This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 3 Episode 6
“A Fractured Inheritance” puts itself in a position where it’s nearly impossible to fail. The factors in its favor are numerous. The episode breaks the Soul Squad up into the two most natural and comedically strong groups: Eleanor and Michael, and then everyone else. It has an enormous wealth of Arizona white trash in Nevada jokes to lean on. Both of its stories, Eleanor with her mother, and Tahani with her sister, carry the potential for tremendous emotional catharsis.
And should all that fail, it has a big dose of Andy Daly. There was no way that “A Fractured Inheritance” was not going to be a good episode o fThe Good Place. Still, it’s somehow even better than the sum of all of its already wonderful disparate parts. This is one of the best episodes of the season.
As promised in the coda of last week’s Jason-centric “The Ballad of Donkey Doug,” this week focuses on Eleanor tracking down her previously believed to be dead mother in Nevada and Tahani heading to Budapest to repair her relationship with her sister.
Eleanor and Michael arrive in the perfectly named Tarantula Springs, Nevada where Donna Shellstrop is living under the name Diana Tremaine (Eleanor’s fake ID name too!). She’s absconded to the desert to avoid paying $30,000 she bid for a date with Gene Simmons. She lives in the suburbs with a nice architect named Dave (who she met when she pulled a knife on him as he was about to condemn her favorite roadside bar “The Desert Rash”) and a stepdaughter that she wants to join the PTA to protect.
It doesn’t take long for Eleanor to lose her cool, which is understandable as she’s wearing a turtleneck in the Nevada desert. Watching television sometimes make me realize that I know nothing about the climate of the Western United States. I used to be astonished that Walter White wore heavy jackets all the time in Albuquerque before I visited the city myself and discovered that a jacket after sundown is plenty appropriate. But I digress.
When The Good Place first started, it had only two major stars to promote: Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. “Stars” might even be a relatively strong term for the level of television fame and acclaim that Bell and Danson have achieved. For as frequently as we all like to claim television as film’s cultural equal, there is still very much a divide between the concepts of “TV star” and “movie star.” It’s episodes like this, however, that make me wish there weren’t. Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are doing more than just fine but I’m starting to think we don’t all collectively appreciate them enough.
Danson continues to have a blast as Michael racks up new experiences on Earth. The sexy, stretched-out Alex Trebek, as Donna/Diana dubs him, has an absolute blast talking shop with Dave, the fellow architect. “I could never do that to my friend, Dave. It goes against the Architect’s code,” when Eleanor asks Michael to sleep with her mother to free Dave from whatever grift she is surely running. Notably, Michael doesn’t answer whether he has a penis or not…and the floorpans he devises for Dave’s upcoming opulent Hooters are missing bathrooms. Both Michael and Danson are clearly happy to be playing a paternal role in this episode and the happiness is contagious.
Bell, however, is the real standout. When she is given weighty, emotional material like this she becomes a god damned empathy-emitting neutron star. Eleanor becomes convinced that her mother is running yet another grift on the unfailingly normal Dave. Surely, she is going to steal all of his money somehow and run away with Gene Simmons or whatever other glam rock star $30k buys you. As the episode progresses though it becomes clear that Eleanor isn’t pursuing this grift angle so doggedly because she really believes it…she’s doing so because she needs it to be real. She needs her mother to be pulling another fast one because the alternative is too horrible to confront: that her mother really might have created a happy life for herself absent Eleanor.
Michael, who still has much to learn about human beings and our selfish, fragile little psyches asks Eleanor why she isn’t happy that her mother appears to have turned over a new life. That’s what they came here to do after all and it looks like the work has already been done for them.
“Because I wanted that mom!” Eleanor yells back, tears brimming in her eyes.
This is honestly devastating. Just devastating. Eleanor and her human companions are rather broad creations as necessitated by the half-hour comedy structure they exist in. But bless these actors, particularly Bell, for finding the heartbreaking realness inside the Arizona Woman and Florida Man jokey artifice. Two weeks ago Eleanor made the incredibly selfless decision to convince her friends to create a Soul Squad to rescue the souls of their loved ones even if their own couldn’t be saved. Now we’re finding out just how hard that is. Donna’s soul is seemingly saved but it will never the damage that the old version of Donna Shellstrop inflicted on her daughter.
Ultimately Eleanor is able to feel some level of pride for her mother, convincing her to spend the money she’s been habitually hoarding on her new stepdaughter and to live her newly basic life to the fullest.
“No, mom. Ya’ basic. And that’s OK,” Eleanor says.
To the episode’s credit, when Michael and Eleanor prepare to put Nevada in their rearview, Eleanor makes it clear that it won’t be easy for her to forgive and forget. She is still painfully aware of the hurt that her mother has inflicted upon her and all the ways her life would be different if she had just gotten to grow up with “Basic Donna.” She’s never even told a romantic partner that she’s loved them before.
“Well actually…” Michael says and then reveals that in one of his many reboot attempts in The Bad Place, Eleanor told Chidi she loved him and he said it back. More importantly: they both meant it.
Eleanor has lived more than 800 lives and in precisely one of those lives she did the thing that has always been most important to her and the thing she never thought she could do. Sometimes self-actualization only comes in 1 out of 800 chances…that’s still better than 0 out of 800 chances.
As satisfying as the Danson and Bell team up is, the B-Team is equally as effective in “A Fractured Inheritance.” Jameela Jamil, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, and D’Arcy Carden were all relative unknowns when The Good Place began. Now three years later they are seasoned TV vets but there is still an added level of charm when an episode’s storyline hinges on them without the aid of Danson or Bell. Here they all acquit themselves beyond beautifully.
Tahani, Jason, Chidi, and Janet are at an art gallery in Budapest so that Tahani can apologize to her sister, Kamilah, and begin the process of her getting to the Good Place. Naturally this does not go well. We’re talking Tahani taking an axe to an omelet station bad. Chidi, Janet, and Jason all get their satisfying comedic moments this time around. Jason not-wrongly points out that all of Kamilah’s art looks like boobs of various sizes and has fun guessing how much each piece costs with Janet. Chidi attempts to intervene with Kamilah on Tahani’s behalf but quickly falls under Kamilah’s cult of personality.
“All your fears are now mine.”
The catharsis here belongs to Tahani though and satisfyingly it dovetails perfectly in theme and poignance with Eleanor’s storyline. As Tahani and Chidi are handcuffed following her axe-wielding stunt, Tahani gives a closer look to the art that Jason previously diagnosed as boobies. It’s…them. It’s all the Al-Jamil’s. The little circles are Tahani and Kamilah and the big circles keeping them apart are their parents. This art installation, “A Fractured Inheritance,” was designed by Kamilah consciously or unconsciously to reconnect with her sister.
Tahani throws her arms around her sister.
“I’m going to hug you because I love you. I’m sorry our parents were such wankers. And I understand that you can’t accept my apology because that would quench your creative thirst. They forced us to compete and that competition has fueled your art for decades. It’s so awful and I’m so sorry,” Tahani says.
“They were wankers weren’t they?” Kamilah says.
“The absolute biggest wankers on Earth.”
Tahani later says that she wishes Kamilah had named her art installation “Burying the Hatchet,” but it’s beyond clear that Kamilah has made the right choice with “A Fractured Inheritance.” That’s what this episode and really this whole season of The Good Place is about. It’s hard enough to be a good person in a vacuum. It’s even harder once you consider all the bullshit from previous generations that the average human being can’t help but inherit.
At least Tahani, Eleanor, and the rest of the Soul Squad are on the right track.