This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 3 Episode 9
Welp. That was fun!
The Good Place loves to break itself. In some sense it’s not that dissimilar to the philosophical practices it likes to examine. A philosopher or any kind of social scientist comes up with an idea, radical or intuitive, and then throws it to the roving horde of peer review to be torn apart and broken down.
I imagine the Good Place writers’ room operates under a similar principle: come up with an idea and then let the group explode it in a firework of narrative and thematic confetti. Break it to perfect pieces. Rarely has The Good Place broken itself to a more satisfying effect than it does in this midseason finale, “Janet(s).”
I’m a Janet! You’re a Janet! He’s a Janet! She’s a Janet! We’re all Janets! Janet has taken Michael and the humans into her void for safety. As an unintended side effect, however, all of the humans are now…Janets.
“This is going to be tricky. How do we even tell them apart?” Michael asks before one Janet excitedly points at its own boobs.
“OK, this one is Jason,” he concludes.
This is such an amazingly fun premise for an episode that in hindsight it’s almost surprising that the show hasn’t trotted it out sooner. Granted, I wouldn’t have thought of it but I’m also not an entire room of comedy writing geniuses.
Still, thank fork The Good Place decides to try out the Janet gambit when it does. For one, D’Arcy Carden was so, so, so ready for this. Janet is seemingly a static character, an impartial computer-like non-entity to help make the afterlife run smoother. But Carden has repeatedly found ways to elevate the role and find new little humanistic quirks and traits within Janet while still maintaining her logical presence.
“Janet(s)” finds both Janet and Carden at the absolute height of their powers. Shortly after the Janets reveal, Janet (I guess we can call her “Janet Prime” in this scenario) puts all of her doppelgängers in the humans’ traditional clothes so they can all be told apart. It’s not until you see the outfits on Janet that you fully appreciate just how committed the humans have been to their own looks. Through two stays on Earth and over 800 in the Bad Place, Eleanor has never lost her affinity for jeans and a pink sweatshirt, nor Chidi and sweater vests, Tahani and sundresses, and Jason and track jackets.
The multiple Janet reveal is naturally a rich comedic vein for The Good Place��to explore. It’s amazing to watch Carden essentially do impressions of all her co-stars. Her Jason is downright eerily accurate and somehow co-opts Manny Jacinto’s wide-eyed wonder. It also leads to ridiculous and ridiculously creative moments in which Eleanor Janet poses and Jason Janet and vice versa. “Hi Chidi, I’m Eleanor! I’m Arizona shrimp horny!” Jason Janet cries.
This being The Good Place, however, the creative breaking of the show helps augment the emotional truths of what the humans are going to as well. Frankly, it’s utterly insane that Eleanor and Chidi have undoubtedly the most important conversation of their lives while “wearing” Janet’s body. Eleanor pushes Chidi into a conversation about the one reality in which they were in love. This naturally causes Chidi to hold a literal philosophy lesson for the gathered Janets though the majority of the conversation takes place Janet face to Janet face.
It’s again a testament to Carden’s acting that this works so well. The episode ended about 30 minutes ago as I write this and as I try to remember the scenes of Chidi and Eleanor talking to each other as Janets, I can only see Chidi and Eleanor as themselves in my mind’s eye. That’s impressive acting…and writing and directing and editing and scoring and virtually everything else.
Not only do Chidi and Eleanor share this very important conversation as Janets, they share their first real kiss as human beings as Janets. Yes, Janet briefly kisses herself and yes, I’ll be in my bunk. What an emotional magic trick this all is! We’ve now seen Eleanor and Chidi have three first kisses. Once in a fake Good Place neighborhood when Eleanor lost her iguana, once in the judge’s chambers, and once in Janet’s void…as Janets. This is why The Good Place breaks itself. Not just to prove that the writers are smart (though they are) and not just for fun (though it is). The Good Place breaks itself because we get emotionally rewarding scenes like this…and we keep getting them, the same first kiss over and over in increasingly weird and beautiful ways.
Remarkably, the humans as Janets maneuver only takes up roughly half of this episode. The “B-story” is somehow just as compelling. In the same episode that contains D’Arcy Carden’s most improbable Emmy reel, we also just happen to find out that no human being has been selected to the Good Place for 521 years. Sorry Harriet Tubman!
Michael arrives to the accounting department with real Janet and demands to see the boss. Neutral Janet sets the meeting up and soon Neil (played by a towering Stephen Merchant) comes out to meet Michael with his “Existence’s Best Boss” coffee mug in hand.
Neil walks Michael through the scoring system. A real life action is arriving in the accounting office’s monitor. -1200 points for a destination wedding. After that arrives an “Undefined Action.” Richard of Texas has filed up an eggplant with nickels and hot sauce. It’s not a weird sex thing even though 90% of human behavior is weird sex things…and wouldn’t you know it, the eggplant turns out to be a weird sex thing too. Members of various departments (currency, food, weird sex things) determine what the point value should be, mark it down for posterity and then the score is double-checked by 3 billion accountants.
The system is impenetrable. There is no way that The Bad Place could have hacked it. The problem, as Michael comes to find, isn’t that the system has been hacked…it’s that the system sucks. Perfect life-leader Doug Forcett has racked up and astonishing 520,000 points. Unfortunately that’s not nearly enough to get into The Good Place. He hasn’t even a prayer.
That’s when Michael realizes, at Janet’s prodding, that it’s never been his role to figure this out. It’s his role to fix it. Janet pukes the humans out of her void (lol, this show) and Michael stages a birthday cake throwing distraction to get into a room at the accounting office where pneumatic tubes for mail lead to the Good Place or the Bad Place. He directs the humans to step into the tube for the Good Place and sends every one up.
They’re all in The Good Place now finally. Really. Fork. Shirt. Ash hole. Holy forking shirtbails.
NBC has largely treated The Good Place with care. Watching live tonight I even saw a little Golden Globe congratulatory ad! But this is still a network show and with that comes some necessary scheduling weirdness. After taking the last two weeks off, The Good Place fired off one episode and is now going away again. NBC hasn’t confirmed the schedule officially, but according to some sources The Good Place won’t arrive back until January 10 and then will air its finale two weeks later.
Frankly, that makes absolutely no sense. What kind of a hiatus is a hiatus that only has three episodes on the back half of it? If the show had to go into hiatus, however, it might as well have done it with an episode like this. “Janet(s)” is brilliant, exciting, and substantial. It also ends gives us a full month to prepare for what wonders we’ll see in The Good Place, itself. Given The Good Place’s skill in continually breaking itself, there’s no way it’s anything other than astonishing and fun.