I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of fans of The Good Place that aren’t too enthused about the direction the show has taken in its third season. After so many time jumps and so many reality-bending twists, it seems to have settled into a much slower pace, choosing to focus on its characters and their relationships rather than moving the story forward at the breakneck pace that we’ve become accustomed to. The thing is, I believe the show has merely replaced one set of stakes for another.
Season 2 of The Good Place was all about breaking down the conventions of this universe’s versions of heaven and hell. It was about Michael joining forces with the study group to upend the unfair, arbitrary points system and save humanity. Season 3 reveals pretty quickly that this is a fruitless, pointless endeavor, and instead tasks the characters with living the best, most virtuous lives they can not so they can find salvation, but rather to save others. This season has sacrificed our characters and their chance at eternal happiness, but as for the rest of humanity, that’s still on the table. In that sense, nothing about the show has changed, other than maybe the pace, as the characters are currently bound to their own mortality.
Of course, with a show like The Good Place, that could change at any moment – and it likely will when you least expect it – but for now, and for the last couple of episodes, it’s meant that Eleanor, Michael and the gang are on a string of personal tasks to help set their friends and family on the right path. Last week, it was about Chidi breaking things off with his girlfriend so she wouldn’t risk being burdened with his knowledge of the afterlife, as well as about Jason helping his father. This week, we move on to Eleanor and Tahani, who share the theme of being burdened by an unreconciled relationship with a family member who they feel has somehow wronged them and set them down the path that eventually led to eternal doom.
Some might consider this to be The Good Place slowing down or losing focus, but I really like this new direction. At the core of the show is four (six including the two eternal beings) who are irreparably broken. For the first two seasons of the show, we’ve seen their attempts to fix themselves fail time and time again. Season three posits that they’re irreparable, yet aims to get to the bottom of what broke them and to try and improve things for all of them. As we saw last week, with Chidi it’s about making decisions. With Jason, about not enabling criminal behaviour, I guess. And this week, Eleanor and Tahani have to let go their preconceptions about the mother and the sister (respectively) that they feel wronged them.
Like I said last week, it’s like a really funny version of Quantum Leap or The Littlest Hobo and that’s really charming. This doesn’t feel like the show is treading water, but instead setting up all the characters for what’s to come next. And, you know, like I say every week, it still manages to be hilarious even if it feels like it could be moving a little faster, which is the central aim of any comedy, even one that’s previously astounded us by its rapid plot movement. Maybe in hindsight it feels a little faster, especially in these episodes that don’t really move the plot forward too much, so it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s still one of the funniest shows on television.
In this episode, “A Fractured Inheritance”, we follow Tahani in Germany as she attends her sister’s art exhibit with Chidi, Jason and Janet in an effort to stand up to her sister, only to realize that the one thing they can bond over is the damage inflicted on both of them by their parents. Tahani learns to let go of her insecurities and just love Kamillah for who she is; her sister.
Meanwhile, back in the States, Eleanor and Michael travel to Nevada to confront Eleanor’s mother Donna, now going under the pseudonym Dianna Tremaine (which Eleanor posits was the name she always planned to use to fake her own death). Donna is living with her new husband Dave (the incomparable Andy Daly in another perfect casting choice) and his daughter Patricia. She’s trying to be a good wife and stepmom and is even running for Patricia’s PTA, but Eleanor insists that she’s planning some sort of grift. But she comes short of proving it. The closest she gets is finding a stash of stolen cash Donna has squirreled away, but even that is only a contingency fund in case she needs to escape. Eleanor helps Donna realize that she’s becoming basic, but that’s okay, because she’s turned her life around. Now Eleanor has to find a way to come to terms with the fact that the one person that could have set her on the right path in her original life was never willing to do so when she was raising her. She resents the fact that her mom found herself only after she abandoned Eleanor, and she sees her own shortcomings in Donna’s happiness. Which is where the reveal in the episode’s tag comes in; Michael informs her that once and only once did she ever admit to anyone her true feelings, in that one version of the Neighbourhood where she and Chidi fall deeply in love, setting up new tension that we all knew was coming for the next stage of the season.
But before we get to that, “A Fractured Inheritance” is a slower but important episode of The Good Place which aims to fix one of the central shortcomings of two of its main characters. And as usual, it’s also hilarious, so it gets 8.5 self-appointed father figures out of 10.
The Best Lines from this week’s episode of The Good Place:
- Tahani Namedrops: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, both in the same breath.
- I get that they cast Andy Daly as an architect for the jokes with Michael, but it seems wrong that they’ve broken his string of appearances in sitcoms as a doctor.
- Easily the best visual gag of this episode is how Eleanor has a plate with a stack of American cheese on it at the PTA meeting. Also how the school is named the “MGM Grand Luxury Resort and Casino Elementary School.”
- Michael: “I’d already told you that you died and that I had tortured you for centuries and that you’re doomed to be tortured again. I just didn’t to be like a bummer.”
- Donna: “Yay! You found me!”
- Donna: “You haven’t even introduced me to this sexy stretched out Alex Trebek.”
- Donna: “His napkins are made out of like shirt material.”
- Donna: “This is as real as the nails under my acrylic nails.”
- Jason: “Those aren’t dumb shapes, that’s a pair of boobs, and then two extra side boobs. They symbolize that boobs come in all shapes and sizes and distances apart.”
- Michael/Dave: “Well, let’s just say that… lived… in the same… neighbourhood.” “What a fun way to say a normal thing.”
- Michael: “Check out what Dave gave me, plans for a Subaru dealership slash burlesque club he’s designing in Reno. Man, Nevada’s a mess.”
- Eleanor: “When the time comes, she will rip this guy off and disappear like Keyser Soze. Right after he admitted to groping all of those people.”
- Eleanor to Michael: “First things first, do you have a penis?”
- Kamillah: “All your fears are now mine.”
- Chidi: “She’s amazing! All of my fears are hers now.”
- Also Chidi: “All my fears are mine again!”
- Dave: “Auditorium? More like audi-bore-ium.”
- Dave/Michael: “Your mother is a very confident and selfish lover.” “Yikes.” “No, no, no, that’s perfect for me. I don’t know what I want.”
- Eleanor after it’s revealed she wrote on “Bofa Deeznutz” on the PTA vote: “Don’t look at me like that, you’re not my real dad.”
- Donna: “I’m gonna need to get a calculator, and maybe a globe? I don’t really understand this job.”
- Tahani/Chidi: “These paintings. They’re us.” “You’re the boobs? Sorry, once Jason said it that’s all I could see.”
- Donna/Eleanor: “I don’t love it so much. I am not basic. Ya basic.” “No, mom, YA basic.”
- Donna: “After one glass [of Chardonnay] I get sleepy, so I usually switch to water so I can drive home. Like a nerd!”
- Michael, forgetting the bathrooms on his architectural design: “Just a little oversight, I certainly use the bathroom just like anyone else. I love to sit on the the thing and, you know, shoot one out.”