Thursday, September 29, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Jianyu Compromises Eleanor's Safety in the Neighborhood in 'Jason Mendoza'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 1.04 "Jason Mendoza"

Eleanor faces her toughest test yet in her attempt to remain in hiding. Michael enlists Tahani to help a fellow neighbor fulfill her true purpose.

The reveal that Jianyu doesn't belong in the good place either was a strong twist at the end of last week's episode. It officially confirmed that there was more broken in this neighborhood than just Eleanor. Her being the only bad person in this place has made for a captivating main narrative and strong character arc for her. But revealing that the rest of the world isn't as perfect as it initially seems is just as crucial to make The Good Place a strong ensemble. It's startling to watch Jianyu become Jason Mendoza, a drug-dealing amateur DJ from Florida. It's a wildly different character from the silent monk he has been for the first three episodes. But it's a transition that Manny Jacinto has a lot of fun in playing. This is the first episode of the series where the spotlight is taken off of Eleanor a little bit. "Jason Mendoza" focuses on its title character and how he may be an even bigger complication to Eleanor's quest to earn her place in the neighborhood.

Eleanor wants to stay in the good place. She has really been trying to listen to Chidi's teachings and act like a better person to the people around her. She's made some progress. Not a whole lot but enough to say that things aren't completely hopeless with her. Meanwhile, Jason has just been hiding out as a silent Buddhist monk. It's a cover identity he was given when he first arrived thanks to his meeting with Michael. He just went along with it. However, he's tired of pretending to be someone else. He did help Michael when he was crippled with self doubt about the neighborhood. But that was nothing special. He just did what someone did for him once to comfort him and make him feel better. The neighborhood is starting to become the perfect oasis that it was always destined to be. Michael believes all of the problems are finally over with. His first time being an architect is no longer a failure. That's just because Eleanor has been behaving. But with Jason wanting to come out as who he truly is, it could really send this neighborhood into a dangerous spiral.

Eleanor is forced into the position of telling someone that they shouldn't be who they are. That is never good advice. And yet, it's simply what she must do in order to stay in the good place. She doesn't want to be exposed as a fraud. Right now, Jason is threatening all of that because of his carefree nature. He enjoys the perks of this life and doesn't believe he needs to change. He thinks he can show the world who he truly is and not have to face any kind of consequences. Exposure would lead to Michael realizing something is seriously wrong with this neighborhood. He would have to take a closer look at everything that has been going on. That's a risk Eleanor just can't take right now. So, she sets out to silence Jason at every possible turn. That includes her doing bad things just to keep her secret. She destroys a cake and opens a sinkhole in the middle of the neighborhood. That's a huge complication that affects everyone in the good place. One citizen is stuck hanging onto the edge not knowing what would happen to him if he fell all the way through. Eleanor did it to protect herself. Is that a selfish action? It could be perceived as such. The show really gets into the complications of this situation. Eleanor is working to be a better person. But she does this bad action because of the immediate threat to her secret. That shows that she's still a selfish person who only cares about herself.

It's even more poignant when the audience sees what Jason's life was like on Earth. This is the first episode of the season where the flashbacks don't feature Eleanor. It's a welcome change of pace. Yes, Eleanor's journey of self-discovery is the most important story of the season. But the rest of the ensemble needs to be fleshed out as well. Right now, Eleanor and Chidi are protecting Jason in the good place. They know what the consequences will be if he tries to come out as his true self. Jason hasn't accepted that. He still wants to live a carefree life doing what he's always been doing. On Earth, he was an amateur at a lot of things but didn't have a whole lot of actual talent. He made money by selling fake drugs to college students. So, it's clear right away that he doesn't belong in this place. He was every bit as selfish and bad as Eleanor was on Earth. But the story also focuses on the time where he had to pretend to be someone. He didn't have the skills to be a DJ but he had the right look to help someone out of a jam. It's the biggest opportunity that he has ever been given. He doesn't care that he isn't good though. He wants to be his own person and not someone else. The world collectively agrees that he's bad and punishes him for it. That doesn't crush his spirit or his dreams though. Even after being booed off the stage and sued for breach of contract, he still wants to become a professional DJ. That's an infectious quality but it highlights how it may be even more difficult to get him to change.

Caught in the middle of all of this is Chidi and Tahani. They are the soul mates who didn't get what they were expecting in the afterlife. Chidi loves being a professor. But he's been forced to help a woman who got to the good place by mistake. He has agreed to do it but it has been an arduous process. Eleanor is very appreciative of the work he has done for her. It's hard for her to take the lessons seriously. She still wants to believe that the great philosophers of the world are referring to masturbation all the time. They aren't and she still struggles to see that. But she does care about Chidi. He's a good person in a bad situation. She may call him a nerd but he's at least trying to help. Eleanor is changing thanks to him. She knows he's the only reason she'll get to stay in this place. Meanwhile, Jason couldn't care any less. He doesn't think he needs to change. Nor does he think he should try to bond with Tahani. He's much more interested in Janet despite her not being human. Tahani is ripping herself apart because Jianyu still isn't talking to her. She's frustrated because she isn't as happy as she's supposed to be in the afterlife. She's still just using her event planning skills to find happiness. She has a good dynamic with Michael and his newfound amusement with suspenders. But that's not enough for her when the man she's destined to be with refuses to talk with her.

Tahani doesn't know the truth though. All it takes is for Jason to say a few words to know that he isn't a devout Buddhist monk. He doesn't know how to behave like one. He wants to speak but is silenced by Eleanor and Chidi. That's the opposite of what Tahani thinks they are doing. She hopes her friends are helping her soulmate finally speak to her. Instead, they are worried about not ruining this neighborhood anymore. The sinkhole opens to stop Jason from speaking. But it's not fixing itself like Michael says it should. In fact, when Tahani returns to the restaurant, it looks like it's getting bigger. That could be a huge problem. Jason will be much harder to teach than Eleanor. All it takes is the proper motivation for Eleanor to take the work seriously. She is the best student in Chidi's class. But that won't mean anything if Jason doesn't work hard to change for the better as well. That leaves the show in a precarious situation at the close of this episode which is a fantastic place to be in right now for the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Jason Mendoza" was written by Joe Mande and directed by Payman Benz.
  • The show has ended every episode so far on a big cliffhanger moment - Eleanor's actions being amplified as destruction for the neighborhood, the menacing note being left under the door, Jason not belonging here either. This one ends with Tahani returning to the sinkhole to see it getting bigger. That's not as big of a moment but it could indicate that this will continue to be a problem for the neighborhood.
  • Patricia doesn't totally work as a character. She's very intense about everything even though she's happy about all the work that Tahani has gotten done. It's a weird detail that doesn't work as well as Michael's joyful enthusiasm always does.
  • Pun-based humor is not lost on Michael. It just takes him awhile to get it. But when he finally hears "The Good Plates" out loud, he's absolutely delighted.
  • That running joke about suspenders is wonderful as well. Again, Ted Danson is a scene stealer whenever he appears no matter what outrageous thing Michael is doing.
  • Tahani: "As we Brits say: Try your best to hide your sadness."
  • Michael: "Any thing or place in the universe can be up to 104 percent perfect. That's how you got Beyonce."
  • Jason: "I came up with hundreds of plans in my life and only one of them got me killed."
  • Janet to Eleanor: "According to our records, your favorite meal was... the hunger strike you went on to protest Bolivian sex trafficking."
  • Eleanor: "For the first time ever, I'm the smartest kid in class."