Eleanor’, the counterpart whose place in heaven ‘Fake Eleanor’ had supposedly taken. In just one scenario in a long series of mental tortures, the gang was forced to select two members to go to the Bad Place forever, and two people to remain in (what they thought was) the Good Place. While they argued it out, Eleanor made a realisation. Holy motherforking shirtballs, they couldn’t go to the Bad Place. They were already there.
Michael’s plan hadn’t worked, crowed Eleanor, because he hadn’t expected the humans to bond or for their friendship to make them better people. Eleanor had learned moral philosophy from Chidi, and realised the errors of her selfish ways on Earth. Instead of torturing each other for eternity, the humans stuck by one another, and formed an unlikely attachment to each other and to not-a-robot Janet. After being rebooted multiple times, Janet even began to evolve emotions, leading her to create her very own human, the dumbest box of hair that ever existed – Derek (Jason Mantzoukas).
Peeved that his plan was foiled, Michael—under pressure from boss Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) to make this experiment work—wiped the humans’ memories and went back to the drawing board ready for take two. Before her memory was wiped though, Eleanor had left herself a note inside Janet’s mouth telling her to seek out Chidi. She did, eventually leading to the old gang getting back together and once again foiling Michael’s plan. Again. And again. And again.
Eight-hundred Groundhog Day attempts later, led by Vicky, Michael’s fellow demons mutinied and threatened to dob him in to Shawn, who would surely ‘retire’ him for the colossal screw-up, burning his essence on a thousand suns and so on, if he doesn’t step aside and let Vicky take over. Anxious to avoid that fate, Michael made a deal with the humans that he would only pretend to wipe their memories this time and instead collude with them against the other demons, keeping them abreast of torture plans etc and helping them get into the real Good Place. The humans agreed, but only if Michael would join them as a fellow student in Chidi’s ethics lessons. Team Cockroach was born.
Through friendship and ethics, and a fear of his own death, Michael began to develop a conscience. He started to feel fellowship with Janet, and refused to kill her/turn her forever into a marble when she started glitching due to her new emotions. When Shawn arrived to take the humans to the Bad Place, Michael plotted their escape, communicating his plan secretly to the group through coded messages. Later, he was forced to admit that he has no idea how to get the humans into the real Good Place and that their only hope would be to sneak through a portal in Bad Place headquarters and petition an omniscient judge.
With nothing to lose, that’s what Team Cockroach did. Disguised, with their Janet in the guise of an obnoxious Bad Place Janet, they snuck to the portal, narrowly evading capture. Michael betrayed his fellow demons and stole three of the lapel pins that, along with his own, would enable the humans to pass through the portal. He sent them through and remained behind to face the music, sacrificing himself for them as a result of his ethics lessons. Michael was captured by Shawn and a Bad Janet, who told him that she’s turned his Janet into a marble.
Through the portal, the humans were set a series of tests by omniscient judge Gen (Maya Rudolph). While admitting that their time together had improved them, ultimately Gen refused the humans entry to the Good Place on the basis that their moral scores at the time of their deaths were too low. Their moral improvement in the afterlife was too late.
At Bad Place headquarters, Michael was facing retirement when Shawn’s Bad Janet revealed herself to be Michael’s Good Place Janet still in disguise. Janet attacked Shawn and she and Michael escaped through the portal where they learn of Gen’s ruling. Ever the rule-tweaker, Michael made a radical proposal to Gen. At the time of their deaths, the humans’ scores weren’t high enough to go to the Good Place. What if those deaths were scratched, and—unbeknownst to them—the humans were sent back to Earth to try to up their scores. If they fail, then they end up in the Bad Place and nobody’s any the wiser. But if they suceed, then a point has been made about the perfectibility of human lives, and the afterlife’s whole points system will have to be reconsidered.
Reluctantly, Gen agreed, and the humans were returned to Earth with no memory of what they’d been through.
On Earth, her embarrassing demise tweaked into a near-death experience, Eleanor turned over a new leaf. No more selfishness, an ethical job, vegetarianism, honesty… It lasted a few months, but, trod down by the grind of being a good person, our girl soon reverted to form. Watching her progress from the afterlife, Michael once again broke the rules to pop down to earth and appear to Eleanor in the form of a friendly barkeep (giving Cheers fans shivers in the process). He prodded her to reconsider her ethical make-over, which led her to discover Chidi in an online ethics lecture. Inspired by his words, Eleanor quit everything and flew to Australia, knocked on the door of Chidi’s office and asked him to help her become a better person. So ends season two.
The Good Place season three starts on NBC on Thursday, September 27.