Thursday, November 2, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - The Power of Conversation Forces Everyone to Cope With New Secrets in 'Derek'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 2.08 "Derek"

Janet creates a big problem for Michael. Eleanor lets Chidi in on a secret. Jason puts Tahani in a difficult position.

It was clear the moment Janet created Derek that he would be a huge problem for the humans and Michael to deal with. It comes at a very interesting time on the show where this Janet story is really compelling to watch. She was designed to be this assistant for people in the afterlife. She has access to an entire universe of information. But now, she is becoming more human. She's realizing that she had genuine feelings for Jason when they got married last season. And now, she's jealous that he and Tahani are dating and want to get married. It's caused so many glitches in the neighborhood. Derek is initially presented as a solution to that problem. He's a way for Janet to focus on something other than Jason so that she doesn't glitch any more. And yet, it's not a solution in the slightest. Janet just can't create a human being. He's not even all that human. He can travel to and from her boundless void as well. The humans can't do that. The demons can't do that either. Only Janet has that access. And now, she's created Derek with that ability as well. He was created to give Janet a new love interest for her to obsess over. But he is literally her creation. His flaws are her fault. This creation is bound to be destructive at some point. That puts everything at risk moving forward. So even if this relationship where happy and healthy, it risks exposure to Vicky and the other demons that something more is going on in this experiment. But their relationship isn't happy and healthy. They present that way at first. But it quickly goes awry. They go through the span of a relationship in just seven hours. It's compressed for comedic purposes across this episode. It's a very effective story as well because Janet and Derek are just fighting while Michael and the humans are freaking out about the potential consequences this complication could produce.

Last week's episode was very effective because it focused almost exclusively on Michael and Janet's relationship. They've been together for a long time. Michael sees her as his friend. He brought in the humans at various different points to try to help with this situation. Derek was created because of the advice that Eleanor gave Janet. She said that the best way to get over a guy is to quickly find a rebound. It was bad advice the moment she said it. And now, she realizes that. Michael knows that Derek is going to be a problem. It's a strong case of Michael knowing it's better to just show Eleanor and Chidi what the problem is instead of trying to explain it. It would never be rational for them to think about killing someone. But as soon as they meet Derek and have a firm understanding on the situation, then they understand the severe consequences that await them if they don't do so. It creates such a profound ethical dilemma for the protagonists. Chidi says their character is defined by their actions during times of stress. This is one of those times and they need to think very wisely about how they should act in this situation. They need to be better than they once were. And yet, the simple and necessary solution is to get Derek to go away. It's selfish to try to outright kill him. It needs to be a more nuanced approach than that where they have to get Janet to see the complexity and danger of the situation. It's just a really amusing story where Janet and Derek refuse to listen for a long time.

And yet, Michael and the humans are able to keep a lid on things. That seems very miraculous. Derek is out wandering the neighborhood and none of the other demons spot him and are curious about where he came from. The other demons have been doing this job for a long time. They obviously know each other and the roles that they fill in this experiment. But none of them spot Derek in that tree. They have no idea about the latest torture that is being done on Eleanor and Chidi. This is a very stressful situation in the afterlife. They are struggling to keep this a secret and avoid being sent to the actual Bad Place. Meanwhile, Tahani and Jason are just enjoying a nice vacation away from the stress of the neighborhood. It's something Michael does in order to keep them far away from Janet and Derek. He doesn't want them to know what's actually going on. He wants to keep up the ruse of Janet being down for maintenance. Instead, this action only brings Tahani and Jason closer together. Sure, there are still so many things they don't know about one another. But Jason proposes to Tahani and she accepts because he promises to always be nice to her. It's a sweet and unexpected gesture. It's just like Jason's proposal to Janet from last season. He's increasingly seeming like a good catch in this world despite the awful life he lived on Earth. It's just a proposal that carries the risk of destroying the entire neighborhood in the process.

