The Good Place Season 2 Episode 5 Review

Starring: Kristen Bell, Jameela Al-Jamil, William Jackson Harper, D’Arcy Carden, & Manny Jacinto
Directed By: Dean Holland
Written By: Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan
Created By: Michael Schur

A Review by Michael Hein

Warning! Spoilers Ahead!

For those of us starting to wonder why we shouldered so much debt for a Humanities degree, The Good Place is a reassuring show. The show dips its toe into the water of philosophy and ethics, raising questions and discussions without ever making us work too hard. It works nicely. It rarely comes off as pretentious because the heavy ideas and quandaries of this ancient and un-lucrative field of study are always used in service of the story. The academic tradition of philosophy itself is mainly used to characterize and mock Chidi. His faults are, by extension, representative of the faults of Philosophy itself. Again and again, The Good Place shows us that thinking about morality and agonizing over it is useless, and that sooner or later, no matter how hopeless everything option looks, we must take action. This has never come through more strongly than in this week’s episode — The Trolley Problem.

The addition of Michael to the group’s ethics lessons really made this storyline possible. Though philosophy has served this show best as an orbital motif. The inclusion of a self-avowed demon makes it easier for the showrunners to tackle these kinds of things more directly. Again, the jokes sometimes range toward the predictable. Michael is hardwired to see humans as objects of torture and nothing more. He finds a way to “solve” the trolley problem by killing all six people — but it suits the theme here much more nicely. It also leads into the betrayal that is central to the episode very organically. It makes sense that Michael would want to simulate the hypotheticals of philosophy in real-time, and that he’d be cold and unfeeling at the sight of gore. This way, the audience actually has a chance to be surprised when they realize that Michael has turned Chidi’s lesson into a torture exercise. We get another taste of that amazing season 1 finale reveal, and Michael brushes it off — “I had to blow off some steam.”

This is really where The Good Place excels. It’s not the conceptual genius or the mythological gags. It’s not the way they’ve packaged ethics for the mainstream or found a way to address religion and mortality without making Americans uncomfortable. It’s the twists and turns, the journey toward self-improvement, where no amount of development will make the next step easier. After everything we’ve seen and learned, the show still finds ways to surprise us, just as, after living a full life and paying the price for it. Each of the main characters continues to grow and learn in their afterlife. Here, Michael’s antics force Chidi to put his foot down. The indecisive professor suddenly finds it in himself to truly humble an immortal being.

Meanwhile, Tahani and Jason find common ground and enhance their communication abilities. Although that plotline directly sets up next week’s dilemma with Janet, Eleanor’s story might be much more interesting. This week, Eleanor bent over backwards to make peace between Chidi and Michael. Something the self-centered shrimp enthusiast we know and love would never have done a few epiphanies ago. However, along the way, she started to realize just how much she has in common with Michael. The hints were subtle and well spaced out. Their shared laughter at the sprays of blood on the trolley, for example — but they certainly hinted at something. It culminates in their conversation in Michael’s office. Where Eleanor identifies all of Michael’s deflections and manipulations as tricks she’s pulled in the past. “You and I are, really, very similar,” she says, then adds “what does that say about me?” Perhaps future stories will deal with this similarity further, or maybe they’ll just leave it at the fact that the biggest difference between Eleanor and an actual demon is that she sympathizes with Chidi.

Verdict: Watch it! This show is still leading us out into uncharted territory, and it’s a great ride. All at once, there are a million directions they could go in, but it’s impossible to guess what’ll happen next. The Good Place airs on NBC Thursdays at 8:30 PM EST.

Mike Hein

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