Overthinking It TV Recaps are back in a series we call The Good Place Unlocked. These articles will contain spoilers for all of Season 1 (which are really significant spoilers!) and through the episode of Season 2 under discussion.
Ben Adams: I was struck in this episode by how much a role the concept of having a “soulmate” featured in the various tortures inflicted on our Humans. For all but Eleanor, the chief source of their torment is being told that the universe has selected this person for them, but then finding out that that person makes them miserable in some way or another. And even though Eleanor’s soulmate doesn’t feature prominently in her torture, her torture comes from a similar source – she has been told that the universe is one way (she belongs in the Good Place), but discovers that the Universe got it wrong. As Michael says to open the episode, we are truly exploring “new ways of making humans miserable.”
But what really elevated this episode is that now the Demons (Michael and Denise in particular) have been brought fully into our cast as point-of-view characters. Trying to catch lightning in a bottle two seasons in a row is a tricky act to pull off, particularly with such a high concept as The Good Place, so it’s really exciting to see the show be so confident in throwing new elements into the mix.
Not only are we seeing what it’s like for the demons planning and executing these tortures, but we’re also getting an accelerated timeline of discovery by Eleanor. I was worried how they were going to flesh out a full season of Eleanor figuring out what was going on. Clearly I was wrong to doubt the Good Place.
Jordan Stokes: One thing that it seems like the show is going to lose this season – and I’m sorry to see it go – is the ethics tutorial. This is partially for plot-mechanical reasons – my guess at this point is that the core four are going to figure out what’s up and get their minds wiped every couple of episodes throughout the season, which doesn’t give Chidi much time to write a syllabus. But it’s also just no longer relevant.
In S1, when we thought we were in the good place, we really cared about Eleanor becoming a better person. It really mattered. But now that we’re in the Bad Place, it matters less. The show has stopped being a personal growth story and has turned into a prison break story. (This bothers me less than it might: Eleanor had already become about as much of a good person as we could ask – not perfect, sure, but willing to endure eternal punishment to spare her friends. Watching her get much better would probably stop being fun).
Ben, like you said, the new stuff with the demons is great! I think that Angélique’s thesis title, “Moral Absolutism and Cultural Relativism” may be really significant, actually. The demons are showing themselves to be interesting people with concerns that we care about: their culture is as valid as human culture. But that’s within a morally absolute framework: they are still literal demons who like torture and hate goodness.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to think about how their motivations are all, well, bad. Micheal is scared of Retirement: fear is a vice in Aristotelian ethics. Vicky/Denise/Real Eleanor is proud of her acting skills — “I’m a Ferrari, Michael!” — and Pride is one of the seven deadly sins.
Amanda Jordá: To Ben’s point about how the “soulmate” torture seems so central to all the characters, dooming someone to unrequited love forever does seem like a very efficient way to make someone miserable. Love is central to happiness in a way that few other things are, and in a real life scenario, you could be single but still have hope that you’ll fall for someone and they will love you back. But the way it’s set up in the show, that hope is dead from the start, so the characters feel shut out from the experience of love altogether.
And we’ve seen characters develop feelings for each other to some extent, so it would be risky to have everyone be single and leave falling in love up to chance. By pairing people with a fake soulmate, Michael can still cause the kind of anguish that comes with unrequited love while mostly maintaining control of the situation. Or so he hopes…
I also loved getting to see things from the point of view of the demons and of the other main characters! Jianyu/Jason’s bit in particular was great, and it’s nice to actually see Tahani’s and Chidi’s perspective now that we know them so well. In season one, Tahani got the huge mansion because the main story goal was to make Eleanor jealous, but now that Tahani is a POV character too, her house is appropriately shirty and small. She’s no longer an object in Eleanor’s story, but a protagonist in her own as well.
And Jordan, I’m gonna miss the ethics tutorials too! They were definitely one of my favorite aspects of the show in season one. But I don’t think the philosophy bits are gone entirely, and I’m not just talking about the throwaway references to Foucault and Kant. The piece of paper Eleanor used to tell herself to find Chidi is the title page for What We Owe to Each Other, and when she shows it to him and tries to tell him something’s going on, he immediately says he can’t help her and runs away, which is funny and ironic because he’s both running away from what he owes her and because all throughout the first season, he was the one trying to teach her why she should stick with her commitments.
Adams: There is at least one other Demon defined by a Deadly sin: the guy obsessed with biting humans is clearly our Glutton. Now I’m just going to be looking for this in every episode.
Stokes: Not to mention Eleanor’s new beau, defined by the sin of Swoleness.
Amanda: Once I finished the episode I read a recap and an interview with Mike Schur and that lead me to a tweet by a critic who got to preview episodes and he said this first 2-parter was just good, and that episodes 3 and 4 are GREAT. I can’t wait!!!
Episodes 1 and 2 Vital Statistics:
- Philosophers Discussed: Immanuel Kant, Michele Foucault, T.M. Scanlon, Alan Leroy Locke
- Jacksonville Mentions: 1
- Terrible things from Eleanor’s past life: Kicked out of her niece’s christening, only to find out it wasn’t her niece. Brought a flask in the car during her driver’s ed test.
Man, I’m so glad I got bored with my Netflix queue while working on a repetitive project and decided to try something new for background noise. ;)
I also love the fact that it’s confirmed to be in the same universe as Parks & Rec* – it’s really going to confuse Ben Wyatt if he goes to the Bad Place when he dies. (Nice job, Ice Town.)
*(Dennis Feinstein ad on the back of Celebrity Baby magazine in Eleanor’s death scene flashback)
Just a quick correction: Denise/Real Eleanor’s name is Vicky. Denise and Real Eleanor are her characters in Michael’s world.
I point it out because I was super excited to see her back, and I love that she’s going to be a threat to Michael. And, as you said, I love that we’re getting more about their world and the stakes/desires for them. Obviously, Michael wants to torture humans and thinks this is the best way, but Vicky wants to be involved and has her own ideas. I hope they make her Chidi’s new soulmate because she’s so fun and has now become really involved in their torture. She also takes acting seriously so I dig all the meta commentary about writing and performing here.