The Good Place S02E06 Review
Directed By: Dean Holland
Starring: D’Arcy Carden, Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, & Manny Jacinto
Written By: Kate Gersten
Created By: Michael Schur
A Review By Michael Hein
The Good Place makes a point of reminding us periodically that Janet — the semi-omniscient intelligence that serves the neighborhood — is not a machine. In fact, Janet’s exact classification and conceit are hard to pin down. However, die-hard fans of the show were glad this week to see a Janet-heavy episode, delving into her origin and her relationship with Michael.
When Janet first appeared in the pilot episode of The Good Place, it felt like just another gag. It made sense that the “Good” version of the afterlife would have all the information in the universe and provide whatever its inhabitants could ask for. Personifying these qualities in a Siri-esque concierge who materializes whenever called fit with the Pleasantville aesthetic the show has established since the beginning. However, as the show has gone on, we’ve seen many major elements of Michael’s counterfeit neighborhood shift to align with mythological representations of the afterlife. An obvious example, of course, is that, now that we know the show really takes place in the “The Bad Place.” We’ve seen a couple of lava monster cameos that would fit right into the fire-and-brimstone take we’re so familiar with.
Janet is one of the major features of Michael’s neighborhood that has no obvious analogue in mythology. It’s part of what keeps her compelling and allows her to move the show along in surprising ways. In fact, this week’s episode showcased Janet’s place as a centerpiece for the plot on The Good Place. In the beginning of the episode, we see a flashback to the day that Michael stole Janet to use her in his ruse. He jokes about how easy it was and how dumb it is that “The Good Place” doesn’t put security on their Janets. However, Michael isn’t so dismissive of Janet herself. From the moment he activates her, he treats her with a sort of reverence and wonderment.
This episode really solidifies what has been hinted at throughout the show — that the neighborhood hinges entirely on Janet. When she malfunctions, reality itself temporarily shatters and threatens to cease. The neighborhood emanates from Janet. Which signals an unspoken shift in the power dynamic on the show — what power does Michael truly have? Sure, he’s a trickster, but his complete control of the experience of the humans derives from Janet, not any powers of his own. This really aids in the characterization of Michael as part of Team Cockroach. For all his talk, he’s just about as powerless as the humans are without Janet. We see that in his vulnerability both in the scene where he refuses to kill Janet and he flashback where she helps him decide on frozen yogurt.
What does this mean for Janet herself? Her place in the pecking order of the universe is still a mystery, most of all to her. She’s been rebooted so many times. She’s developing a capacity for memory and emotions she’s not meant to have, but her omniscience and ability to build and destroy haven’t been reduced at all. In a way, that makes Janet a sort of Christ figure in this story. She’s the wisdom and power of God made human — though I’m sure you’ll never hear the writers on The Good Place use any of those words on the show, thank goodness. That’d be too forking on the nose.
Verdict: WATCH IT. By now it’s clear that I’m in it for the long haul with this show. This week’s episode, in particular, represents a tectonic shift in the dynamics and powers that drive the plot. Last month, D’Arcy Carden gave an interview at GQ titled “The Good Place’s D’Arcy Carden Would Like You To Know She’s Not A Robot,” and it’s great to see that finally coming to fruition. The show-runners over at The Good Place seem intent on keeping us guessing and surprising us by answering questions the audience never dared to hope they’d have an answer for.
The Good Place airs on Thursdays at 8:30 PM EST on NBC.