The Good Place recap: Everything changes, again
Was this a good episode of The Good Place? Reply hazy, ask again the moment nothing never occurs. “Jeremy Bearimy” looks like a pivot episode, transforming the narrative mission of season 3 by trashbin-tossing Michael’s Big Plan, conclusively reuniting the central six characters into a do-gooding Soul Squad. Some of the chess moves feel a bit awkward. There’s one very big, very theme-y speech that could mark a worrisome tipping point for what The Good Place has been trying to accomplish, a shift from “concepts of moral philosophy performed by characters with a rich inner life” into “concepts of moral philosophy explained via voiceover and explanatory clip show.” There are many, many belly laughs in “Jeremy Bearimy” and the second time I watched the episode I wound up crying twice, so this is A Very Good TV Show slash also we live in emotional times. But a few core aspects of this episode left me cold and seemed to offer a too-easy perspective on usually complicated characters.
We begin cliffhanging off last week’s conclusion, with the once-and-never-again study group discovering Michael and Janet strolling through a heavenly door. Worse, they heard everything their heavenly helpers were just talking about: Good Place, Afterlife Points, the whole moral economy of the world beyond this one. Just hearing this information has probably doomed them. Their motivation to be good has been corrupted. Their point score is frozen. And everyone recognizes Michael. Jason knows him as Zack Pizzazz, Chidi recalls a librarian with a convincing accent, Tahani knew him as Gordon Indigo. Stumbling for an explanation, Michael lands on a new alias: Special Agent Rick Justice, FBI agent partner of Lisa “Frenchy” Fouquoi, precise surname spelling¯_(ツ)_/¯.
Eleanor doesn’t buy it. She worked at a place raided by the FBI all the time. And she’s always been able to spot a con, especially one of Michael’s cons. So Michael and Janet tell them everything: Their deaths, their 802 reboots, the great plan to save their souls. It requires a whole night’s exposition. The humans get a little hung up on the chronology. If they were dead almost three hundred years, how were they able to resurrect back into present-day Earth?
“Because of Jeremy Bearimy,” says Michael, writing that rhyming name on a whiteboard in cursive English. Those words are actually a graph, kind of, an exact geo-chronographic description of how time flows in the afterlife. The dot over the “i” represents Tuesdays, and July, and never. It’s precisely like the Terminator movies.
The tenth-dimensional curlicue logic breaks Chidi’s mind. He walks off wandering through campus, quoting Nietzsche’s 1882 LP “God is Dead” to drug dealers, shopping shirtless in a supermarket, handing his car keys over to a stupefied checkout clerk. Eleanor’s breakdown is less mental but quite moral. She decides to live her life the way she used to, setting off for the closest bar and demanding a birthday margarita for a day that badly isn’t her birthday. She tells the bartender her rules for living, a philosophy you could call “rational individualism” if rational individualism wasn’t too dumb to count as philosophy. The bartender cocks an eye at the idea that she only wants to do things her way. Heck, if everyone did that, society would break down! “In America,” Eleanor declares, “Everyone does what they want, society did break down, it’s terrible, and it’s GREAT!”
Tahani and Jason have a different reaction to their prophesied eternal doom. Tahani hires Jason as a bodyguard, just like her friend Kevin Costner in that movie where he played a postman. “I have always been held captive by my desire for attention,” Tahani says. That has changed now. “I just want to be virtuous for virtue’s sake.” Learning about her eerie fate offers her a weird, divesting clarity. She gives a big donation to the Sydney Opera House but demands that she remain anonymous. (Minor moral fact check here: As Curb Your Enthusiasm proved in a plotline involving Ted Danson himself, anonymous donors are arguably even more egotistical than regular donors, knowing full well that gossip about their anonymity will make their donation seem more heroic.)
Jason has a more straightforward idea for Tahani: Why not just give money to strangers? They run around the streets of Australia performing random acts of spirituality, just like everyone in Leftovers season 3. (Jason gives money to a street musician with a violin, noting that she can buy “a bigger chin guitar.”) Figuring that she’s a middleman who can be cut, Tahani goes to her bank and asks them to hand her fortune over to Jason. Unfortunately, the bank manager simply can’t allow that, explaining: “We’re technically supposed to shut down the bank if anyone from Florida even walks in.”
NEXT: Chidi rejects all meaning and value
Eleanor finds a lost wallet left at the bar. She snickers at her good fortune, preparing to pocket the Australian currency. And then…something stops her. Conscience? A Chidi-shaped angel on her shoulder? Memories of Immanuel Kant? She follows the address on the ID card inside the wallet to a house, planning to drop off the wallet and then head back to her trash country. But the wallet’s owner, Fred Booth, has moved across town to 78 Palmer Street. And while she’s going to see him, would she mind bringing him his mail? And his houseplant, and his hose, and a lamp?
She takes Fred’s wallet, and all his stuff, to his house. Fred digs through his wallet and discovers a treasured possession: A picture his little girl drew, to give him some confidence when he started a new job. Every time he’s stressed at work, he looks at that picture and feels safe. That brings Eleanor to tears. It’s been a weird day!
