Thursday, October 13, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Eleanor Tries to Help Michael Have Fun in 'What We Owe to Each Other'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 1.06 "What We Owe to Each Other"

Eleanor is enlisted to help Michael with an important task that could determine her fate in the Good Place. Chidi agrees to be the third wheel in an effort to help out his friend.

Eleanor finds herself in quite the compromising position in "What We Owe to Each Other." After the sinkhole disaster, Michael is more determined than ever to figure out what is wrong with this neighborhood. These weird and disastrous things keep occurring. He doesn't know why either. He's the architect of this neighborhood. He created all of this. And yet, he's at a loss. Something is wrong. Things are happening and he doesn't know why. The sinkhole's creation and repair are mysteries to him. So, he has recruited Eleanor to help him discover the flaw in the neighborhood. Of course, the audience knows that Eleanor is the problem. It's because of her that all of these terrible things keep happening. She's trying to change and become a better person. She has made a lot of progress in that regard. But she's still not ready to be exposed for who she really is just yet. So, she finds himself in quite the dilemma. Should she help Michael with this investigation that will lead straight back to her? Or does she impede it in order to keep her secret safe?

This is clearly something that is driving Michael insane. This was his first chance to build a neighborhood from scratch. He's trying to prove to his bosses that he is capable of doing this. It's been his purpose in this existence. He's been studying for hundreds of years. And now, his first neighborhood is falling apart for no reason whatsoever. At first, he believes it's a design flaw. He made an error in the creation of this place. He's been working non-stop trying to find which rocks and twigs look suspicious. Crazy and deranged is a fantastic look on this character. Ted Danson has already been having so much fun on this show. "What We Owe to Each Other" takes things up a notch. Danson is more than capable of handling it too. It's not just about the absurdity of the situation either. It's more than just the fun time Eleanor and Michael have taking a break from work. This episode gets into some real and genuine emotions as well. It comes face-to-face with the exposure of the main premise. It digs deep into Michael feeling like a failure for not knowing what's wrong. It's a powerful performance that really is quite special by the end of the episode.

So, Eleanor is trying to help Michael by not helping him. It's a contradiction that Chidi doesn't fully understand. Eleanor wants to use her time with Michael as a way to have fun. It's embracing activities she loves to do while also keeping him from investigating into the true flaw of the neighborhood. It's just fantastic watching the two of them in the neighborhood enjoying some frozen yogurt, doing karaoke and playing some arcade games. It's just silly and simple fun. The show is aware that it can be mind-boggling dumb. But that's the appeal of it. This is Michael getting a chance to embrace humanity for once. He's so utterly fascinated with humans. Even though he now lives in a human body, he's not like everyone else in the neighborhood. He's still something else completely. He's not completely used to the traditions of human existence. He's still confused by fist bumps. But more importantly, he still sees the world differently than Eleanor does. He sees in nine dimensions which would likely make his life even messier than it was right now. He can literally see tension in the air. That's amusing. This day off with Eleanor really helps Michael. It helps him feel human which is clearly something he really wants. Eleanor is able to give that to him without compromising her own secret.

Of course, the investigation is still a crucial aspect of this episode. Not working for a day actually helps Michael focus. So, Eleanor was ultimately successful with her plan. It helped him focus and realize that the events that have happened were caused by a person in the neighborhood. And now, he needs to find who is responsible. It's a new path for him that he is committed to investigating. Eleanor is right there by his side knowing where it will lead. Of course, the evidence doesn't quite point in her direction. There is nothing that definitive calls her out as the person responsible for all of this. At the sites where every incident has occurred, there were plenty of people who could be guilty. The list isn't narrowed down at all. That's so defeating to Michael. He got his answer about what the problem is. He just has no way of figuring out which person is doing these bad things and not coming forward about it. It's a realization that hits him hard. It's not something that can be fixed by another trip to the arcade. He's in a deep depression and questioning his entire purpose in the neighborhood.

