The #BrainyBunch is dead. Long live the #SoulSquad. “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” completes the pivot The Good Place started last week. Once upon a time, like two weeks ago, season 3 formed its central cast of characters around a passionate belief in the redemptive possibility of cross-disciplinary neurological-philosophical study. But the time for contemplation has ended! Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani have joined Michael and Janet on a global quest of holistic life coachery, helping their friends and family accrue Good Place points to assure a serene afterlife.
“The Ballad of Donkey Doug” splits its focus between Australia and Florida, truly the sacred and the profane. Down Under, Chidi struggles with the Problem of Simone. He can’t stay with his girlfriend, much as he loves her. His moral code means he can’t lie, and any whisper about the truth of the afterlife could doom Simone to eternity with demons like Todd. Janet cooks up a virtual reality simulator to help him practice. The technology is very Black Mirror. Chidi even gets to wear those cool brain-tapping glowcircles. When will we get to start wearing cool brain-tapping glowcircles? (Wait, what if we already are?)
Across this warming world, Jason arrives at the Randy “Macho Man” Savage International Airport. Jason shows Tahani and Michael all the local sights. Look, over there, the swamp where Jason, Pillboi, and Donkey Doug used to stand and try to blind pilots with laser pointers! Tahani’s a bit confused by their mission, frankly. Why does Jason want to save his father, a man he’s never talked about? “I talk about Donkey Doug all the time!” Jason says. Yes: Donkey Doug, the excellent pop-and-locker who almost married Sheila the Black Market Gator Dealer, is Jason’s father. Tahani is shocked. Isn’t that the guy who was banned from Disneyworld for biting Buzz Lightyear? “In his defense, he thought it was someone else,” Jason explains without explanation.
Donkey Doug (played by very funny guest star Mitch Narito) is a true American Dreamer, full of get-rich schemes that prevent him from ever getting his electrician’s license. One time, he tried to create a cross between dodgeball and horseshoes, and unfortunately, everyone died. But this is Florida, the land of monster trucks taxis and the Magic Mike duology. Outside Donkey Doug’s apartment, there is a man alone in a pool piling beer and ice cubes onto an inflatable alligator-cooler. That man is America, and thus too is Donkey Doug, who flirts with Tahani immediately after learning she’s married to his son.
Donkey Doug’s got Pillboi involved in his newest scheme. It’s a business proposition, Shark Tank-ready. “How much do you spend on energy drinks and body spray in one week?” Pillboi asks rhetorically. “Three hundred dollars? Ten hundred dollars?” These two entrepreneurs have a solution to your problem, sharks: Double Trouble, the world’s first energy drink slash body spray. “Do you spray it on yourself or drink it?” Michael asks. “You both it,” Pillboi promises. I have watched that line reading thirteen times, and can confirm it is the funniest single moment on TV this month. (Huzzah for you, Pillboi performer Eugene Cordero!)
Should the Soul Squad encourage Donkey Doug’s new business venture? Probably not. Goofy as it already sounds, Double Trouble will be a business built on crime, with a double factory heist planned for this very night. (Triple, actually: After they steal the energy drink and the body spray, they’ll need to hit the bottle factory.) Complications ensue for Chidi, too, as he constantly tries and fails to break up with the digital version of Simone. He goes for mystery, I have to break up with you but I can’t say why. He goes existential, I’m dying because we’re ALL dying. He opts for a vintage Michaelism, My real name is special agent Rick Justice, FBI. He even tries proposing to her. At one point, Eleanor steps into the simulation, attempting to break up for Chidi by proxy. Sparks fly between Eleanor and the Simone simulation. “Why is it,” Janet ponders, “Every time a new thing is invented, humans immediately try to use it for porn?”
Some laughs, no doubt, in a subplot about Chidi Groundhog Daying himself through the same bad breakup. I wonder if Janet’s digital simulation will be a one-off gag or a new thread in season 3’s tangled web. (It could even just be a meta-gag. Surely someone out there still holds to the season 1 fan theory that The Good Place is all taking place inside a simulation.) Still, the Donkey Dougless corner of “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” worked less well for me. Simone was an interesting new addition to the cast, and some aspect of this episode felt like an admission that she — and maybe even the whole “study group” subplot — was ultimately a placeholder for the show’s Amnesia Period. We’re back with the original crew, so there’s no place for the newbies — understandable, maybe, but you recall how in the first couple seasons characters like Vicky and Shawn (and MINDY ST. CLAIRE!) kept growing in importance. Maybe the same will happen with Simone? I’m bored, what’s Pillboi doing?
