This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 4 Episode 8
They call it The Divine Comedy for a reason.
Actually it used to not even be divine at all. When Dante Alighieri’s classic work was published in 1472 (more than a century after the Italian statesman’s death) it was called La Comedic di Dante Alighieri. Why? I don’t know, ask a classical historian. But if Google is to be believed (and it usually is), it was because there were simply only two accepted genres of storytelling in the era. So when Dante finished his work, he had a choice between tragedy and comedy. He chose comedy.
I can’t help but think of Dante’s choice when assessing another, more modern, divine comedy. Like Dante before it, The Good Place has chosen comedy as a vehicle for a story that takes humanity deep into the depths of hell and soaring into the heights of heaven. Unlike Dante’s work, The Good Place takes it comedy designation a little more literally, at least in modern context. None of Inferno, Purgatorio, nor Paradiso contain a moment in which a demon botches an “I am rubber, you are glue” joke.” But as we see in The Good Place season 4 episode 8, this show might have a deeper understanding of Dante’s capital “C” Comedy than previously thought.
“No one is beyond rehabilitation,” Michael says during a climactic moment in the trial to redeem humanity. “What that number can’t tell you is who he could have become tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow” has become something of a buzzword for Michael in this experiment. He told Bad Janet something similar back in The Good Place season 4’s sixth episode, saying “What matters isn’t if people are good or bad. What matters is if they’re trying to be better today than they were yesterday. You asked me where my hope comes from. That’s your answer.”
Michael’s point is that on a long enough timeline and with enough support, there is no end to humanity’s capacity for moral improvement. We used to bash one another’s head in rocks and now we hold doors open. That’s what Michael has always seen in us, and it’s something that none of his celestial counterparts have been able to until now.
“The Funeral to End All Funerals” presents two storylines that slowly synthesize into one. In the first, Eleanor, Janet, Jason, Tahani, and a frozen Chidi give themselves the funerals they never got to experience on Earth. It’s charming to watch Tahani play dead on a Gulstream jet, and for Jason to have a Jacksonville Jaguars-themed pool party. The unconscious Chidi even comes close to stealing the episodes just by being retrieved from the toilet (the most comfortable chair according to Janet) and being paraded around, “Weekend at Chidi’s” style.
“How’d he get so jacked?” Jason complains as they try to pick Chidi up.
“When he was 14 someone told him that exercise alleviates anxiety so he started doing pushups and basically never stopped,” Eleanor responds.
But, for as illuminating and touching as it is to watch the crew engage in the funeral to end all funerals, the episode’s real progress is happening behind those inter dimensional gates. It’s kind of strange just how much more appealing it is to witness angels and demons discuss the improvement of humanity in cold, statistical detail than it is to witness the humans actually improving themselves. For as effective as The Good Place season 4 has been in moments, it hasn’t truly felt like itself until Simone, Chidi, John, and Brent’s “score changes” are presented onscreen.
Seeing Simone: +12%, Chidi: +26%, John: +44%, and Brent: -1% is a delightful throwback to the beginning of this loony world in which the powers that be thought they could grade the human experience with some cold, hard math. It’s also just naturally satisfying to see the fruits of Team Cockroach’s labor.
Of course, Brent’s score proves to be a real sticking point, before the Judge digs deeper into the data to see that his line graph shot way up with 10 second to go in the experiment. That’s where Michael’s tomorrow gambit comes into play. As long as there’s a tomorrow there’s a chance for improvement. The Judge is ultimately moved, acknowledges the flaws inherent to their points system, and announces her intentions to delete all of Earth and start over under a more equitable set up.
Wait what. What was that bit about destroying Earth?
It’s here where Dante’s Comedy The Good Place’s comedy collide. Despite featuring the phrase “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” Dante branded his epic narrative poem a comedy in part because of its happy ending, in which Dante feels the love that powers the very wheel of the universe.
“Here vigour fail’d the tow’ring fantasy:
But yet the will roll’d onward, like a wheel
In even motion, by the Love impell’d,
That moves the sun in heav’n and all the stars.”
The Good Place, of course, does not have an ending yet. What it does have, however, is a tomorrow. And as Michael so eloquently states, nothing is lost as long as there’s a tomorrow. Team Cockroach gets their next day thanks to some quick thinking from an unlikely source. As Judge Gen retrieves the garage door opener-esque button to end the world from her purse, Bad Janet steps up with an army of other Janets (including Disco Janet!) to help Janet Prime conceal the button in their many voids.
Bad Janet was moved by the book Michael gave her on humanity, though granted she did read it on the toilet. “I don’t have to poop, I choose to,” she says. What is it with Janets and their toilet fascination?
Either way, Bad Janet buys the gang just enough time for Eleanor to communicate what could be her final plan to Michael. Wake Chidi up. He’s unknowingly trained his whole life for this moment in which he can pitch an omniscient judge on the proper sway to judge the morality of the human race.
Michael responds with a reasonable concern.
“You want to take the most indecisive man ever born, stuff him full of 800 versions of himself and then him he has like what, 45 minutes to save humanity? You think that will go well?” he asks.
It will because it has to. Both The Good Place and The Divine Comedy are about mere mortals standing in awe of the mechanism of creation and divinity (among many other things of course). But among those ethereal mechanisms stand human protagonists as witnesses. And that changes everything.
Humanity, team cockroach if you please, is a fly in the ointment, a glitch in The Matrix. Divinity and cosmic perfection are nice but as we’ve seen time and time again on The Good Place, they are largely static. Their resistance to change is so complete that this is the first time in the universe’s history that they’ve ever even considered doing so.
Will the presence of Chidi in place of Dante be enough to save humanity? Who knows? But as long as there’s a tomorrow there’s a chance.