The Good Place recap: Time flies on a radical episode
When we talk about the development of The Good Place, there’s a natural tendency to praise the epic con job creator Michael Schur spun in the first season, the binary-flipping twist that rendered the show’s very title a grinning lie. But when I mark the evolution of The Good Place from “very good TV sitcom” into “one of my favorite things on TV,” I always point to season 2’s “Dance Dance Resolution,” the episode where an increasingly tense Michael reboots his torturous neighborhood several hundred times. It was a genuinely cosmic expansion of the show’s possibilities, suggesting via infinite repetition that the all-too-human characters were developing mythic new dimensions — that they were somehow fated to be together, trapped in a situation comedy of morals and philosophy.
The third episode of Good Place‘s third season, “The Snowplow,” is a kind of sibling to “Dance Dance Resolution,” though it’s also an inversion. Here again, time passes at an unexpectedly quick pace — a couple “Three Months Later” montages and a “Six Months Later” kicker rendering this as a yearling journey in 23 minutes between commercials, and a final promise that hints at further time jumps. But the message is a sharp retort to Michael’s actions in “Dance Dance Resolution” — and, maybe, a clever reconsideration of this whole season so far. Here on Earth, you can’t just keep on resetting things. Humans have to live their lives, no matter the consequences.
Michael and Janet arrive on Earth, fleeing from the Judge’s judgment. There’s no turning back for them now: Their entire existence depends on the souls of their four human friends, and the possibility that they can earn enough moral dollars to get themselves into the Good Place. So the former demon and former omniscient superbeing set up a command center nearby Chidi’s office, in a journalism department that’s as empty as most journalism departments this millennium. They also set up cameras inside Chidi’s office, allowing them regular surveillance of their favorite people.
The months pass. Chidi teaches his charges about Socrates and Aristotle. Funding comes in from the neuroscience department, and Simone brings some free cupcakes. Eleanor realizes she has to get a job. (Australia doesn’t just pay you to exist, y’know, it’s not Sweden, sigh, why can’t we all live in Sweden?) Michael worries that a job will lead Eleanor to miss class and slow down her progress. He declares a new mission: He and Janet shall become the Snowplow, clearing the route for the foursome to live better lives. Janet uses her pre-escape infinite knowledge to find Eleanor a winning lotto ticket. “I won eighteen thousand dollars!” says Eleanor. “Better luck next time!” grieves Tahani.
More money, more problems, more snowplowing. Lonely Jason seeks a pal to watch his beloved Jacksonville Jaguars. The games are on at weird hours here in Australia; it’s almost like they’re in a different zone of time. Or, to use the scientific term, “A different clock land.” Tahani offers to watch football with Jason. After all, she once dated a professional football player and even set him up with his current wife, Gisele. Bundchen. Also, she’s mad horny.
Michael wants to parent un-trap this couple. He worries their hooking up could spoil the group’s harmony. Janet agrees; she is still in love with Jason, after all. So they find Tahani a good companion: Larry Hemsworth, fourth and least of the Hemsworths, monstrously ugly and shrimpy when compared specifically to Thor. Larry’s a stone fox, of course, 6’4” with a perfect Aussie face. But he’s just right for Tahani; they both live in the shadow of more famous siblings. Jason doesn’t mind; he received a mysterious invitation to join the Sydney chapter of the Jacksonville Jaguars fan club and watched his home team annihilate the Texans.
Knowing very little about professional football, I used my investigative powers of Googling “Jaguars Vs. Texans.” After spending multiple milliseconds scrolling through untold kilabytes of information, it is my professional conclusion that the game Jason was watching actually occurred on December 17, 2017, when the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Kansas City Texans by 45-7. Just kidding, the Texans aren’t from Kansas City, they’re from the other Kansas City, in Delaware. But but but seriously, if we’re tracking the Earth timeline established since season 2’s finale, that means this episode was roughly taking the characters from mid-2017 through mid-2018 — very close to the “present day.” I have no clue if this matters. And yet, given that the Judge seems to think that Michael and Janet have inadvertently created lots of wild, Brexit-causing problems on Earth, I wonder if we’re being nudged to start viewing these characters in the context of the hysterical history happening around them. Perhaps the message is as simple as: “This has been a great era to spend every day in an academic study in Sydney.”
