Thursday, January 4, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Michael Has to Make a Crucial Decision When Shawn Arrives in 'Leap to Faith'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 2.09 "Leap to Faith"

Michael receives a surprise visitor. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason attempt to solve a riddle.

This neighborhood was Michael's first design as a Bad Place architect. It has his time to step up and prove his worth to his bosses. He opted for a bold approach. He decided to completely reinvent the formula. The idea of the Bad Place has been set for a million years. Every time someone has tried to introduce something new it has backfired on them and they were forced to retire. There was a lot riding on this experiment to be a success for Michael. He went into it having reluctant support from Shawn and the rest of the demons. Shawn gave him the freedom to run this experiment. He predicted that it would all fail miserably and Michael would be retired. But he was curious to see if there truly was a new way to torture humans. The first run was a complete disaster. Eleanor figured it out long before Michael wanted her to. He felt he addressed the crucial mistake that ruined his experiment. But then, it kept coming up short for him. He repeated this experiment over eight hundred times. Each time had the same outcome. And each reboot carried with it the risk of Shawn finding out and shutting the whole thing down. That would send Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason to the real Bad Place and Michael to retirement. The stakes were high. Michael needed to change in order to avoid that brutal end. The entire narrative was trying to outrun Shawn's discovery of what has really been going on.

And then, Shawn suddenly appeared in Michael's office at the close of the previous episode. It came at a time when everything was going well for Michael and humans. Well, it wasn't going perfectly. But they managed to subdue Derek and handle Janet's constant malfunctions all without Vicky becoming any wiser as to what was really going on. Michael went over to Eleanor to express his appreciation. That was the moment that revealed he truly has changed. He's no longer the demon interested in torturing humans. The threat is always going to be present that he'll revert to his old ways with the proper motivation. And now, that temptation has arrived. It has arrived in the form of Shawn. He has always been the presence of failure. When he pops up, it means that all of this is over. There will be no more trying to change thanks to Chidi's ethical lessons. It means that Michael and the humans have to be good enough in their attempt to leave this neighborhood behind for the actual Good Place. And now, that day of reckoning has arrived. Shawn has returned. But he's not here to punish Michael because he figured out what was going on. Shawn still believes this is the second version of the experiment. And so, he has arrived to congratulate Michael and offer him a promotion. That's a surprising development that really sets the stage nicely for "Leap to Faith" and the final portion of the season.

All of this creates an immediate moral quandary for Michael. It's the trolley problem all over again. But now, there are no illusions that can just be wiped away with special powers. Now is the time for him to make his decision about what to do. He has to prove himself as either a demon or a good person. Shawn is applauding all of his strong work. He's giving Michael everything he has ever wanted. This neighborhood may be shutting down. But it ends as a success. Michael will be the head of a new department amongst Bad Place demons. He's been promoted and will be supervising a whole bunch of neighborhoods designed just like this one. Shawn is curious how he managed to pull it off so perfectly the second time around. And yes, the tension is quite high that Vicky will ultimately tell the truth in order to get the credit she believes she deserves for how "well" this latest run is going. But it's more important to wonder if Michael is still covertly working with the humans and sending them messages in his villainous statements or if he has truly reverted back to his old ways. It always feels a little inevitable that Eleanor will be proven right for saying that Michael is still trustworthy. But it's also important to have that little shred of uncertainty. That's what gives this episode so much power.

Of course, it's also just a lot of fun to see the demons just relishing the chance to be who they truly are with their open disdain and hostility to these humans and this neighborhood. This is a celebration for them. It's an opportunity to party because they successfully tortured humans. Sure, they all know that it is more complicated than that. But right now, they aren't required to think. Vicky is the only one who actually suggests that something shifty is going on. Michael is aware of that and is able to trick her into playing a role in his ultimate plan. Sure, it may not be the morally right thing to do. It's tragic to envision Vicky trapped inside that cocoon for the rest of eternity. She's blamed for something she didn't do. She didn't help the humans escape. She was simply suspicious of Michael whispering to Janet. But it's hilarious to see that Michael wasn't really whispering anything of substance to Janet. That could be his loophole for saying that he didn't do anything ethically wrong. That's the complexity of this episode. Michael is seemingly doing all of these horrible things. He gets Vicky trapped in her new situation. He leads a roast of the four humans. All of these could be seen as behavior that shouldn't be rewarded.

