Thursday, October 20, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Eleanor Makes a Major Decision to Keep Michael in the Neighborhood in 'The Eternal Shriek'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 1.07 "The Eternal Shriek"

Eleanor and Chidi set off on a quest with Janet as their guide. Tahani attempts to show Michael how much he is appreciated.

The Good Place has now passed the halfway point of its first season. The show is limiting its season to just 13 episodes in order to maintain the serialized nature of the story. This has been such a unique show so far. I would hate for it to become weaker just by needing to do 22 episodes a year. If keeping things at 13 is the best decision to keep the story tight and essential, than so be it. This has been a strong run so far. The Good Place is just one of the few new comedies on the broadcast networks this fall that has proven itself to be great after a few episodes. It has been wonderful to watch. And now, it's becoming clear that the show is getting ready to reveal a couple of its big mysteries. Eleanor's secret identity has been such a strong premise so far. But there have been so many more questions about the good place. Questions that have gone unanswered. Something is clearly up with this world. It's now becoming clear that the show isn't beholden to its main premise. It could be very exciting to see what would happen if everyone in the neighborhood knew that Eleanor wasn't suppose to be there. That she's the reason why their transition to the afterlife has been so complicated.

Of course, all of that is just a tease for the future. "The Eternal Shriek" largely focuses on the aftermath of Michael believing himself to be the problem in the neighborhood. Again, much more is revealed about the actual mechanics of this world. Michael told Eleanor that architects don't live in their neighborhoods. He broke from tradition because he loves humanity so much and wants to do some of their incredibly silly mannerisms. But Michael isn't human. He's another being entirely. He created this world. He put every person in this place hoping it would bring happiness to them for all of eternity. And now, he's blaming himself for all of the problems. He knows a person is behind the chaos. He even finds a reason to blame every disaster on himself. The sinkhole happened because he tried to get Jianyu to open up. Garbage fell from the sky because he kicked a dog into the sun. Shrimp flew around because he didn't have enough during the first party. More importantly, his retirement isn't going to be a good thing for him. He'll return to his bosses as a failure and be forced to live in an eternity of constant pain. The eternal shriek is the punishment waiting for him when he leaves this world. A nasty way to be destroyed for the rest of eternity.

At first, Eleanor is happy that Michael is taking all of the blame. It's a simple solution to her problem. She promised to be there for him no matter what. They really did become so close during their day of fun in last week's episode. But she's also willing to have him blame himself and return home a failure. It's all to conceal her secret without actually changing at all. She has grown as a person since entering the good place. She's trying to be better. The flashbacks have constantly show just how far she has grown. Of course, the journey to good is still a lengthy one for Eleanor. She hasn't caused any problems in the neighborhood since the sinkhole. But the possibility is always there for something to go wrong. All it takes is one slip up for everyone to realize that Michael isn't truly to blame at all. That's a precarious risk she doesn't even think about. However, she does feel bad that Michael's going to be burned alive and beaten for the rest of his life. She has developed more of conscience. She doesn't want that for Michael. And yet, her plan to find a solution to her problem is pretty ridiculous and way over-the-top. It's because of that that it's so effectively funny throughout the rest of the episode - and giving The Good Place its strongest creative material so far.

The only way in and out of the neighborhood is by train. Only Janet knows how to conduct it. So, Eleanor thinks she can just kill Janet and her problems will just go away. Death no longer means anything in the good place. On Earth, it's the worst sin out there. It's morally wrong and deserves to be punished. But no one in the good place can die. They are already dead. Meanwhile, Janet is not even human. She's a computer system meant to make the citizen's lives easier. She doesn't have feelings. She can fake cry about Michael leaving but it's not in her programming to react like that right away. This is just a fantastic episode for D'Arcy Carden. Playing a robot isn't easy. She makes it seem that way while also finding the humor in any given situation. Usually Janet is just called upon to deliver exposition to help the main characters understand something. Here, she provides the intel that she can be killed just by hitting a button. It seems like an easy task for Eleanor to do. It's not though. Janet has a failsafe to keep anyone from hitting the button. She will reboot again and be able to help the residents once more. But pressing the button needs to be very deliberate. It's so funny watching Eleanor and Chidi not be able to do it because of Janet pleading for her life. And then comes the realization that none of that is real. Of course, Jason couldn't care less. He doesn't know what's going on. Plus, he has no reaction after Janet is actually killed. The rest of the neighborhood does. A giant screen of Janet appears and declares that she has been murdered. It's a big event. One that has powerful and grave consequences for everyone involved.

Chidi is ultimately the one who presses the button. He's the one who kills Janet. There's no disputing that fact. He was heavily against Eleanor doing it. He thought there had to be a better plan than killing Janet. He only pressed the button to keep Jason from doing it. But it was still done. And it's clearly an act that really gets to him. It's fascinating to watch Chidi quickly unravel by the weight of this action. Janet does return to life. It's just going to take her a couple of days to re-upload all of the information of the universe. It's a funny visual to watch her just repeat "hello" over and over again in random places of the neighborhood. She's not the same as before. That really adds the pressure to Chidi. Eleanor and Jason don't see this as that big of a thing. But the flashbacks highlight how Chidi has always felt bad about lying. As a moral ethics professor, he always sees it as a bad thing. Even a small white lie festers inside of him and keeps him from acting like a sane person. The flashbacks have gotten less and less important as the season has gone along. This one feels especially trivial. That's the point. It showcases how this is a big deal for Chidi even though it's a small lie about boots. So that must mean it's a huge and potentially dangerous deal for him when he believes he's killed Janet.

Eleanor feels no remorse for what she did to Janet. To her, she was simply doing what needed to be done to keep her secret safe while also helping Michael. Of course, this act also makes it clear to Michael that he's not the problem in the neighborhood. So now, his investigation starts anew. This time it's different though. Eleanor decides to tell the truth to the whole neighborhood. She sees what this guilt has done to Chidi in such a short amount of time. He's going to keep her secret because he made a moral obligation to help her despite all of the complications that promise has had. But this is destroying him on the inside. He's barely keeping it together. That does get to Eleanor. She feels guilty for what she did to Chidi. She can't see him suffer like this. So, she decides to come clean about herself no matter what the complications may be. It's a huge moment to come halfway through the season. It's a selfish and genuine act of love on Eleanor's part. She's putting Chidi above herself. She has changed in the good place. And now, she'll be faced with the test of whether or not she has changed enough to stay. But again, the problems in the neighborhood extend far beyond her. So, she may be able to stay based on whatever big twist is about to be revealed about this place.

Some more thoughts:
  • In previous episodes, Chidi mentioned never having had a serious romantic relationship before. And yet in the flashbacks, he is seen in bed with a woman who clearly knows him a lot. So, something more is happening here. Perhaps the good place isn't as good as it appears. Maybe part of what makes it a utopia is ripping the memories of loved ones away so that the people can be happen with their designated soulmates.
  • Depressed Michael has been a really great character development over the past two episodes. Watching him lament about all of the human things he never got to do was great. They are incredibly simple things but some of them have their charms as well.
  • Michael lashing out at Tahani for not knowing how to throw a retirement party for him is an amusing subplot too. There's not a whole lot of story actually there. But it is fun seeing him take his anger out on her. Plus, she's the only one who dresses up for Janet's funeral.
  • Eleanor: "Why do bad things keep happening to mediocre people hiding their identities?"
  • Multiple people: "This is why everyone hates moral philosophy professors."
  • Janet to Eleanor: "Again, I am not real. This is a stock photo of the crowd at the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards."