The Good Place recap: The Bad Place Strikes Back
And so The Good Place closes its twistiest season with its biggest twist yet: A finale that doesn’t have a twist. “Pandemonium” doesn’t radically reset the structure of the show: no “This is the Bad Place,” no ensemble resurrection, no ensemble re-death. The basic stakes established in last week’s penultimate episode will, it seems, define next season. Eleanor, Michael, and their friends will continue their experiment to rescue humanity from an eternity of Bad Place torture. But, for now, they’re down one friend.
“Pandemonium” has some fun watching the characters reboot their original neighborhood from the other side. Michael is still a panic-attacky mess, worrying that his experiment will fail (and doom his friends to an eternity of torture at the hands of Bad Michael.) That means Eleanor has to step in as the decidedly unprepared Architect, guiding new arrival John through his introduction to The Good Place.
But John isn’t just some random sinner. He’s the creator of a world-famous blog called the Gossip Toilet, the place that invented the Olsen Twins Turn 18 countdown clock. They invented it, man! And John has a history of writing outrageously nasty, in-fairness-generally-accurate things about Tahani. He’s stunned at the prospect of spending eternity with her and is full of fun things to say. Tahani died in Canada? “That’s like the nipslip of dying!”
The Bad Place, it seems, didn’t just pick a random assortment of serial killers, tax cheats, and marathoners. “They picked the people who would be the worst for us,” the gang realizes. The second arrival? Simone, the chipper neuroscientist Chidi dates back in the Australia days.
Shawn gleefully admits that he picked people dangerously close to the onetime Soul Squad. The Judge didn’t say he couldn’t, after all. Her Judgeship lets Michael erase Simone’s memory to before she met Chidi. And what’s the problem? Chidi could live a hundred years in the neighborhood without even running into Simone. She certainly seems happy enough to have arrived in this corner of the afterlife, even if she thinks there’s a decent chance it’s all a complex electro-hallucination firing through her neuronic cylinders, brain stuff. Why complain? You can order Froyo in every flavor: Vanilla, Mint, Male Coworker Gets Called Out For Stealing Your Ideas.
This could work! The team has full faith in Eleanor. Says Jason: “You’re like the Blake Bortles of whatever’s going on right now, I’m not really sure.” Michael is excited about playing a behind-the-scenes puppetmaster role, kinda like Cyrano de Bergerac, more specifically like Kris Jenner. And Tahani defeats temptation to reach out in friendship to John — though John seems destined to make their friendship rather complicated/impossible.
But Chidi is troubled. His role in this experiment has been neutralized. He can’t teach their new arrivals moral philosophy. He might slip up around Simone — and if he slips up, that’s it for humanity for, like, infinity. Chidi thinks Shawn’s outflanked them — so they have to double-outflank him back. “You need to erase my memory,” Chidi says, “And reboot me.”
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Surely there has to be another way? So Chidi will run into his ex occasionally. It will be awkward, but that’s life/death! Or maybe they could just erase Chidi’s memories of Simone? That’s a no-go, unfortunately. Chidi’s memories of Simone are all tied up with Eleanor on this cycle. Removing Simone will remove everyone. “If we won’t wipe my memory,” Chidi says, “I will, one way or the other, ruin the experiment.”
Minor point of order, maybe, as we hurtle towards a very emotional final act. A couple elements of the gang’s plan seem a bit loosely defined. Like, Eleanor just stepped in to become the new Architect, and that seems to be going fine. Surely there’s some clever way to incorporate Simone’s shared history with the gang? I guess you could say that the problem is that Chidi knows Simone and doesn’t want to lie to her — but he was already going to lie to all of the newcomers, subtly guiding them towards enlightenment without ever telling them the grand plan swirling around him. Lying is the core of this experiment!! And it seems a bit of a stretch to suggest that Chidi’s powers of Teaching Moral Philosophy are so singular. Couldn’t he, like, Cyrano De Bergerac-ify this situation, feeding lines to Professor Tahani? Or, even better, Smart Guy Jason?
Nothing occurs to the gang, unfortunately. Michael keeps waiting for someone to say something innocuous so he can say: “Wait! Say that again!” Instead, Chidi says goodbye to his friends, making a huge sacrifice to save them all. He assures Jason that he will still remember what pizza is, even if he forgets that one time they ordered pizza in Sydney.
Eleanor and Chidi spend a quiet night in the town square. Michael makes them a sweet YouTube montage of Some Memories You May Have Forgotten. It’s all here: Their various meetings, lessons in moral philosophy, lessons in Kardashiana, dancing in the rain, reading on the lawn. Eleanor begins to cry. She can’t imagine how it will feel to see Chidi again and know that he doesn’t remember her. “I know that you’ll be here taking care of me,” he says. And they are confident about one thing. They found each other before, hundreds of times. They can do it again. “Jeremy Bearimy,” Chidi tells Eleanor. “You and I can chill out in the dot of the ‘i’ forever.”
It’s a sweetly romantic scene, but the final sequence is really gutting. Eleanor’s behind Michael’s desk, asking Janet the big question. She wants to know “The Answer to Everything,” she says. “What’s the point of love if it’s just going to disappear?” she asks. “There has to be meaning to existence. Otherwise, the universe is just made of pain, and I don’t like the thought of that.”
Janet knows where Eleanor’s coming from. She remembers how it felt when Jason didn’t even recognize her. “If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special,” Janet says. “It would just be machinery.” Eleanor and Chidi had a life together — isn’t that remarkable? Isn’t that, as Janet says, “Euphoria in all this randomness and pandemonium?”
Eleanor remembers “pandemonium.” It’s from Paradise Lost, the center of Hell, the place of all demons. Left unsaid: If “all this randomness” is pandemonium, then maybe the whole universe is the center of Hell. Which means, paradoxically, that this Hell is Heaven, too. Eleanor has to believe it. She didn’t just find love in a hopeless place. She found her soulmate, and became a better person, in Hell.
She walks outside to welcome in her next guest. “Hi Chidi, I’m Eleanor,” she says, meeting him for the first time all over again.
“Pandemonium” was a low-key finale compared to the show’s past seasons. And, after a season that struggled to juggle a plotline that twisted across the globe and through dimensions, it seemed to promise a more straightforward fourth season, with all the main characters (and returning recurring types like Simone) trapped in one final maze of afterlife social-experiment situation comedy. Chidi’s decision still confuses me on a pure plot-logic level, frankly. One last thing on this, sorry: Doesn’t his decision punish Eleanor in precisely the same way the Bad Place was sorta punishing him, forcing her to hang around staring at the ex who doesn’t remember her? Look, it is possible for even the best shows to have too much amnesia.
But the emotions resulting from that decision left a mark. I think season 3 of The Good Place has occasionally lost track of the characters, turning them into Touched By An Angel-ish problem solvers. Some of the world-building was very fun, and yet you missed the twirling madness of the old Jason-Tahani-Janet love triangle — and there wasn’t any character on a compelling transformative journey like Michael in season 2.
So I like how “Pandemonium” put the focus sharply on Chidi’s sacrifice — which is, of course, Eleanor’s sacrifice, too. After everything they’ve been through, eternity escapes them again. And now Eleanor has to lie to Chidi’s face. And how gutting that she’s such a good liar! The fate of the universe depends on Eleanor sitting across the desk from the love of her life, looking him in the eye, and seeing the absolute void where memories of her used to be. Damn, this is the Bad Place.
The Good Place