And it’s only getting weirder in Chidi’s lecture hall, where he’s cooking peeps and M&Ms into a Wonkavorian chili pot. The students can tell he’s going through something, but beg him to teach them something. After all, the test is next week!
So Chidi launches into a straightforward lecture, offering them nothing less than the meaning of life. “Over the last 2,500 years, Western philosophers have formed three main theories about how to live an ethical life,” he explains. There’s Virtue Ethics, the theory that there are certain virtues of mind and character like courage and generosity, and you should follow those virtues. There’s Consequentialism, which focuses on the consequences of your actions, and how much utility (good) versus pain (bad) it causes. And there’s Deontology, which argues there are strict rules and duties everyone should adhere to in a functional society. I have spent an absurd amount of time on this sentence I’m writing trying to figure out a vaguely accurate way to compare those ethical strategies to specific superhero franchises, like maybe the Marvel Cinematic Universe explores Consequentialism, whereas the DC Extended Universe values Virtue Ethics, and the X-Men movies are Jeremy Bearimy. But attempted research in this direction led me to the rabbit-holing possibility that they all represent ethical totalitarianism (except for Hellboy, of course.)
The Good Place conjures up a slightly more accurate comparison. While Chidi describes virtue ethics, we see a clip of Tahani giving her anonymous gift to the Sydney Opera House. Consequentialism leads into Tahani and Jason giving money to various Australians. And Deontology finds Eleanor giving Fred his lost wallet. Chidi himself has given up on all those ethical possibilities, telling his students that the only truth is nihilism. “The world is empty. There is no point to anything, and you’re just gonna die. So do whatever.”
So, like, point made! If you happened to be wondering whether this episode was about the four Good Place humans reacting to cosmic awareness with four distinct flavors of philosophy, then here is the subtext laid bare! It’s didactic, which isn’t necessarily bad. The Good Place has always used Chidi as the academic voice of too-much-reason. And some aim of this show has always been to reconfigure the sitcom format into a postmodern Socratic Dialogue, and Socratic Dialogues aren’t not didactic.
Still, something about Chidi’s speech feels extra speechy, like the show has a lot of big ideas and couldn’t figure out how to wedge them in without just, well, wedging them in. It makes the character’s reactions in this episode feel a little too algorithmic, more clever than human. Sure enough, Eleanor shows up right after Chidi’s speech, just in time to rescue him from an afternoon spent drowning in his marshmallow chili. She has a plan, a plan for everyone!
Which she explains in Michael and Janet’s office, joined by Tahani and Jason, who have big news. They got tacos! Also, married! But only their relationship is platonic (Socratic?), just an easy way for Jason to get half Tahani’s money out of her Florida-shaming bank. Michael and Janet have just finished writing their manifesto, a document explaining all their findings from the creation of Michael’s neighborhood onwards. They hope it will lead someone, sometime, to change the rules of the afterlife.
But Eleanor is more focused on the (before) life they’re leading right now. “The six of us are not getting into the Good Place,” she says. But “there are still people in this world we care about. I say we try and help them be good people.” Eleanor gives the super six a new mission, asking Chidi to join the Soul Squad. They all agree on this new course of action — right as poor Larry Hemsworth walks in, ready to start a new life with Tahani, blissfully unaware that she’s left him far behind.
Eleanor’s mention of “people in this world we care about” makes me think the rest of this season will leverage The Good Place‘s big supporting cast, as everyone seeks to guide their friends and family (and maybe even Tahani’s friend James Cameron) down the path to enlightenment. Which is interesting. And in a lot of ways, this season of The Good Place has moved at such a breakneck pace, so I don’t even mind that the whole neurological-philosophical study looks a bit like a nonstarter plotline, a way to Get Everyone Together during season 3’s “Humans Have Amnesia” phase.
Still, there’s something a little too fast-paced about this episode, a hop-skip-super jump from “we just learned we’re going to Hell” to “we’re dedicating our life to goodness, not badness!” What made the season 2 finale so brilliant was how it suggested that the simple wages of normal human life wear down a person’s moral code, burying their best instincts under the day-to-day grind. At this point, do these characters even have a grind? They spent a year learning morals in Sydney. One of them just got fabulously rich (because another one just got slightly less fabulously rich.) And now like I think that The Good Place wants us to keep this in mind, wants us to remember that up until now Michael and Janet were snowplowing the ethical roads for their beloved humans, dropping a lotto ticket here and a Hemsworth there. Surely “The Soul Squad” won’t just become the eerily overfunded Criminal Minds of good deeds, crisscrossing the world to help people become their best selves. Right?
All to say, this is an episode I don’t really know what to make of now. Depending on how season 3 turns from here, it might turn out to be a linchpin, a thesis statement explaining all that follows. Or it could just be a somewhat unnecessary restatement of a lot of ideas that were already explored, to transcendent effect, last season. Like I said, let’s check in on this when we dot the “i” over Jeremy Bearimy. In conclusion, here are the names of all the Australian characters in this episode, per the end credits:
Mark Supial (MARK SUPIAL, PEOPLE)
The Good Place