By the time the season two finale of The Good Place came around, I thought I had the show figured out, and was prepared to be pleased but not surprised by the time the episode ended. Much to my surprise, the show managed to stump me, and most of the audience, yet again. And while this latest twist was a little disappointing at first, it may end up being more meaningful in the long run.
"Somewhere Else" starts with Michael (Ted Danson) and Janet pleading with the judge (guest star Maya Rudolph) to not send Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason to the Bad Place, given how much they have improved since their deaths. After all, wouldn't that prove the whole Good/Bad Place system was flawed and needed an upheaval? Michael and the judge come to a compromise that would put each of the characters in their own Medium Places until things could be sorted out, which seemed like the most-obvious route for the series to take.
But nope, Eleanor (Kristen Bell) rejects that deal, because she and Chidi finally confessed their love for each other with make-outs (hot diggity dog!), plus she doesn't want to be separated from her friends. So, Michael proposes something else... something risky, experimental, and possibly dangerous.
They're all brought back to life.
In yet another twist I didn't see coming, Eleanor wakes up on the street right before she's about to be hit by a bunch of shopping carts. Only instead of getting killed, she's saved by a mysterious figure (with white hair). This near-death experience inspires Eleanor to become a better person... starting with her Facebook status, because how else are you going to make it official? The episode then follows Eleanor over the course of a year, as she tries, and ultimately fails, to change her ways.
Season two put a lot of emphasis on Michael as he struggled to understand the concepts of morality, philosophy, and humanity. This put Eleanor on the sidelines a lot, which was fine but also a little sad, because Bell is capable of so much more as an actress. This episode put Eleanor front-and-center, and Bell sold every scene she was in. The challenge facing Eleanor - and presumably all of her Bad Place compatriots - is to see whether she would become a better person without the dangling carrot of earning eternal bliss. Can she change her life without getting a reward for it? At first, it seems like she can. She becomes a Clean Energy Crusader, helping out the same guy who she berated right before her death. She cleans up her home. She even becomes a vegetarian!
But then, being good starts becoming inconvenient. People stop listening to her clean energy crusades. She hates the taste of vegetables. She confesses a horrible secret to a friend, only to be kicked out of their apartment as a result. And when she leaves a note on a parked, empty car she hit, she's served with a lawsuit for "whiplash" (this felt especially significant, as it's totally something previous Eleanor would have done). Eventually, Eleanor gives up, going back to her old job and ditching her responsibilities to go see a Taylor Swift reggae cover band. Which, admittedly, sounds kind of awesome.
Meanwhile, we keep cutting back to Michael and Janet, who are observing Eleanor's progress, along with their other three charges. Once Eleanor's path starts growing dark, Michael decides to step in as (eek!) a wise bartender. Let's just say my husband, who's currently binge-watching Cheers, was very happy during this scene. Michael gives Eleanor a codephrase - "What do we owe each other?", a reference to T.M. Scanlon) -- which eventually leads her to a three-hour video of Chidi talking about moral philosophy and what it means to be good. She's entranced by his words, and probably his cheekbones, to the point where she travels to his university in Australia so the two of them can meet. And we end with Eleanor on a path both new and well-trodden.
At first, having all the characters returned to the "real world" felt kind of lacklustre (keep in mind, they're most-certainly still dead, since Chidi is speaking English instead of his native French). I felt like the show was travelling backwards, taking away all the progress the characters had made. Plus, it didn't have nearly the same jaw-dropping impact that the season one finale had, when it was revealed that they were all in the Bad Place -- though, let's be honest, nothing could've topped that.
But then, upon reflection, I realised how insightful a decision it was. Eleanor and her friends have spent the past two years learning how to be better people, but only under dire circumstances that they couldn't escape from. In the real world, there are plenty of excuses to avoid doing the right thing: laziness, peer pressure, just for the hell of it. The life preservers have been taken away, and they're going to either sink or swim under the weight of their own decisions That said, I'm curious whether Michael visiting Eleanor would qualify as interference, since the judge clearly wants to see her become a better person on her own.
Oh who cares, we've got Danson as an immortal bartender. All is right in the afterworld.
- Jason and Janet are back together! Well, kind of. I'm curious what the hell Jason is up to in his own corner of the side-universe. He's probably off throwing empty spray paint cans at flamingos again.
- Tahani and Eleanor's relationship is one of the most beautiful things on the show, turning what started as a typical female rivalry into a deep mutual understanding and love. Plus, Eleanor calling Tahani "hot stuff" is just about the greatest thing ever.
- Can I have some of the judge's guacamole dip please? I'm curious what emotion she snuck into that one. I'm hoping eagerness.
- I cracked up when Chidi's video turned out to be three hours long. I know it was supposed to demonstrate Eleanor's fascination with him and moral philosophy, but it also showed how Chidi himself has a long way to go before he's earned his Good Place, too. If it took him an hour to pick out a fedora, of course his YouTube series would last three hours.
- Thanks for spoiling the end of Kangaroo Jack, Eleanor. Now I'm never going to want to watch it.