Thursday, September 22, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Eleanor Spends the Day with Tahani as Chidi Searches for a Hobby in 'Tahani Al-Jamil'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 1.03 "Tahani Al-Jamil"

Chidi begins formally teaching Eleanor about ethics, and lesson No. 1 is: be kind to your neighbor. Michael and Janet help Chidi find a new, exciting hobby. 

Chidi has agreed to teach Eleanor how to be a good person. The official lessons have begun. He has a chalkboard and a lesson plan all ready. This is what he does. He loves being an academic. He knows how to teach this material. And yet, an ethics class really isn't the best way to drive story on a half-hour comedy. Yes, the show gets in a solid joke about Plato dying and leaving Aristotle in charge of ethics. That moment shows just how clever and funny the show can be while still addressing these big philosophies. But the narrative of the show needs to be about Eleanor's actual actions in the good place. She has seen the negative effect her actions can have on this neighborhood. It won't take much for things to spin wildly out of control again. Chidi has agreed to help her but she has to be willing to change. She has to want to be a good person. Not because it's being demanded of her but because she sincerely wants to change for the better in this world.

Eleanor doesn't like to be told what to do. She has been that way for a very long time. So she can't suddenly change now. The flashbacks of the episode highlight just how horrible she is capable of being just to make a point. She doesn't like it when other people think they are better than her. She accepts who she is and doesn't like the judgment of others. So, she sabotages herself and her relationships. It's a pattern of hers. When a boyfriend wants to stop going to a coffee shop because the owner is a sexist pervert, it's because he thinks it's the right thing to do. Eleanor doesn't care. She likes the place because it's so close to her apartment. That's all that matters to her. As long as things work out for her, she'll be pretty okay with just about anything. She doesn't want her life dictated by doing the right thing because it's what society says she should do. She wants to have a choice. She doesn't want to be labeled a bad person just because she routes for a football team that has two players with DUIs. She wants to eat at Chick-Fil-A. Actions will not dissuade her from supporting these things. So, it's clear just how much work she has to do in the good place in order to stay.

It's very difficult for Eleanor. She's in a world filled with people who are better than her. The citizens of this neighborhood have spent their lifetimes doing so many wonderful things for Earth. Eleanor just wants to latch onto the idea that not all of them are perfect. Everyone only has fantastic things to say about Tahani. She is so generous and caring to the rest of the neighborhood. She's gone above and beyond to make everyone feel welcome in this place. That's not her job. Michael and Janet are responsible for making sure everyone has a smooth transition into this world and have the tools to be happy for the rest of eternity. And yet, it's just in Tahani's nature to care for other people. It's clear she's trying to prove her goodness to the rest of the world. It's something that Eleanor doesn't believe at all. She sees a phony person trying to masquerade as good. She doesn't care that Tahani raised over 60 billion dollars for various charities around the world. That's what got Tahani into the good place. Instead, Eleanor just wants to find her secret. The one thing that will prove she's not perfect.

Eleanor's actions don't care widespread chaos throughout the good place this week. Instead the ramifications of her actions are limited to a plant that Tahani gives her at the top of the episode. It's a welcome to the neighborhood gift. As soon as Eleanor starts bad mouthing Tahani or stealing her diary, the plant starts wilting away. It's a pretty cool visual to see this plant die right in front of our eyes. Eleanor just lets it happen because she believes Tahani is the one who mysteriously sent the note last week. She knows that someone knows the truth about her. She's freaking out a little bit. She doesn't want anything to jeopardize her future in the good place. Her secret may be exposed though. She latches onto the idea that it's Tahani. And yet, it's not. Instead, Tahani is trying to be perfect just to cover up her problems with Jianyu. She just hasn't been able to connect with him yet. He's still refusing to talk to her. They share a house together but it's filled completely with silence. She's in the good place. She's suppose to be happy with her soulmate. But she's not. She doesn't feel like this is her utopia yet. Eleanor can understand that and comforts her. It's a selfless action. One that proves that she's not as bad or mean-spirited as she original seems. Perhaps now, the two of them can have a genuine friendship.

Of course, there still is the mystery of who sent that note. It's not Tahani. Eleanor shares the note with Chidi to prove that she is right. He has an alternate theory. He suggests that no one knows her secret. The note appeared simply as another manifestation of the good place. This world is still so foreign to so many of the characters and the audience. The rules are still being written. So, it could be a possibility that Eleanor made this note herself because she doesn't believe she belongs here. It's a more psychological approach to this mystery. It's enough to get her to drop her guard and actually be there for Tahani. And yet, that's not the case at all. Someone in the neighborhood really does know her secret. That person is Jianyu. After not talking for three episodes, he finally does so at the end here. He exposes Eleanor's fraud. But the twist is that he is one too. It's a startling moment. It's weird to see him drop his guard as a Buddhist monk and just freak out like everyone else about these new surroundings. It certainly wasn't what Eleanor was expecting to hear. She may not be the only mistake in this neighborhood. But that could create an even more tense future for her since she is now going to be working as Michael's assistant to help find the flaw in the neighborhood. That's a promising tease for the next episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Tahani Al-Jamil" was written by Aisha Muharrar and directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller.
  • Chidi's main function on the show is to provide lessons to Eleanor to make her a good person. And yet, it's great that he can be a comedic character without her as well. Instead of finding a new hobby, he just wants to make the novel he has worked on his entire life actually work. Right now, it's 3,600 pages of nothingness according to Michael.
  • It was delightful to see Janet embrace different personalities. It was a fun recurring joke that showed that she can be just as playful and funny as the rest of the characters even though she's not human. Chidi's reaction to her flirty side was particularly funny.
  • Jianyu not belonging in the good place could be a huge reason why he doesn't want to connect with Tahani. She may not be as welcoming to this major news as Chidi was for Eleanor. And yet, how did he find out about Eleanor?
  • One of these days Eleanor is going to fall off that ledge after forgetting that there aren't stairs there. It makes for a great visual in every episode so far. But it really is an accident waiting to happen.
  • Eleanor: "Who died and left Aristotle in charge of ethics?" Chidi: "Plato."
  • Chidi: "I have a thing called directional insanity. I once got lost on an escalator."
  • Michael about Chidi's novel: "I literally learned what headaches were because that thing gave me a headache."