Thursday, January 18, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason Have to Lie in 'Rhonda, Diana, Jake and Trent'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 2.11 "Rhonda, Diana, Jake and Trent"

Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Janet and Jason head to a destination that may have lasting implications.

Eleanor and company embark on a perilous mission in "Rhonda, Diana, Jake and Trent." They are going further into The Bad Place than they've ever been before. The neighborhood they've always known is gone. All of the hard work that Michael did just completely disappeared. The experiment is still being treated as a success. But now, the humans are fugitives being hunted down by the demons for eternal torture the old-fashion way. Shawn and the other demons have no idea where they are. He believes them to be at Mindy St. Clair's house in the Medium Place. Michael helped them all escape capture. But it seemed like freedom would only be for a limited time. Michael didn't have a way to get them to the actual Good Place like he promised near the start of the season. So, they were all resigned to being captured and tortured. Michael would be retired for his role in all of this. The Bad Place would continue to run the same way that it always has. And then, they got the inspired and potentially stupid idea to try to make it to a judge who settles all disputes between the Good and Bad Places. That was a character the show established a long time ago. At first, the audience thought that to be Shawn. Instead, Shawn was revealed just to be higher management in the Bad Place. He's Michael's superior officer. But now, the actual judge looms over the narrative. All that the humans have to do is get to him. That's tricky because he resides in a place between the worlds. The only way to get to him is through a portal in the Bad Place headquarters. It's such a risky mission. The humans could be seen and captured immediately. Michael needs to collect four more pins in order to get the humans though the portal. And yet, they all agree that it's a risk worth taking.

Of course, this mission also highlights the immorality of the decisions that Michael, Eleanor and company have to make in order to even get to the judge. They are going to present their case that they deserve to be in the Good Place because they are the best possible versions of themselves. They've all put in the effort and grown. That has to account for something. Moreover, they've been tortured in a truly unique way that has forced the demons to continue to act out in ways that they aren't suppose to. Shawn has no problem just storming the Medium Place in pursuit of the humans only to discover Mindy and Derek in bed together. But it's during times of extreme pressure that one's true character comes out. Michael had to do some things he wasn't proud of in order to deceive his other demons and get his friends to safety. And now, the humans are once again tasked with lying about themselves to demons just in order to keep this illusion going. It makes for an incredibly fun premise throughout this episode. They each take on new identities. Eleanor's is simply the woman on her fake ID from high school. Tahani's is some character work from years of being around actors and celebrities. And Jason's is simply modeled after his idol, Blake Bortles, but simply changing it to Jake Jortles. This is incredibly easy for them because they rationalize it as just continuing to lie to demons like they've been doing throughout their time in the Bad Place.

Unsurprisingly, Chidi is the one who has a major problem with lying. That has always been his nature. He has modeled his life after his philosophy idol, Immanuel Kant, who says that lying is always wrong no matter what the situation may be. That's been incredibly frustrating to the people around him. It's a quality that defined his life on Earth and sentenced him to the Bad Place in the first place. Since arriving here, he has helped the other characters become the best possible versions of themselves. That's a personal victory for him. But he's still incredibly indecisive and resistant to lying. Even in this situation that has life-or-death stakes to it, he is worrying about any possible lie being the one thing that will ultimately hurt their chances with the judge to make it into the Good Place. The humans arrive at the Bad Place headquarters before they are able to figure any of this out too. Michael believes he's smart in letting the humans hide out in a museum that no one visits all that much. But he just doesn't know that today happens to be the day that the Bad Place is unveiling the exhibit honoring the experiment Michael created. As such, it makes it clear to everyone in the room who these four truly are. They are lucky not to run into any of the demons they previously knew in the neighborhood. Michael has some kind of rational explanation for that in saying they were all sent to their previous assignments determined not to say anything about what happened there. That allows the humans to hide out for awhile.

