Thursday, October 4, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Michael and Janet Battle a Demon to Protect Their Friends in 'The Brainy Bunch'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 3.03 "The Brainy Bunch"

Michael's grand scheme hits an unexpected snag and forces him to take drastic measures.

When Michael presented the papers from the Judge to the Doorman in the premiere, he noted that reversing the deaths of four humans would start up a new timeline. As such, there was the full expectation that Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason surviving beyond when they were suppose to would have major repercussions. There was a brief debate between Michael and the Judge about the impact as well. He thought it wouldn't be a big deal because it's just four people being revived. Moreover, Michael and Janet have been the ones actually watching over this new version of the experiment. It's a way to ensure that they all get into the Good Place by actually becoming better people on Earth. That is the only way to do so in the current point system. When the Judge finds out the extent to which Michael has been interfering on Earth though, she notes all of the ways this new timeline has radically changed because of the decision. She notes that it's because of their meddling that England voted for Brexit, The Greatest Showman made over $400 million worldwide and Bryon Allen bought the Weather Channel. Of course, the most stark difference is that the Jacksonville Jaguars are actually good now. The debate is being had over whether Blake Bortles is really an effective quarterback for the team. That seems so preposterous. It also confirms that the audience is actually living in the same timeline as the characters now are. And so, it's easy to blame them for all of these unintentional consequences that seem so drastic and ridiculous. None of these things seemed likely to happen. And yet, they all miraculously did somehow. Sure, it's bound to make Jason happy because his team now is playing in the playoffs and making a serious gambit for turning around their franchise. That doesn't stop the show from constantly making jokes about Florida. In fact, the show takes so much delight in imagining a restaurant in Australia that is nothing but a condemnation of everything America embodies. That proves that there is still so much fun on display throughout the narrative.

But again, it's a big deal that Michael and others from the afterlife continue to intervene in the affairs of those on Earth. The Judge told Michael that he could only go down to Earth to reverse four deaths. After that, he was just suppose to watch the count and see how well things are going for the four humans. He continues to intervene in their lives because he desperately wants them to get into the Good Place. He cares about them so much. He experienced a lifetime of seeing them constantly get better because they worked as a team. He now believes that's the proper way to run this experiment and present the results to the Judge. But again, the entire experiment could be tainted as well because of Michael's personal feelings. He is making the conscious choice to keep intervening in their lives. He does so out of love. He's doing so in order to prevent the Bad Place from injecting their own horrors on this new timeline. The show never really does explain how Trevor was able to fool the Doorman. It's just important that he is now on Earth. Sure, there's a beat early on as Michael goes on and on about how devious and horrifying Trevor is only for the action to immediately cut to him offering lemon bars to the group and being the absolute perfect guest. He is getting close to them and torturing them by making them miserable with his overly infectious attitude about the study. He is operating with a sense of awareness that no one else from the group has. He knows that these four humans are the only ones who truly matter. The entities in the afterlife are wasting so much time trying to change their fates or find new ways to torture them. Shawn and Trevor see the potential of the entire system changing. That terrifies them even though it's inspiring to think about for Michael. He presented this plan. And then, he immediately broke the rules because he wanted the results to be what he desired for all four humans.

Michael feels the need to save his friends. That's a genuine desire of his to prove how much they mean to him. He knows they are capable of great things. In fact, the show is even presenting proof that them being together in Australia will ultimately lead to more enriching lives for all of them. Sure, Chidi is still prone to fits of indecisiveness. He believes it could taint his study if he were to socialize and become friends with his test subjects. But their presence in his life has also given him a direction to pursue with his thesis. It has brought Simone into his life. He has the potential of being happy. He is just spinning out now because of Trevor's actions. He is so effective at getting the group to turn on each other. They revert back to their basic instincts. Eleanor immediately feels like she doesn't belong in this setting anymore because it's no longer just a one-on-one arrangement with Chidi. She valued their time together. She saw the feelings developing between Chidi and Simone. She was a good friend on the way to becoming a better person. But now, she sees the whole situation differently. Tahani is cool but Trevor is just way too annoying and clingy for her. She would rather just fly back to Arizona because this time isn't as valuable as it once was. All of this makes it seem as if Trevor is succeeding in his ultimate goal. Sure, it may be more difficult to continue to torture the four humans on Earth if they are no longer in the same place. But he would also be ensuring that they receive the same fates they got after their first deaths. Eleanor needs to be in Arizona to remain a trash bag person. Chidi needs to be incapable of making a single decision. Tahani needs to be ashamed of the new associations she is making. And Jason just needs to keep on being oblivious. Sure, it's amusing that he thinks getting bitten by a spider in an MRI will give him superpowers. But that's what makes him so lovable as well.