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Another six months pass, birthdays are celebrated, Kierkegaard is read. “This whole year has been amazing for all of us,” says Eleanor. “Literally every aspect of our lives has improved.” It’s true! Not only are they friends living better lives together; they also have a superboard! Like, a giant screen that talks to them! Sort of like an Alexa or a HomePod, but generic and philosophical.
Big changes abound. Tahani is getting married to Larry Hemsworth — and they’re moving back to London, immediately, to start planning the wedding! Michael worries about this development. Further snowplowings are canceled; sorry we never got to know you, Blake Beartles. Janet and Michael go undercover at the party Tahani is throwing at her AirBnB. Sorry, you didn’t hear me right. That’s her HeirBnB, where fancy types swap mansions, private islands, blimp hangars, that sort of thing.
Larry is excited to meet Tahani’s friends, referring to them as “The legendary study group.” (That phrase is another nudge, inadvertent or purposeful, towards Community, which feels more and more like a lodestar for The Good Place — or at least for Michael’s fervent belief that the group needs to stay together in order to become their best selves.) The first meeting with Larry is a bit awkward. Jason immediately asks if Miley Cyrus’ song “Wrecking Ball” was about Liam, which is probably a question Larry’s heard a million times, along with “Is there ever gonna be another Huntsman movie?” and “Is Luke Hemsworth a Host on Westworld?” Poor Larry! He’s just a dumb old pediatric surgeon who barely has an 8-pack!
Michael tries for some old-fashioned Jedi mind tricking. In character as “Nathaniel Cookswell, Caterer to the Stars,” he tries to convince Larry Hemsworth to stay in Sydney. But Larry assumes Michael’s a tabloidist from TMZed, doubling down on his yearning to escape the brutality of the Australian gossip rags. So Michael tries another tactic, risking discovery to convince Eleanor to give a big speech about how much she loves the study group.
Eleanor sincerely wants the group to stay together. “I was finally starting to figure things out,” she says. “Now I have to start over from scratch.” They’ve had a uniquely privileged moral safe space down here in Sydney: Human beings, sitting around talking about goodness, while all the while heavenly helpers send them lottery tickets and Hemsworths. Tahani brings out a cake for the whole Brainy Bunch, showing them at the beginning of their yearlong journey together. Eleanor gives a toast, begging them to stay together and keep it going. But Chidi thinks now is the logical time for a break. Information must be collated; a new group must be launched with new subjects. Eleanor freaks out, grabbing her face off the cake and retreating outside with a bottle of wine.
Why, she wonders, did she react that way? Simone has one possible answer rooted in evolutionary neuroscience. Humans had to overcome so many problems within their own programming. There’s Me vs. Us, a suspicion of all others. There’s Us vs. Them, a suspicion of everyone outside of one’s notional “group,” which explains racism and nationalism, and why fans of Stone Cold Steve Austin hate the Rock, and why angry Star Wars fans do anything. In Simone’s opinion, Eleanor never got past Me vs. Us. This group is the first time she’s ever really belonged with any group. Losing it threatens to regress her because she’s scared of being alone.
A compromise is considered. Tahani suggests a yearly reunion, everyone staying in one person’s house, or megayacht, or ski chalet. Jason suggests his hometown, which is literally sinking into the ocean. This promise seems to set up an even more time-flipping fourth episode, the whole gang meeting up every year, their lives passing by, the world optimistically still spinning when they’re middle-aged…
But then comes the big surprise at the end of the episode. Janet tries to convince Michael that the group’s break-up is a natural event. The humans have to go on living their lives; Janet and Michael have to hope they’ve helped them on their journey to the Good Place. Michael’s not convinced and conjures up a wild scheme requiring a break-in to the Judge’s quarters. One more reboot will fix everything, he tells himself, just like everyone who ever made a Terminator movie this century. He conjures up the heavenly door…and Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason walk into the room just in time to see it. “What the hell is that?” Eleanor asks. Maybe she’ll find out, and maybe she’ll find out that she already knows.