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November 01, 2018 at 09:00 PM EDT

“A Fractured Inheritance” continues the #SoulSquad phase of The Good Place‘s third season. It is a phase, I think, a bridge between the Sydney era and Whatever Comes Next. And it’s a phase that is presumably coming to a close, as we’ve just about run out of Supporting Characters Who Previously Only Existed In Flashbacks. Though I guess it’s possible that the main characters proceduralize toward random acts of soul-saving, like every episode becomes about picking random citizens who need to learn the value of being excellent to each other. Certainly not the worst thing in the world, here in 2018, to construct a show about people who want other people to be good. But this week’s episode, “A Fractured Inheritance,” left me feeling like this was the least interesting phase of The Good Place‘s existence so far.

Like last week, the characters are split in two corners of the globe when the episode begins. Eleanor and Michael head to Nevada, where her mother (returning guest star Leslie Grossman) has fled Gene Simmons-related auction fraud by starting a new life as Diana Tremaine. In Budapest, Tahani sought a reckoning with her sister Kamilah (Rebecca Hazlewood, my favorite recurring Good Place performer who isn’t a giant lava creature.)

Grossman’s a delight as Eleanor’s mom, although her casting made a bit more sense in Child Eleanor flashbacks. Grossman’s not even a decade older than Kristen Bell, and maybe that’s part of the gag here, really. Wearing perpetual athleisure, the former Donna Shellstrop is another one of Good Place‘s American goofs, the kind of Real Housewife-in-waiting who was always destined to be Queen Bee in a decommissioned military bombing test site-turned-suburban township.

Except Donna seems much changed now that she’s Diana. The new man in her life, Dave, is a steady architect (played by Andy Daly!) She seems like an attentive stepmom figure for his daughter, Patricia. Why, “Diana” is the kind of person who’s excited about participating in the PTA meeting. “You’re running a scam,” Eleanor insists. She might be wrong. And Michael’s having a great time bonding with Dave over their shared professional history. “You should see the new Hooters on I-15,” Dave says, architect-to-architect. “It looks classy. Like a bank.” Dave’s really going places, you see. He’s designing a Subaru dealership slash burlesque club in Reno. “Man, Nevada’s a mess!” Michael remarks, still buzzing off Dave’s margaritas.

We move from American suburbia to the heights of Eurotrash avant-garde! Kamilah’s taken over a whole wing of an art museum, showing off her paintings and a piece of performance art where she herself will make any attendees an omelet. This is arguably less loopy than most performance art installations, like Marina Abramovic is cool and all but did she ever make you a tasty breakfast dish? Tahani takes the opportunity to make amends with her successful sister. “For whatever hurt I’ve caused you, I sincerely apologize,” she says. “I do not accept your apology,” Kamilah responds.

This worries Tahani. On one hand, she’s worried that Tahani is a charlatan. On the other hand, she now wants to strangle her sister. Chidi’s no help. His attempt at talking to Kamilah leads the famous artist-philosopher to hug away all his fears, real Leftovers type stuff. So Tahani seeks a more direct method. “I have matured into a fully formed adult with empathy and self-awareness,” she says. “But if you don’t accept my apology, I will smash your stupid art exhibit into bits!” Things spiral downhill quickly. An ax is brandished. Is it art, you might ask? Isn’t everything?

The common theme emerging here, between Tahani and Eleanor, is interesting enough. Expecting to find their respective relatives living a life of sin, they each start acting out in unhealthy ways. Eleanor thinks her mom is a charlatan, too, an inveterate confidence trickster running game on a sweet guy and his kind daughter. After a short while, though, Eleanor herself seems to be the fly in the ointment here, thinking the worst of a situation. Tahani thinks Kamilah’s a giant phony, and yet Tahani’s the one pulling out the ax. I wonder sometimes if this whole season of The Good Place is another confidence trick — if the Soul Squad has really learned anything, or is capable of saving anyone. Certainly, around the midpoint of the episode, you had a distinct impression that Tahani and Eleanor might just make things worse.

NEXT: Things don’t get worse

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type
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seasons
3
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run date
09/19/16
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