All of this is good news for Eleanor. There's nothing Michael can do to discover that she's the one who doesn't belong in the good place. She fulfilled her agreement to help him and that didn't lead to her secret being discovered. And yet, she has come to care about Michael. She had a lot of fun on their adventure together as well. It wasn't all about distracting him from his investigation. She cares about him and doesn't like seeing him as a crazy person loosing his mind. It would be easy for her to walk away when he needs her the most. It's something she has had no problem doing in the past. The flashbacks continue to highlight how much she has changed since coming to the good place. Before, she would blow off her responsibilities as soon as something better came along. And now, she is willing to stand by Michael and help him no matter what he ultimately needs. It's that selflessness that's really inspiring. Of course, Michael is hit with an epiphany. He thinks he has figured out the problem in the neighborhood. It's not Eleanor but him. He's not suppose to be here. It's a break from tradition for an architect to be in his neighborhood. That's the conclusion he reaches. Again, it protects Eleanor's secret but it's done in a way that is completely believable while also leaving things tense and precarious for the future.

Elsewhere, Chidi goes to a couple's massage with Tahani and Jason. He sympathizes with Tahani because she too is in the good place with someone who is clearly not her soulmate. She is trying so hard to connect with Jianyu but he isn't giving her anything. He doesn't know how to talk to her. Whenever he opens his mouth, it's a risk to his secret. Chidi is there to serve as a buffer between them. He does it to protect Jason's secret but he also does it as a way to force the two of them to connect. He and Eleanor may not be soulmates but they have at least figured out a relationship that is honest and open. They've been able to connect even though they couldn't be any more different. Chidi hopes that Jason can do the same for Tahani. Of course, he questions whether or not Tahani is blessed for not knowing the truth. How would she react if she knew that Jason and Eleanor didn't belong in the good place? No one gives her that opportunity in this episode. Everyone keeps lying to her which only isolates her further. Of course, this episode also sets up an interesting dynamic that should be further explored in the future.

Are Tahani and Chidi suppose to be soulmates? They are in the same situation stuck with people who don't belong in the good place. Is that keeping them from having happiness for all of eternity? Tahani and Chidi are able to connect on a much deeper level than either of them are able to do with Jason or Eleanor. Again, Chidi knows the truth about everything. He helps Jason and Eleanor because he's a good person and honors his commitments. But he's also there for Tahani. She has been so alone for so much of this season. She's striving to be the best and to connect with her soulmate. The neighborhood does appreciate everything that she does. But it still hasn't led to any kind of intimacy with Jianyu. It's much simpler when she's with Chidi. He can have a conversation with her about the arts. He can connect with her in a genuine way. It's simple and easy. Now, it's just a question of whether they'll continue to act on this dynamic. It may feel right but it could be wrong because they aren't labeled as each other's soulmate. It's certainly a curious subplot to keep an eye on this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • If architects aren't suppose to live in their neighborhoods and Michael is during this as a test run, what are the odds that his bosses put Eleanor and Jason in the good place just to make sure everything goes wrong for Michael?
  • Jason not knowing the difference between an impressionist painter and a comedian who does impressions is a pretty humorous moment. Chidi helps him impress Tahani but it requires him doing all of the work for Jason.
  • Chidi does a poor job explaining how he is a third wheel for couple's activities. That's just something that Janet doesn't understand at all. It's funny watching her have a "meltdown" just to get a laugh.
  • Michael has some legitimate concerns about Friends. Yes, he's happy that all of them really were friends in real life. But he also questions how those characters were able to afford such an apartment given the real estate prices and their jobs.
  • Jason on Tahani: "She's so beautiful like Nala from The Lion King. And she talks so smart like... Nala from The Lion King."
  • Michael on the rocks: "Do any of them look defective? Or sinister? Or like they're taunting you by always being one step ahead?"
  • Michael on frozen yogurt: "There's something so human about taking something great, ruining it just a little so you can have more of it."
  • Michael: "Paper clip shower!"
  • Michael: "I feel like Friends Season 8. Out of ideas and forcing Joey and Rachel together even though it made no sense."