A review of tonight’s The Good Place coming up just as soon as I call right nipple on Optimus Prime…
While it seems foolish to predict anything about what The Good Place will do at this point, “Best Self” had the feeling of an end of an era for the show, as Michael, Janet, and the four idiots take a train from the fake Good Place to the real, overt Bad Place, with the episode closing on a CGI shot of the neighborhood collapsing into the void once there are no longer any humans who need to be tricked living there.
It’s entirely possible Michael could reopen the place at some point, if only for practical extra-textual reasons (TV shows don’t generally like to abandon expensive sets and easy-to-use locations if they can help it), but even before we see the neighborhood slip away, much of “Best Self” is about saying goodbye to the joint, and to this phase of the story. Michael trying to scam Shaun and Vicky and the other demons was only going to be sustainable for so long, and before we go on to the next thing — the humans trying to slip through the Bad Place to get to the portal where the judge might hear their appeal to be let into the Good Place — it’s first an extended celebration of the unlikely bonds between these six, and of the centuries they’ve spent together in this neighborhood.
To that end, we get something of an extended homage to the famous I Love Lucy episode where she can’t cross the Italy/France border because she doesn’t have her passport handy, as Michael convinces the gang that they can each board a gold-plated hot air balloon that will carry them to the Good Place, provided they are each the best version of themselves at that moment. At first Chidi can’t get on board, and then once Eleanor is able to convince him he’s good enough to deserve passage — with help from Michael, who remembers all the reboots in a way they don’t — she’s suddenly the one getting the red light.
It turns out Michael is again tricking them — not out of malice this time(*), but desperation, because he doesn’t know of a way to get his friends to where he’s promised they can go.
(*) I suppose at some point we could find out that Michael has only pretended to befriend the group as another way to torture them, but the show would risk severe diminishing returns, while also undercutting all future story and character arcs, because the audience would be conditioned to expect the rug to be pulled out from under them again. There’s a point at which the audience has to feel secure that most of what it’s seeing on a show is real; The Good Place is at that point, it feels like.
This leads to a wistful, wonderful sequence where the gang has given up and decides to just enjoy one another’s company for as long as they can before Shaun returns to condemn them to eternal torture (or worse, in Michael’s case). For a few scenes, this highest-concept of comedies is suddenly a hang-out show, with everyone telling old stories, lovingly bantering, handing out presents (Michael’s “human starter kit” includes keys he can immediately lose, a corporate-branded stress ball, a Dr. Oz diet book, and other useless crap), even slow-dancing to Nat King Cole. These six are, miraculously, friends who can just be happy in the moment — and be fun to watch by us, even without special effect and crazy plot twists — and the strength generated by that night together helps inspire Tahani and Eleanor to realize they should plead their case to a higher authority.
Will the plan work? Probably not, if for no other reason than that the show almost certainly ends whenever these six all make it into the Good Place, but I can’t wait to see what the show becomes now that it’s left behind the only world we’ve ever known.
What did everybody else think?