Thursday, October 5, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason Have to Make a Crucial Decision in 'Team Cockroach'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 2.04 "Team Cockroach"

Michael approaches things from a new angle. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason struggle to make a collective decision.

The Good Place has gotten off to a strong start for its second season. And yet, it also feels like it's just starting the main premise for the year. It went into this season with a hard reboot for the reality in the neighborhood designed by Michael. It's been a lot of fun to see the show find new and inventive ways to keep the storytelling fresh while also fundamentally being about the same thing. These episodes so far have largely been about Eleanor and company finding out that the Good Place is actually the Bad Place. And now, the story is shifting to something more consistent. There will be no more wiping of memories and starting over with this grand experiment. Now, Michael wants to team up with the four humans in a way to secure his job. Vicky is challenging him as the leader amongst the demons. She's devoted to this mission and enjoys torturing humans just as much as he does. But now, she thinks there's a better way of doing things. She has the leverage in order to do things her way. She's blackmailing Michael into cooperating. It's a betrayal to him. But he has failed hundreds of times with this experiment. So, things are now shifting in focus. "Team Cockroach" still embraces some of the themes and explanations of previous episodes. Michael has to explain things to the humans once more. And yet, it's still pretty amusing to watch.

The majority of this episode is set inside Eleanor's house as the humans only have thirty minutes to decide whether or not they are okay with this arrangement that Michael is offering. Of course, it's not much to be hopeful about. They know that he is a demon who has been manipulating them for awhile. They know they can't trust him. He designed this whole world after all for the enjoyment of other demons like himself. He's proven himself to be quick on his feet in adjusting to changes as Eleanor and company figure things out. They are only a week into this new version of this world. They don't really know all that has happened previously. They have figured things out already but they don't trust each other. Of course, Michael notes that he's an immortal being with powers that humans can never even imagine. It's a little curious why he doesn't just restore all of their memories so that they can remember all of these past lives. It's more important to the plot that the humans need to take this leap of faith because it's the best option they've got. It's crazy for them. It's crazy for the audience too. We've been a part of this universe for awhile and have a firm understanding on all that has happened. No, we didn't see all 802 times that this experiment failed. But we did get a solid montage that showed the highlights. That was good enough.

But Eleanor is still incredibly selfish while Tahani refuses to believe that she doesn't belong in the Good Place. It has taken until this episode until I released that the show wasn't featuring any flashbacks this season. They were a prominent if not all that necessary component of the first season. They helped reveal the lives these humans lived while on Earth. It highlighted how each of them were destructive and not deserving of being in the actual Good Place. But they got repetitive as well - especially with Eleanor. And now, a flashback is only incorporated in order to advance the emotional journey for Tahani. It's important for her to realize how corrupted her actions on Earth really were. That's the only way for her to realize she does belong in the Bad Place and go along with this crazy plan. It's quite an amusing sequence as well. The first season didn't reveal how Tahani died. It did with all of the other characters but kept her final moments a mystery. And now, they are revealed to be just as tragic and ridiculous as the other three. She died as she lived. She was jealous of her sister because of the acclaim and attention she constantly got. She wanted that for herself. So, she created a scene at a party celebrating Kamila's induction into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. But instead, she died because she pushed a huge statue into falling on top of her. It's such a tragic and unfortunate sight. And Tahani's immediate response is being shocked that she died in Cleveland. That's amusing where getting the point across as well to help Tahani on her journey.

But convincing Eleanor to be a part of this crazy plan is much more difficult. She doesn't feel indebted to these people. To her, these are just people she met a week ago. She's been presented with the evidence that their relationships go much deeper than that. She's seen just how crazy this world can be. And yet, she's still a selfish person who doesn't see a happy ending for this mission. She doesn't believe it's smart for any of them to even consider it. Of course, Michael suggesting that he can get all of them into the real Good Place as a reward is an enticing offer. That provides the season with a nice, strong hook to it. It's a focus that is new. It's something to build towards. It's a desire that all of them have. They all want to be better people whether because they want to or have to. Eleanor can learn everything that Michael has done to the four humans. He reveals all the details about each experiment and how long it lasted before they figured things out. He can share that Janet isn't a part of it and has been rebooted with each failure - which possibly makes her the most evolved version of Janet in the universe since she's been rebooted in this neighborhood 802 times. And yet, it's not until Eleanor digs into the personal questions and how things will affect her that she makes her decision.

