This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 3 Episode 11
Philosophy is a science. We like to think of philosophers as artists and aristocrats, who sit around their Victorian mansions sipping tea or mainlining opium until they come up with a world-changing quote like “man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
But in reality, there’s quite a bit more work that goes into it than that…or at least there should be. I learned this the hard way when I took my first (and only) Philosophy class in college. I arrive to PHI 120 my freshman year pretty sure I was gonna sleep walk through this thing. I had watched Lost and therefore I knew all the great philosophers: Lock, Hume, Rousseau, Hurley.
The class wasn’t quite what I expected though. This, you see, was a Logic class. And Logic sucks. Instead oh hitting that opium pipe and coming up with the next great quote, what we did was closer to algebra. We learned about false dichotomies, ad hominem arguments, and all other manner of logical and rhetorical strategies and then graphed them into little equations, learning how to prove and disprove different concepts. If, therefore; if, therefore; if, therefore…
What I was experiencing was the real grunt work of philosophy – the nuts and bolts. Sure, a sensitive, observant mind is important…and a lot of times philosophical theory jives with our own intuitions and experiences and therefore seems indistinguishable from art. It just needs a lot of testing and experimenting to get there.
In “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife,” The Good Place revels in the scientific nature of philosophy. Another experiment is posed, this time with stricter controls.
Michael and the humans arrive at the Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes where Jason is sad to learn that there are no pancakes.
“If you eat anything in this place, you’ll explode,” Michael says.
“I KNEW it was an IHOP,” Jason responds.
Michael has arrived at the IHOP to parlay with The Judge. He knows the truth about the points system now – that it’s horribly antiquated and can’t possibly factor in the complexities of modern human life on Earth. Thanks to Jason he succeeds in convincing her that something is up.
This has been a bit of a rough season for Jason, both for the character within the reality of the show and the continued development of Manny Jacinto: Perfectly-Cut, Sunken Cheeked Meme Machine. Back on Earth, the doofus meter on Jason was cranked just a little too high. Since the gang’s re-arrival in the afterlife, however, the show has made great use of Jason and Jacinto’s talents. The doofus level is well-calibrated and he is even savant-like when he needs to be, like now.
After Michael (understandably) fails to explain the complexity of modern life to the Judge, Jason comes in with his own touching story of life on Earth. There used to be this guy in Jason’s dance crew, Big Noodle. Big Noodle always showed up late to rehearsal. One day the swamp below Jason’s house flooded so he stayed at Big Noodle’s house. Turns out Big Noodle had to work three jobs to take care of four grandparents all living in the same bed like Willy Wonka. Jason never yelled at Big Noodle again. Big Noodle definitely didn’t have time to research what tomatoes to buy. And even if he did, possession of a non-fried vegetable is a felony in Jacksonville.
Judge Gen is then convinced to take a trip to Earth where she makes some startling discoveries. Earth is hot and crowded but also somehow cold and lonely. The only place she liked was Hawaii though she never left the resort.
“Also, I guess I’m black and they do NOT like black ladies down there,” she concludes.
Here we’re seeing the scientific method in action. While it’s only a split second for us (thanks Jeremy Bearimy!), the Jugde has spent years on Earth, observing. Making observations or conducting background research is a crucial part of the scientific method. It’s science, not an art.
That science continues, thanks to an actual philosopher. It’s fitting that this episode is partially named after Chidi. Not only is Chidi probably the funniest sounding name to accompany “Sees the Time-Knife” phonetically, but the crux of the episode is really his whole creation.
The Judge gathers Michael, the humans, and Shawn (who is in the middle of torturing William Shakespeare by describing the plot of the Entourage movie) into IHOP to discuss their options. The three celestial begins, The Judge, Shawn, and Michael don’t really know what to do about this dilemma Michael has brought to their attention. Yes, there is compelling evidence but what do they do with that? They’re supernatural creatures. They’ve never really had to confront evidence of any kind as everything is just generally orderly and perfect all the time. They interact with the universe on a 1:1 level.
Humans, however, and Chidi more specifically, know exactly what to do with evidence and observations: conduct an experiment, dummies.
Michael has technically been conducting an experiment this whole time. He got the Judge to agree to let Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason have new lives on Earth so they could discover if they could become better people again. That experiment was always flawed from the get-go though because no variables changed other than them not dying…and then eventually Michael stubbornly intervening and getting them all back together.
Chidi, following his unfortunate encounter with trillions of realities folding onto each other like sheets of thin steel (the time-knife!), proposes that they simply try out Michael’s experiment again. No, not the Earth experiment – the NEIGHBORHOOD experiment. Michael, back when he was an evil douche, accidentally created the perfect little Skinner box to experience sheer humanity without all the complications of life on Earth. The humans in Michael’s neighborhood didn’t have to worry about the ethics of buying a tomato, they simply had to live and be humans.
It’s a compelling enough theory to get Michael, The Judge, and Shawn onboard. Just like that they’re on the next train to the Medium Place where they ask Mindy St. Clair if they can use her backyard. Derek is still there and Janet is horrified to discover that her “son boyfriend” is more refined that she remembered: obsessed with martinis and Edgar Allan Poe.
The setting is selected and the rules are set. Michael designs the neighborhood but Shawn picks the humans. They must be at similar point levels to Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason a.k.a. not too, too evil. There are no reboots but the neighborhood can be adjusted. Michael gets five minutes of prep time for each new subject that arrives. Janet can supply the neighborhood with some Derek-esque NPCs, or as the Judge calls them “Janet Babies.” Oh, and Eleanor gets her clown house back.
Just like the penultimate episode of the season before it, “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife” promises that the season finale will operate as a sort of season premiere for the already-confirmed The Good Place Season 4. The first of the new neighborhood residents arrive, a journalist named John (but presumably not OUR journalist named John). Michael crumbles under the stress of holding Eleanor and the other’s fates in his hands and it looks like Eleanor is going to have to be the one to lead this experiment.
There’s going to come a time when viewers accuse The Good Place of repeating itself. It’s the fate that befalls all god long running serialized stories. I suspect that with this Season 3 penultimate episode, some viewers are preparing to sound the alarm. The show seems to be suggesting that it’s going to follow a season(ish) long experiment with another one. The concern of repetition is understandable. But I have my faith in The Good Place because it, like all philosophers, has faith in the scientific method.
I’m down to watch season after season of new moral experiments until they get it right and get us all into heaven. That’s what philosophers do.