Thursday, September 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - A Wicked Montage Shows How Funny and Creative The Story Can Be in 'Dance Dance Resolution'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 2.03 "Dance Dance Resolution"

Michael continues to work out the kinks in his grand plan. Eleanor stumbles across a secret.

Heading into this season, there was reason to hope for a good outcome for Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason because Eleanor was able to write a note to herself that Michael didn't know about. The entire reality was being reset and this ensured that she would be able to figure things out more quickly the second time around. But the season premiere already revealed that plot device and played it to its natural conclusion. That was a surprising and a very earned twist. And yet, things have been reset for the third time. There is no note. It was the reality that was established at the end of the premiere. Michael would be doing things all over again with Shawn not knowing that it had already failed spectacularly once more. There wasn't an immediate way for Eleanor to figure out that they were actually in the Bad Place. As such, all of the worries that came heading into this season returned once more. Would this episode simply be a retread of story that has happened before with the audience being aware but the four humans not? It turns out that isn't the case at all. The show accelerates things quite a bit throughout "Dance Dance Resolution." It's one of the most effective episodes the show has ever done because it shows such a willingness to be fun and absurd with its central premise. The truth has been revealed. The audience knows exactly what's going on and why it's happening. And now, the show is obviously having a lot of fun in twisting those expectations and just how much this reality can bend and be manipulated.

It also makes sense that no matter what happens Michael would sooner or later be discovered as a fraud who's been tricking the humans all of this time. It happened in the first season without Eleanor needing any clues. It took awhile but she figured things out. The second time around she had help because of her quick thinking. And now, hundreds of trial runs have occurred. Each one has ended in the same way. It's ridiculous but really inspired to watch. Some of the best comedic moments from this show are just these simple cutaways to really over-the-top and silly jokes. That's used to great effect in the early montage showing the struggle Michael has had in trying to get this experiment right. It's really quite soul-crushing for him. Every single time he believes he has adjusted things accordingly so that the humans will never become wiser to his manipulations. But every single time he is wrong. At first, it's a montage showing the crazy situations the gang is in when they stumble upon the truth. It always seems to be Eleanor who comes to the realization as well. But it's an effective sequence because it builds off of that. It shows how the world changes while still largely staying the same. It produces new visual jokes that can be analyzed frame-by-frame upon repeat viewing. It even includes Jason once miraculously figuring things out before anyone else. That's a solid victory for him and a crushing defeat for Michael. It's fascinating to see what all of this does to this community.

The season premiere showed the audience the behind-the-scenes workings of the demons in this community. Michael is always the man in charge. He's the architect trying to figure out a better way of torturing people. Not everyone is willing to go along with his plans but are a part of this experiment nevertheless. They are used to torturing humans in different, very physical ways. It's exciting to try something new. Some of them are really supportive of Michael's vision for the neighborhood. But trying and failing so many times is very defeating for them as well. This episode reveals that Michael and his demons have been torturing Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason like this 802 different times. Some of them can last for awhile. Some of them last a few seconds. It's particularly funny to see Eleanor walk into the room while Michael is recording his notes about how to make a better Bad Place. It's also funny to see him even refuse to try after he's failed so many times. And yet, the simulation continues. Everything has started over once more with the intention of it being better. But the 802nd version is where things appear to be set for the foreseeable future. It's only a week into the experiment. Eleanor is already being taught by Chidi. That's a consistent fixture of all of these stories. She always seeks him out in order to become a better person. But things are able to change as well. That's clear because the show is slowing down to show what this reality is like for these characters.

The demons are turning against Michael. They've grown tired of all of this. It's literally the same thing over and over again. Vicky is still on Michael's side. She supports his vision even though she's still upset about the continuing size of her role in the narrative. But everyone else is willing to stage a walkout until their demands are met. That's a hilarious reveal. It treats this as just another average job. They aren't worried about breaking the rules of this new world because they know Michael will just reset everything again. They have concerns that need to be addressed. Michael can't do this without them. He needs them in order to keep the ruse going. He's the man in charge. But he has lost control of this experiment. Things haven't worked out for him and everyone else is sick of it. He's being threatened to make these changes or they're going to tell the truth to Shawn who believes they are still on the second attempt with this experiment. That's a big reveal just waiting to happen. Shawn has always been critical of this idea. He's eager to retire Michael. But perhaps, he has cooled down with that belief after believing this experiment to be successful for a couple years now. Of course, it's not the truth. That's what motivates Michael into action. He too is not afraid to talk things out with one of the four humans because he knows that things are going to be reset soon anyway. He's just talking with Jason who can't keep his own ruse going for very long either. He's so dim but can be so wise as well. His story somehow is able to inspire Michael into putting a new plan into motion.