And then, Michael shows his appreciation for Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason being able to figure out his messages. He's just so glad to see them underneath the second train. That moment of gratitude shows that he was selfless in his actions. He was doing whatever it took to protect his new friends. And they are his friends now. He knows that they must have doubted his intentions with this facade he had to put on to fool Shawn and the other demons. But it's so meaningful that Eleanor is the one who always seems to stand in support of Michael. From the beginning, she was the one advocating that Michael could not be trusted. He was a demon simply doing whatever it took to save his own skin. She didn't want to go along with this plan. And now, she's the only one still wanting to trust and support Michael. Sure, there are times when she doubts his intentions too. It's hard to trust someone when he is doing a roast of all of the humans' worst qualities. But it's through that performance that Michael is able to relay his instructions for how to get out of this predicament.

It all basically comes down to Blake Bortles too. That's just a wonderful payoff for a running joke with Jason that has been going on for awhile now. Jason just obsessively loves the Jacksonville Jaguars. This show has ripped that team apart. It's been condescending in so many ways. It hasn't destroyed Jason's spirit or his support for the team. And now, it's the plot point which everything else pivots around. That is so surprising but so completely earned as well. Sure, Jason isn't the one who figures it out. That truly would have been miraculous. He just criticizes Michael for not even getting the name right. But as soon as the word "Derek" came up, it became clear that Derek was about to return from the void much sooner than anyone could have anticipated. No one outside of the group knows he exists and has some of the same powers as Janet. Sure, he mostly just stumbles around saying his own name. But it's such a great payoff to his presence on the show as well while also giving Mindy St. Clair what she has always wanted in the Medium Place too. The humans are able to figure all of this out. It shows that these six individuals truly are a team right now. Of course, they've only bought some time. The demons are expecting this neighborhood to be destroyed shortly. So, things are still intense heading into the final portion of the season. But this is a really strong return episode that puts everything into perspective while keeping the twists coming. It once again proves just how satisfying and funny this show has become.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Leap to Faith" was written by Christopher Encell and directed by Linda Mendoza.
  • It's kinda amusing how the humans are unable to be covert when the situation requires them to sneak away from this party to the train station. This season has required them to do more sneaking around so that they aren't discovered by any of the other demons. They succeeded with that. And now, the demons aren't really paying attention to them at all. They are able to sneak off as a group. But it's funny how they basically run into each other moments after agreeing they should split up.
  • Shawn has been sent reports about what's going on in the neighborhood for the past eight hundred years. It's because of that knowledge that he comes with this promotion for Michael. But he also comes curious about how he managed to get Tahani and Jason together in a romantic way. Michael's only answer was humans do stupid things when they are horny.
  • The season of great comedic use of Janet continues here. She is tied up with handcuffs that eliminate her powers and basically make her drunk all of the time. That's a great change-up for a character who could easily have helped the humans and Michael with this deception if she was able to. Plus, it's great how she still has a hangover after the handcuffs are removed.
  • Has the show previously stated the rule that none of the Bad Place demons can enter the Medium Place? It certainly makes sense. The temptation would always be there to go torture Mindy St. Clair when she least expects it. And she has been tortured many times over the years thanks to Eleanor and Chidi. But it's also noteworthy that the demons are returning to the Bad Place instead of chasing after the humans. However, they aren't giving up that mission just yet either.
  • I highly doubt that this is the last time the show ever includes Vicky, Mindy and Derek. It certainly has some finality to it. Vicky is eliminated as a potential complication - though she could tell Shawn the truth as soon as she's freed depending on what Michael does next. Meanwhile, Mindy gets the cocaine she has always wanted as well as a robot she can use for sex despite Derek having wind chimes for genitalia. 
  • Michael: "I thought we should celebrate with an art form that we literally invented here in the Bad Place: the comedy roast!"
  • Jason: "Blake Bortles is a cool name. Derek Bortles is a dumb name."