But it also means that the humans needs to play into their identities as demons. They have to mingle with a bunch of demons at this event. That's just a lot of fun. Tahani and Jason just fit into this world so incredibly well. Jason does because he appreciates and understands every bad tendency that these demons are very boastful about. When they talk about the guy who started "Girls Gone Wild," Jason knows who that guy is by name. Meanwhile, Tahani just enjoys this character work. She pulls out an accent and a performance that manages to impress even Eleanor in how uninspired she is with her imaginary job at the Bad Place. Eleanor has it pretty easy in that she just gets to sit in a corner not really doing much. And yet, that allows her to be emotionally available for Chidi when he has this moral crisis he needs to deal with. He didn't make a new identity for himself. But another demon recognizes him as Trent, the demon who can always come up with a new and perfect torture technique. And so, Chidi is tasked with figuring out a way to torture someone. That's not something he can abide. But Eleanor fires back with the argument that no action has an inherent good or bad value to it. It all just depends on the situation. She is able to cite philosophic work that Chidi hadn't even taught yet. That proves just how much she has grown as a person. But it also allows Chidi to be more comfortable in this environment and lie in order to preserve his identity. That action seems minor but is so personal rewarding while having a solid punchline with Chidi doing a ball tap too.

And of course, the ruse still goes completely up in smoke. The humans are discovered at the unveiling ceremony with robots that look identical to them. That moment shows exactly what the demons think of them. It reduces them down to their basic identities. They are more complicated characters than that who have grown over the two seasons. Some are able to recognize their past failings while others don't see the resemblance. But that's besides the point. Right now, they need to race to the portal. They've been found out with Shawn and everyone else in the Bad Place determined to catch them. They only get away because Jason throws a molotov cocktail. That's ridiculous. And yet, it also proves that he isn't wrong for immediately jumping to that as a solution to all of his problems. Here, it helps them get to the portal. And yet, that final beat is so absolutely devastating. The humans jump through one by one. Chidi, Tahani and Jason all make the journey. It's only then that it becomes clear to Michael that he only has one more pin. In that moment, he and Eleanor are in a real-life trolley problem. Before, he didn't take that thought experiment seriously. But now, he sees it with absolutely clarity for how personally destructive it is. And he also knows exactly what he has to do. He sacrifices himself for the sake of the humans. He does so hoping they are off to a better life. That moments proves that he is definitively on their side. He saves Eleanor and will pay for eternity with retirement. It's such a moving final beat. That bond between Eleanor and Michael has gotten so personal this season. They care about each other. They need each other in order to survive. But they have become friends who genuinely want the best life for each other. And now, the humans have survived this incredibly daunting mission. They only do so because of Michael. He deserves to join them. But that seems incredibly unlikely now - especially since he's at Shawn's mercy.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Rhonda, Diana, Jake and Trent" was written by Jen Statsky & Dan Schofield and directed by Alan Yang.
  • It's a tad surprising that it has taken this long for the show to cast Kristen Bell's real-life husband Dax Shepard in a role. A demon is certainly a character he can play well too. This one seems mostly contained to this episode though. It's unlikely he'll recur. But it's nice that he and Eleanor have that brief moment before his focus shifts back to whatever genius torture that Trent has come up with.
  • In the end, Chidi's lies weren't as bad as they could have possibly been. When he is put on the spot by the demons, he just lays out the reasons for why reading books could be torture. And again, he can simply rationalize it by saying that everyone hates moral philosophy professors. That's something he has heard so many times. And now, he can use it to his advantage in order to survive.
  • Tahani name drops even when she is deep in character. She believes she's putting in a great performance as this demon who works in the hotdog stuffing department. But she also feels the need to talk about stuffing John Wayne and being great at lying due to her friendship with Johnny Depp. Even the robot version of her name drops Elon Musk. That's delightful.
  • The Blake Bortles jokes have just continued to be great. It may be verging on too much because it seems like the only thing Jason is obsessed with. But it's also just so rewarding when he lights the molotov cocktail and yells out "Jortles" instead of Bortles (like he typically does). It's just so silly and yet so amazingly hilarious.
  • It's actually pretty remarkable that this is the first instance that some demons from the Bad Place have gotten the idea to storm the Medium Place to torture Mindy. There is nothing physically stopping them from doing so. It allows Shawn to go forward with this plan without going through the proper channels with the judge. But how have the demons resisted that temptation over the years to go torture her to break up the banality of their jobs?
  • This probably isn't going to be the end for Michael. Perhaps the humans will go back for him in order to prove themselves to the judge? Or perhaps Janet will help him somehow? She is still in the Bad Place too. That can't be a coincidence. She has a hard time blending into this world too. But she could still walk around undetected and help Michael in some way. She actually wants to help which should be beneficial.