Of course, it's also fun to spend time with Eleanor and Chidi as they realize what's going on for the 802nd time. They figure it out because they see their neighbors smoking cigars and talking with the big lava creature. It motivates them to run as far away from this neighborhood as possible. That leads them straight back to Mindy St. Clair's house. That's another great reveal. Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani really are the only people whose minds keep being wiped. Everyone else has full awareness of what has been going on. As such, it could be seen as a new kind of torture for Mindy to have these same people keep coming to her house and living out the same scenario without remembering to bring her the one thing she wants. She just desperately wants cocaine. She tells Eleanor to bring it back every single time. And every time she doesn't because she doesn't know better. It's a really twisted and cruel joke that someone in the Bad Place would love if they knew it was happening. It's also great to see Mindy having had enough of these interruptions to her life. She can recite every single word and thought that Eleanor and Chidi are going to have. This has all happened before. Of course, it's only happened around 15 times. So, Eleanor and Chidi don't always make it here. But it's enough for a pattern to emerge and for the two of them to leave notes behind on what they should do to get out of this cycle of abuse.

It's more crucial that Mindy reveals to Eleanor that she is really in love with Chidi. To Eleanor, that's an absurd idea because she has only known him for a week. She hasn't fundamentally changed from the person she was on Earth. She hasn't been paying attention to his classes. She doesn't even like Chidi. But she's forced to confront the fact that she is in this situation with him. They've been together for a really long time. They've gotten really close over the years. The pattern keeps repeating. Michael keeps resetting things. But they still find each other. Their connection is that strong. All of this essentially motivates Eleanor to return to the neighborhood with a new idea to take Michael down. Of course, it doesn't seem like she put much thought into it because it was basically confronting Michael with the truth and having the confidence that comes from being the people who actually hold the power. At first, it felt like she would return with the strategy of making it seem like everything is still going according to plan and they don't know the truth. But that's not what occurs. Instead, Eleanor confronts Michael and he's very receptive to her thoughts. It's all because he wants to team up with them in order to defeat Vicky. That's an amusing premise for the future. They've been working against each other this entire time. But now, Michael wants to change that to protect his job. Will Eleanor and company agree to go along with that though? It seems unlikely while still being a very enticing way to want the next episode immediately.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dance Dance Resolution" was written by Megan Amram and directed by Drew Goddard.
  • It's great that every time Chidi is told that they are actually in the Bad Place he immediately assumes it's because he used almond milk while knowing the impact it would have on the environment. He never understands the destructive power of his own indecisiveness.
  • But then again, it's important to have Chidi be completely decisive in telling Eleanor that he loves her after they have had sex. That shows the power of their connection. He can clearly feel that way with her without causing any kind of inner turmoil. That's important to see even though that reality didn't last.
  • In the montage of Eleanor figuring things out, which absurd situation was the best? The options include Eleanor dressed as a monk, Chidi struggling with an out-of-control pig, Eleanor in a field of cacti, Chidi being attacked by a swarm of bees and a clown invading the house.
  • Here are the options that Eleanor and Chidi have come up with over the years on how to take down Michael: physically attack Michael, seduce Michael, make Michael think he's the one in the Bad Place, throw Tahani under the bus, and catch that magic panda and use her powers.
  • Janet in failsafe mode pleading with Michael for her life: "Michael, if I'm gone who will take care of my birds?," "Michael, no, no, no, I'm pregnant. And it's your baby" and "I have tickets to Hamilton next week and there's a rumor Daveed Diggs is coming back."
  • The names of the business in the neighborhood have always incorporated amusing puns. And now, there's even more of them with each change in each new simulation. So, here's a list of some of them: Lasagne Come Out Tomorrow, Ziti of Stars, You Do the Hokey Gnocchi and You Get Yourself Some Food, The Pesto's Yet to Come, Cake Canaveral, Knish From a Rose, Biscotti Pippen, Beignet and the Gets, Cruller Intentions, Steak on a Stick, Caviar on a Stick, Bagel on a Stick, Hot Dog on a Stick on a Stick, Extra Sticks, Sushi and the Banshees, Ponzu Scheme, and Chicken Soup in the Mouth.
  • Tahani: "I always have to have my sashes custom-made because of my height and bossom size."
  • Eleanor to her soulmate performing spoken word jazz: "No version of heaven for anyone would ever include three hours of this."
  • Michael: "Jason figured it out? Jason? This is a low point. Yeah, this one hurts."
  • Eleanor: "Maybe they finally found out clam chowder is disgusting because it's basically a savory latte with buds in it."
  • Eleanor: "And clam chowder is disgusting. It's just hot ocean milk with dead animal croutons."
  • Eleanor: "We have to stay cool. As my mom always used to say, 'If a cop handcuffs you to a bike rack, there's always something you can gnaw through.'" Chidi: "Your mom always said that?"
  • Eleanor: "I've only said 'I love you' to two people in my life: Stone Cold Steve Austin and a guy in a dark club who I mistook for Stone Cold Steve Austin."