Eleanor, Michael and Chidi don't know if it's ethical to keep secrets from Tahani and Jason. For narrative purposes, it's better to have the truth out there for everyone to react to. It makes things more interesting for the audience because it's better to see what people do when they actually know what's going on in the story. Chidi believes Tahani and Jason shouldn't know about Jason's past relationship and marriage to Janet because it would cause them pain. Michael counters that being sent to the Bad Place would cause them even more pain. Or allowing them to marry while Janet and Derek are fighting could force this entire neighborhood to implode in on itself. There are so many ways for this reality to go wrong. Michael and the humans are trying to find the most ethical solution. Even then, it's still very murky on if they did things for the right reasons. Eleanor, Michael and Chidi do ultimately tell Tahani and Jason the truth. They don't get married but do remain dating. Meanwhile, Eleanor has another heart-to-heart with Janet. She admits that she gave her some bad advice. She didn't know how serious her feelings for Jason actually were. And so, the best way for her to deal with these feelings is to just experience them and talk about them with her friends. It's a nice moment of bonding. It proves that Eleanor cares about Janet and is willing to be a supportive friend during this time of need. That's a remarkable sign of progress for her.

All of this then pivots back to a secret that Eleanor has been keeping from Chidi. The show hasn't brought up the sex tape that Mindy made of Eleanor and Chidi where they proclaimed their love for each other in a long time. In fact, it hasn't been seen or mentioned since the third episode. And yet, it's clearly this thing of importance for Eleanor. She is still watching it and trying to figure out how she could have possibly said those words. She just doesn't understand it. She's been keeping it from Chidi because it doesn't mean anything. It's not reflective of what their relationship is like right now. But she still feels compelled to share it with him in the end. She knows it may cause him pain. She doesn't know if it's ethical or not. But it feels like the right thing to do so that they can at least talk about it. However, they only barely talk about it. They get their initial reactions out there but then Michael knocks on the door wanting to talk with Eleanor. That allows her to deflect from Chidi for a moment. Instead, she gets to have an honest conversation with Michael about how to deal with all of these ethical lessons. This is an episode that highlights the importance of talking in order to process emotions and feelings. Michael needs to understand how Eleanor was able to stay true to Chidi's lessons every single time. Her explanation may not be the greatest but it is at least honest with how Eleanor wants to do better in the afterlife. It's hard and difficult. She doesn't appreciate all that Chidi does. But she views it as better than her life on Earth. So, she keeps trying. Michael searching for those answers and genuinely being interested in what Eleanor has to say proves that he really is improving as well. That's the moment that needs to happen before the episode-concluding twist with Shawn showing up. That will likely flip everything around to ensure that things remain tense for the next stretch of the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Derek" was written by Cord Jefferson and directed by Jude Weng.
  • On one hand, it's disappointing that Jason Mantzoukas' run on this show is cut so short. He's a great performer who fits into the extreme humor of this world very well. On the other hand though, it makes sense within the actual story. The longer Derek was around the more impossible it would be to explain how Michael, Eleanor and company were able to deceive Vicky and the other demons.
  • It's great that Tahani uses this vacation to try to teach Jason how to play croquet only for it to turn into a massive game of destruction by just hitting the balls as hard as they can to wherever they want. It's nice to see them have the freedom to do something like this without fear of being tortured. They actually get to enjoy their time together.
  • So, what has prompted this surprising visit from Shawn? He is Michael's superior who is very intrigued by the idea of this new experiment working to torture humans. He could just pop-in unannounced because it's been over a hundred years since he last checked in. Or perhaps Vicky really did expose the truth to Shawn because she learned the truth about what Michael was doing. Either way, it does put Michael in a precarious position.
  • Janet: "Based on your past 10,000 comments, it would be Stone Cold Steve Austin's head on Tahani's body." Eleanor: "Or vice versa."
  • Tahani: "You know Jason, every single detail of your life is deeply disturbing. And yet, I envy you."
  • Derek: "Oh, so they're you're friends. I'm stating a fact! I don't know these people!"
  • Eleanor: "This isn't helpful but I always wanted to be a part of a wedding that was stopped dramatically."
  • Derek: "What does he have that I don't have." Janet: "A soul. And genitals." Derek: "Ugh, here we go with the whole 'no genitals' thing again. You're the one who gave me wing chimes instead of a penis."
  • Jason: "Can you get pregnant from re-absorbing?"