Fork yeah: The Good Place is back. This season, as we follow the show that is so devoted to understanding what it means to be good and bad, we will be applying the NBC comedy’s own standards and practices in determining the Worst Person of the Week. The weekly winner — well, “loser” is probably more accurate — will be judged by their ethical choices rather than any subjective measures. Think of us as another Shawn, only less into encasing traitors in slimy cocoons. At the end of this ethical exercise, we’ll also hand out episodic awards for more frivolous things. Let’s dive into Thursday night’s episode, “Janet(s).”
The Good Place is a weird show. The pilot had a bunch of giant shrimp flying across the sky in the middle of an Ariana Grande song. The judge of the universe is a fan of burritos and NCIS’s Mark Harmon. One of its main characters is a metaphysical, quasi-artificial intelligence bot who possesses all of the universe’s knowledge and can be marbleized with the aid of a paper clip. But even by The Good Place’s very high standards, Thursday night’s midseason finale, “Janet(s),” was an exceptionally, conceptually strange affair.
Our four humans had been taken to Janet’s void — a construct removed from space and time, where she sometimes gets bored and makes a robot-boyfriend named Derek — which means they are, once again, dead. They are also not entirely themselves: Their physical forms are gone, so now they are all Janets. This means most of the episode is basically a one-woman show by D’Arcy Carden, and she does a stellar job playing different characters who are, well, her. (In a just world, this episode will be what lands Carden an Emmy nomination next year.)
While the four humans mess around in the void — puppies are involved at one point; perhaps the single best thing The Good Place has done this season is repeatedly throw puppies into the equation — Janet and Michael head off to the ethereal accounting department to figure out whether there’s something wrong with the Good Place–Bad Place points system. (Reminder: In the previous episode, human Doug Forcett had done every painstaking thing in his power to become a good enough person to make it to the Good Place, but it was revealed that he was still doomed to an eternity for torture.)
The accounting department of the afterlife — which focuses on the points system instead of any type of currency — is, unfortunately, much like the worst-case contemporaries of such offices on Earth. The layout is depressing, and there are people (ethereal beings?) who clearly resent their jobs. One poor schlub is responsible for tracking all of the “weird sex things” humans do on Earth, and he never gets a breather. The head of accounting, Neil (played by Stephen Merchant), seems quite genial, but his department’s incompetence is evident when Janet and Michael make a horrifying revelation: Nobody has been sent to the Good Place in 521 years. Therefore, our Worst Person of the Week isn’t a single person, but the many cogs of the afterlife’s corporate machine that have allowed their system to get hacked by Shawn and the other Bad Place demons. The fact that nobody has seemed to notice or do anything about it is an indictment in and of itself.
A couple things, before we trash Neil and his team. In their defense, 521 years sounds like a long time, but these beings have ostensibly existed for thousands and thousands of years — maybe 521 years is their equivalent of a month passing by on Earth. Second, The Good Place could be making a larger, more cynical point: That the past few centuries of modern life have made it impossible to be a virtuous person worthy of salvation. But even that seems like a stretch — Mike Schur’s shows (Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) often highlight the inherent good in all kinds of people, and it would be unfathomable for the likes of Harriet Tubman and previous incarnations of the Dalai Lama to be excluded from the closest approximation of heaven. Nothing is definitely confirmed in “Janet(s),” but I’m betting all my money on Bad Place tampering.
Now, the accounting department’s disrepair — and the negligence regarding its defunct system — has had some seriously damaging effects. Again, think of anyone from the past 500 years — Martin Luther King Jr., Mister Rogers! — and in this universe, they’re being perpetually tortured. The Good Place is now more than about saving four flawed humans and making them better people: It’s about fixing a broken system and the complacent bureaucracy that helped keep it in place so that the rest of humanity has a fighting chance at eternal salvation. [Rips bong.] They’ve gotta stop The Man, man.
Michael decides he’s going to have to take matters into his own hands to save his friends. Once the Soul Squad are out of Janet’s void — and after Chidi finally kisses Eleanor, which is adorable even though for a minute it was two Janets smooching, Venom-style — Michael transports everyone through a pneumatic tube with a direct line to the Good Place. Echoing what Eleanor said when she discovered Season 1’s big twist, she exclaims: “Holy forking shirtballs, we’re in the Good Place!” It took only 36 episodes to get there.
Sadly, what’s become of the Good Place in the last 500 years will be saved for 2019, but the show’s next evolution is arguably its most exciting. This season’s diversion to Earth was fun — featuring a delightful recurring role for Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Chidi’s brief girlfriend, Simone — but The Good Place is at its wackiest, most entertaining, and most conceptually interesting when it bends all logic in the afterlife. There are only three episodes left for The Good Place to explore … the Good Place, but NBC announced this week that the series would be renewed for a fourth season. We’ve still got plenty of quirky metaphysical adventures to go. And no offense to Neil, but anything our protagonists do moving forward will be a marked improvement over the accounting department’s banal, flawed operation. Now, time for the weekly awards.
Best New Janet: Even though we technically got a new Janet this week in the accounting department’s Neutral Janet (bland in every conceivable way), I can’t help but admire how extremely on-brand Jason-Janet was.
Best Hyperspecific Accounting Responsibility:
[The most Borat voice.] VERY NICE!
Most Fascinating Historical Document at the Accounting Department:
The Ballad of Og and Grog, unfortunately, doesn’t have a happy ending.
Most Overt Reference to The Office:
I mean, when you have Stephen Merchant, one of the creative minds behind the original version of The Office, guest-starring on your show, you’ve gotta do something.