This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 4 Episode 7
It all had to fall apart at some point on The Good Place season 4. The show’s dedication to its own experiment and all the hard work therein was admirable. Eleanor, Michael, Janet, Tahani, and Jason have put in the work both onscreen and off to make their project humans better.
The commitment to the experimentation, however, ironically made The Good Place season 4 lose a lot of its experimental whimsy. In a fit of satisfying, if unspectacular parallel structure this season has largely resembled the show’s first seaon, which has been effective but has led to a decreased opportunity for meaningful curveballs (unless you’re all about Spy Bad Janet).
The moment was always going to come where The Good Place season 4 pleasantly imploded to usher in a new storytelling paradigm. With The Good Place season 4 episode 7 “Help is Other People,” that momet is finally here.
Fittingly, episode 7 marks the halfway point of The Good Place’s final season. It picks up on the last day of the new neighborhood experiment, with a helpful clock in the sky to count down the remaining hours. Eleanor and company have pitched this to the residents as a celebration marking the end of their first year in paradise. Presumably Simone, Brent, and John haven’t been informed about Jeremy Bearimy yet.
“Just after midnight, to reset my processing power, I will be violently eating my Janet babies,” Janet cheerfully coos to mark the end of the neighborhood.
Simone, however, uses the year-end occasion to finally present the findings of an experiment she’s been running herself. Simone can’t help but notice that something seems seriously forked up in this afterlife. Eleanor and Michael seem to spend an inordinate amount of attention on her, Chidi, Brent, John, and Tahani, and all but ignore the rest of the NPCs. Then there’s also the matter that clearly some among them don’t belong in The Good Place *cough* Brent Norwalk *cough*.
“Maybe this isn’t the good place. Maybe this is a test. It feels like an experiment. We’re being examined in a close environment,” Simone says, correctly.
Perhaps it was a mistake for the Judge to allow a brilliant psychologist to partake in this experiment because Simone is pretty much dead-on on all accounts. Her suspicions are even confirmed when John can’t help but spill his hot goss about Jianyu/Jason and Brent runs his mouth about The Best Place.
Team Cockroach, previously content to let the clock run down, now knows that they have to try something drastic. Thankfully Michael a.k.a. The Magnificent Dr. Presto has a plan.
It’s remarkable just how keen a sense of urgency “Help Is Other People” is able to muster out of thin air. It certainly helps that there is a literal clock in the sky counting down to doomsday but the desperation among Eleanor and her crew is vibrantly real. The end of things almost always offers up an opportunity for added poignancy and insight in storytelling. Witness how the encroaching end of their world forces Chidi to reveal the truth about soulmates to Simone.
“Eleanor told me some other stuff that I really want to be true,” he tells her before Simone tears all our hearts apart.
The approaching end also gives Eleanor, Michael, Jason, Janet, and Tahani a reason to think big where previous episodes have presented their skills only incrementally. Jason, proving once again that the wizened soul of Jianyu does lie somewhere dormant within himself, presents the truth as a football metaphor.
When Michael expresses concern over his extreme plan of casting Brent into a fiery pit to see if Chidi, Simone, and/or John will help him, Jason tells him that conservatism in playcylling never works.
“In football, trying to run out the clock never works. It’s called prevent defense and you don’t take any chances, you just try to hang on to the lead. But prevent defense just prevents you from winning. You gotta try something,” Jason says.
“Jason, that was…coherent.” Tahani remarks.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”
Jason is right. Desperate times call for desperate measures. And there’s perhaps no more desperate measure than asking someone to save Brent Norwalk’s life.
To The Good Place’s credit, it’s never shied away from how much Brent sucks. While all the human experiments could have been presented as equally loathsome, it just makes sense that one of them would be more actively annoying than the rest. Brent has that dubious distinction. That’s why it has to be him in that pit. Asking someone to save Chidi or Simone would be too easy.
Ultimately, Simone and John very fairly decide that risking their lives to save Brent isn’t worth it and they ride off to parts unknown in Brent’s Escalade. That leaves Professor Chidi the Hero to spring into action to save Brent…which almost immediately puts Chidi in the hole alongside him.
With just minutes to go, Eleanor and Michael have to break out their final Hail Mary.
In addition to just being structurally interesting, season 4’s close ties to season 1 have allowed this final season to present old moments from new perspectives. And none of them are more satisfying than when Chidi works out that they’re in The Bad Place, giving Eleanor and Michael the opportunity to trot out an UNPRECEDENTED DOUBLE EVIL LAUGH SCENARIO.
Now that’s the good stuff.
“Crazy twist, huh? It’s like something out of a Chip Driver novel,” Brent remarks.
With only a minute left to go, Chidi gets to work telling Brent what they probably should have told him in the first place.
“You are a bad person,” Chidi tells him.
In that moment, Brent reveals more humanity than in any of the six episodes previously. Actor Ben Koldyke does marvelous work portraying Brent’s sheer panic at the notion that he could be a bad person. “No I’m not,” he yells as he begins pacing like a wounded, cornered animal. That moment speaks volumes about Brent and his life.
Remember what Michael learned about humanity last year – about how our environment and the complex nature of the human experience makes it impossible to be a good person? We know just enough about Brent’s story to see how that could have come to pass. It seems hard to imagine that anyone could have been born being such an irredeemable ass. Brent is in some way just as big a victim as anyone else, albeit a victim who lived a very comfortable life and annoyed everyone else half to death.
Still, in the episode’s most thrilling and perhaps touching moment, Brent seems to come to some sort of realization, even if it’s cut just short by the clock running down.
“Whatever happens next. I need to say this to you. I am so, so sor…”
Then everything freezes. Experiment over. Bring out the margaritas.
The Good Place is its best self when it’s following its flights of fancy and writing itself into a corner as it does so here. It seems impossible to conceive of a happy ending with everything having gone to shirt so badly. But when The Good Place blows itself up (Jason: “If there’s one thing I know in this world, it’s that you can blow up the same thing twice”) it always does so with purpose. That purpose will remain to be seen in the back half of this final season.
For now, however, we can rest assured that Brent Norwalk almost…almost said sorry. It’s to the show’s credit that it’s able to make the simplest of victories feel like a miracle…even if we’ll all still be damned to hell.