NEXT: What Pillboi is doing…
Pillboi is working alongside the senior citizens at the assisted living facility, advising them on the best way to balance their drugs and 5-Hour-Energies so they’ll get a body high with mild visuals. Tahani shows up, mysteriously explaining that he doesn’t need to take part in the planned triple heist. Pillboi agreeably returns to work, not asking any questions.
At an actual analog cafe, Chidi tries to break up with Simone. It doesn’t go well. He keeps getting interrupted by servers, including chipper Helmut (comedian/YouTube-type Flula Borg). Part of this unceremonial dumping involves Chidi literally saying “Ya dumped.”
Jason’s attempt to save his dad from immortal hellfire goes worse, initially. In fact, by the time Jason arrives at the factory, he’s all but given up on Donkey Doug. Instead, he begs his elder to leave Pillboi alone — that’ll be one soul saved in Florida, at least. But when the cops show up, Donkey Doug reveals an unexpected, tangled decency. “I’ll distract them,” he promises Jason. Apparently, saving sons from police is a family legacy. “Someday you’ll do this exact thing for your son,” he says. “I mean, I hope not,” says Jason, who nevertheless is touched by his father’s sacrifice.
So Donkey Doug leaves out the front door, screaming “BORTLES!” into the night as the police chase after him. Is Donkey Doug’s action good, or bad? He caused the cops to show up, after all — but then, in a moment of extremely illegal thievery, he helped his son. This is precisely the kind of hilariously knotty moral question that The Good Place excels at excavating. And then the Soul Squad’s final words to Pillboi are even goofier, and even more complicated. They spin a lie about being secret astronaut spies — the fact that Jason apparently misstated “NSA” as “NASA” is my favorite think-about-it joke of the week — and tell Pillboi he has to stay at his job, helping old people, waiting for a new command from NASA HQ. It’s a command that will never come, of course — but that’s the same fundamental con you build a religion from, and if Pillboi is still telling his grandchildren decades hence that they have to work hard at a legal job while they await a new mission from secret astronaut spies — well, that’s a hell of an improvement from selling an energy drink body-spray made from stolen substances poured into stolen bottles.
Meanwhile, Chidi goes to see Simone one last time. Eleanor, who’s offered lots of unhelpful advice all episode, finally lands on a true piece of wisdom: “Her world is bigger than your relationship.” A lot bigger. As Chidi patiently explains why they have to break up, Simone already looks pretty over it. “You’re so weird, man,” she says. “I think maybe this is for the best.”
So, like, um: That’s over, I guess? As I mentioned in last week’s recap, I continue to struggle with the feeling that the whole trip to Australia was a bit of a stall tactic (with one episode so outrageously funny that I wake up every day wishing I could grab lunch at the Cowboy Skyscraper Buffet). But maybe there’s more here than we know? “See you in the next life,” Simone tells Chidi — a loaded line in this show in any context. Could that be a slight hat tip back to Lost, another show about people leaving Australia and going to a land beyond the usual flow of life and death, where one major character’s semi-catchphrase was “See you in another life, brother”? Simone = Desmond, question mark? I’ll explore this more in my upcoming thinkpiece, “How Hurley’s Chicken Dream Explains Helmut the Helpful Waiter.”
Onwards to the next rescued soul! Everyone meets in Budapest, where Tahani’s sister’s museum exhibit is about to open. The Australian contingent’s happy to hear Jason received closure from his dad. Eleanor’s just sorry she can’t make peace with her parents, as they’re both dead. Actually, Janet mentions, “one of your parents is not technically actually dead.” Eleanor’s mother faked her own death. Now she has to fly back to America and murder her. Important question: Who’s already ‘shipping Mrs. Eleanor and Donkey Doug?