Eleanor is perfectly fine to bail on everyone and return to the Medium Place with a train full of cocaine for Mindy. It would be her finally delivering on her promise to someone she has really annoyed over the years. Sure, it wouldn't be a great life. But it would be pleasant enough. It seems better than forming a partnership with a literal demon. And yet, Chidi is still able to get through to her that this is the right thing to do for all of them. Yes, it comes with an incredible amount of risks to it. It could go awry in so many ways. They could be punished with a lifetime of torture in the actual Bad Place. That's the threat that comes from either Vicky or Shawn discovering what's truly going on. Or this could just be an elaborate twist orchestrated by Michael to torture them in a way that is new and exciting. After trying it for so long and seeing the disappointment that comes from being found out, this could be a different way to reach the same objective. It's still torture for Eleanor and company as they try to make this life-changing decision. It forces all of them to accept that they weren't good people. They may not be capable of getting better. But they are at least willing to try.

So now, the new reality has been set up. Vicky is in charge of the narrative. In the early going, it seems like she's sticking to the exact same script. She's even returned the neighborhood to its initial premise with a ton of frozen yogurt places. That's much more believable as a Good Place luxury than a fountain of clam chowder. Plus, the welcome party will go awry because Eleanor gets drunk and makes fun of someone which will cause the chaos the following morning. It's the same opening plot beats that Michael has done in every other iteration of this world. This time it just includes more singing from Vicky. That's an amusing reveal. This season she has been complaining about the size of her role in this neighborhood. She's been a prominent fixture of the show but she has felt overlooked by Michael. Now, she's taking centerstage. She's still posing as a resident of the neighborhood. She's the top point getter and enjoying the attention. Michael is still the architect and in charge of surveillance on the humans. That's a perfect cover for them to keep up with their lessons from Chidi about how to become better people. It's amusing to see Michael as a part of the group as well. He's incredibly reluctant to be there. And yet, this is a condition of this arrangement. All of this needs to occur in order for trust to form. Even then, it seems like a precarious situation. But things are looking hopeful again. That's a very promising sign.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Team Cockroach" was written by Dan Schofield and directed by Morgan Sackett.
  • It's nice to see Janet realizing just how advanced she is. She's forming an opinion on how best to act while having all of this information. Her purpose is to serve humans. As such, she's going to remain loyal to Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason. And yet, it wouldn't be surprising if just the right question led to a slip up with her.
  • The reveal that there are stairs in Eleanor's house as well as the terrifying clown picture accompanied by music are comedic beats that will always amuse me. They are just great. It could be repetitive by now. And yet, it strangely isn't. That's wonderful.
  • Michael always planned on Eleanor and Chidi coming together in pursuit of becoming better. And yet, he's frustrated by how close they always got. That's been the consistent flaw of his plan. The two of them always find each other and Chidi always helps. That intended weakness is actually a strength.
  • There definitely has to be more to Vicky's torture plans than her just constantly singing and forcing everyone to listen. It certainly is amusing to watch her perform "I Will Survive" at the introduction gathering. But Vicky presents herself as a very smart and crafty individual, she must have something more going on as well.
  • Tahani: "Believe it or not, I found myself in quite a similar situation a couple years ago. But in that instance, Michael was Javier Bardem and the Bad Place was Vanessa Redgrave's panic room."
  • Jason: "Did the Jacksonville Jaguars win the Super Bowl last year?" Michael laughs, then: "Oh, you're serious. No." Jason: "Will they ever win the Super Bowl?" Michael: "Listen, I can't predict the future, but no they won't."
  • Michael: "We're running out of time and I'm your only option." Eleanor: "We're running out of time and I'm your only option? A lot of guys your age said that to me just as the bar was about to close. But I never settled for them because my ex-boyfriend lived nearby. He was obsessed with me and he never slept because he was addicted to adderall."
  • Tahani: "Oh no. I died... in Cleveland?"
  • Chidi: "Who cares that it's only been a week? How long do you have to know someone before you do the right thing?" Eleanor: "Nine weeks. Minimum!"