This review contains spoilers.
4.2 A Girl From Arizona Part 2
Now that’s more like it.
Through three seasons, The Good Place has aired two instalments on one night for its premieres. This includes clear two-parters like season two’s Everything Is Great! and season 3’s Everything Is Bonzer! Even season one had a seemingly unrelated double feature of Everything is Fine! and Flying.
Given that track record and the “Part 1” and “Part 2” after season 4’s first two episodes, it seems clear that Michael Schur and company envisioned A Girl From Arizona as one instalment. It’s unclear why NBC opted not to air it all one one night. Given the conclusive arc of A Girl from Arizona Part 2, however, the network definitely should have.
A Girl from Arizona Part Two is emotionally cathartic and tells a complete story in ways that the “real” Good Place season four premiere simply could not. This half hour is the real story of the titular girl from Arizona and it brilliantly and deftly argues why a girl from Arizona needs to be the one to save us all.
The Good Place has never had a saviour complex. This is a show with a deep, profound respect for not just humanity, but for every human. Much like the grand philosophers before them (in this case High School Musical), The Good Place knows that “we’re all in this together.” Still, this experiment requires someone to run it and it just so happens that the experiment in question will determine the ultimate fate of our species. Congratulations, Eleanor Shellstrop, you’re the messiah now.
If last week set up the stakes of this experiment through the Bad Place’s treachery, this week establishes our heroes’ full plan of attack. With Chidi officially part of the new crew, there is only one person on the emoji shrug side of Eleanor’s helpful soul board: Brent Norwalk.
Brent is perhaps the most loathsome person in the history of The Good Place, which is no small feat given the show includes actual demons. His brief screen time in part one was hard to handle, now it’s outright excruciating in part two. Eleanor’s first plan to chasten Brent is to run the game show “That Was Your Life” so Brent could realise he doesn’t really belong here. It doesn’t go well. Hearing that some woman saved literally every duck on Earth (and the horses!) does little to discourage Brent. He takes the interview couch to discuss his bona fides.
“I grew up in Chicago – the suburbs obviously,” he begins before bragging about bringing his father’s company from $90 million to $94 million in 18 years and heading off in a gas-guzzling Escalade to golf.
Still, Eleanor isn’t discouraged. All she has to do is run the tried and true “Eleanor Gambit.” Perrier rains from the sky as a giant Princeton Tiger mascot terrorises the neighborhood. Surely Brent must realize that his presence has made something amiss. Indeed Brent does take note of the spectacle but draws a different conclusion from Eleanor.
“I don’t belong here,” he says, but then adds, “Obviously there’s a place better than here. I belong in the Best Place.”
Hooboy. It’s as thorough and hilarious a defeat that this new project has suffered yet. Yes, even more than the inclusion of a mind-wiped Chidi and Simone. None of the tried and true methods are going to work with this new crowd and Eleanor finds herself with the entire fate of humanity in her hands, no blueprint to work off of, and an increasingly pessimistic crew. That’s when A Girl From Arizona Part Two really shines.
Some of the best moments in The Good Place history belong to Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. They are both excellent actors, inexorably tied to TV history through their previous stellar work. But beyond that, they also have a unique chemistry.
At first glance, it seems that their relationship would be one of teacher/student what with Bell’s wide-eyed enthusiasm and Danson’s perfect white hair. In reality, however, their interactions work so well because Michael and Eleanor are equals. They respect each other. But it’s more than that even: they are in awe of each other. Eleanor is amazed by this demon-turned-good, and Michael is fascinated by her, perhaps the most human human being he’s ever met.
“I’m not meant for this! I’m not the saviour of the universe. I’m just a girl from Arizona,” Eleanor tells Michael as their latest Brent attempt fails.
Then Michael says, in so many words, that it’s because she’s just a girl from Arizona that she is the right person to save these people. Michael spent years concocting the perfect torture device for humanity. Then Eleanor beat it in three months. He tried again and Eleanor beat him 800 more times.
“Human beings, it turns out, are weird,” he says. “And I will never truly understand what it’s like to be one.”
That’s why Eleanor has to be the weird human at the center leading this. And that’s why Michael faked his panic attack, which Eleanor correctly surmises because there’s nothing that Michael can get past her anymore.
A lot of heady, impressive dramas like to say they’re about the “human condition,” as if that means anything. But once again, The Good Place has summed up that condition as succinctly as anything else. They’re just fucking weird, man. They’re so, so weird. Filled with love and contradictions and curiosity and useless trivia.
This is a show positively bursting with appreciation for humanity in all its weirdness. It’s why a moment like Janet’s breakup with Jason can work so well. It’s devastating enough that she won’t have time for him anymore, but it becomes even worse when she has to be the one to reveal to him that the Jaguars cut Blake Bortles. What kind of creature could care for something called “Blake Bortles” if not a human being? Unfortunately, we are unlikely to ever find out how Jason feels about his eventual replacement, Gardner Minshew.
And more importantly: what kind of creature could give up their love for the greater good like when Eleanor finally introduces Chidi too Simone? Eleanor’s mournful look at Chidi when he says he’s getting a stomach ache upon finding out about soulmates is some of the series’ finest acting thus far.
In the end, Eleanor comes up with the right game plan for Brent because she’s the only one who can. She and Michael tell Brent that there is indeed a Best Place and he’s on the watchlist for it. Now all he has to do is mind his p’s and q’s as he is assessed further. Brent is opening doors for people and saying please and thank you in no time. When Michael points out that Brent is only doing good for a perceived reward, Eleanor says that’s fine – that’s how she started out.
Sometimes the only plan of action is to fake it to you make it. It’s the kind of cognitive behavioural technique that Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani have come to excel at. Do good, be good. With this true conclusion to the premiere now over, and the season fully ready to start, its both thrilling and heartbreaking that we have only 11 more installments to see the fruits of their labour.