This entire conflict ultimately becomes about Michael versus Trevor as well. They are both trying to cast their influence over the group of humans. One side is good. The other is bad. They keep going back and forth on who is winning in this game. Michael has even recruited Janet to the cause because he needs someone who can interact with the group. He can't do it because the four humans have already seen him and would know that something more is possibly going on. He can still influence Chidi. He was seen as this Australian librarian who gave great advice. Sure, Michael gets ahead of himself in offering his help once more even though his alias couldn't have any awareness of what was going on in Chidi's life. Plus, Michael isn't even the reason why the study continues functioning in a normal and sane way. Chidi is still driving himself insane even after Michael's advice. Michael just wants Trevor gone. That's his sole focus. Chidi is thinking about a more profound question. It's because of the support that he gets from Simone and Eleanor that he is able to figure things out. That's very fortunate. Meanwhile, it's just amusing to watch as Janet freaks out because she has none of her powers on Earth. That's much more disruptive for her than Michael or Trevor because she was created to serve as a vast source of information. She has the ability to get anything at any moment. When the group asks for some drinks, she thinks she can just magically make them appear right away like always. Instead, she has a severe existential crisis. She freaks out because most of human life is apparently spent on waiting for things to arrive. It's absolutely crazy and has the ability to drive her just as insane as Chidi. She needs her constantly updating mind of information. She is not built for Earth.

This conflict ends not because Michael or Trevor is able to prevail over the other but because the Judge figures out what they've been doing and summons them back to the afterlife. She has absolutely no problem just flinging Trevor away through the grand expansion of the universe. She doesn't have time for his petty support as she lectures Michael and Janet on how they have potentially screwed up the timeline. It's such a ridiculous and really funny moment. Sure, the stakes are incredibly high as well. This could mean no more interference from the afterlife in the decisions on Earth. It could mean Michael and Janet just have to sit on the sidelines and watch life go on for the humans. It's even more devastating when the Judge rules that Michael and Janet have to return to the Bad Place. They have proven that they aren't worthy to move to do a different plane of existence. They have broken the rules without any regard for the impact their actions would have. They will face extreme consequences should they return to the Bad Place though. It would mean being retired and marbleized. Instead, the show creates a convenient way to keep Michael and Janet as active characters. It presents as a solid punchline to Janet being unable to use her powers on Earth. Now, all of the things she tried to summon are appearing in front of her. It creates a mountain of obstacles to keep the Judge away from them. It allows them to escape to Earth once more. The Doorman lets them through. The kindness shown through the frog thermos was enough for him to support Michael. It's such an intense but rousing moment. But it also means that Michael and Janet are stuck on Earth now as well. They can't return to the afterlife without facing judgment once more. And so, they may focus entirely on trying to intervene in the lives of the humans. However, that may only create more problems moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Brainy Bunch" was written by Dan Schofield and directed by Jude Weng.
  • Tahani and Jason weren't an inherently bad romantic pairing last season. In fact, it was a case of opposites attracting one another. However, Trevor is operating under the assumption that this vain version of Tahani would be absolutely horrified if she slept with Jason. And yet, Trevor's actions builds more of a relationship between them. One where Tahani appreciates and has sympathy for Jason because of his life in Australia.
  • Chidi gets Eleanor to commit to spending at least three more months in Australia for this study. Right now, she no longer sees the benefit of the study. Chidi has to go to fight for her in order to convince her this is the right place for her. She still delivers a snarky comment about all of that being better sent in a text. And yet, she only stays because it's Chidi standing in front of her telling her that he needs her in order to keep focused.
  • However, Trevor makes a very valid point in saying that all of the humans are staying in Australia for this study even though they aren't getting paid for it. It's the only thing that defines their lives in this country as well. They aren't working or socializing. In fact, it seems like Eleanor and Tahani are staying in hotels while Jason is sleeping in dumpsters. As such, these should be concerns explored further.
  • This is the first time that the Doorman has actually been to Earth. For all of eternity, he has only been standing guard by the door. He needs to see official papers before letting anyone through and taking them to where they need to go. Of course, he's amused by the other realm as well. He gets to splash some water around in a fountain. However, he's then quickly back to the job because Michael, Janet and Trevor are already all assembled for him.
  • That American restaurant is such a bitting commentary on how the rest of the world probably views us. It's horrifying to see guns be so normalized and treated as nothing but an alert that people deal with in society. Meanwhile, it's harsh to hear that the manifest package allows anyone to remove a guest from any table just by paying thirty dollars. This environment is probably only good once. But the show really does nail all of the details here.