‘The Good Place’ explores soulmates in ‘Category 55 Emergency Doomsday Crisis’

Senior Television Writer
10.06.16 22 Comments

NBC

A review of tonight's The Good Place coming up just as soon as I'm voted the Person Most Likely to be Banksy…

The last couple of episodes made clear that there's more wrong with the Good Place than whatever clerical error put Eleanor there, and raised the question of whether the Good Place is fundamentally flawed, or if there's just something hinky about the neighborhood Michael has created. “Category 55 Emergency Doomsday Crisis” expands on that idea, calling to mind the famous Sartre quote about how “Hell is other people.”

Though the Good Place is meant to allow its residents to put aside all of their Earthly troubles and concerns, this is clearly not the case, and not just for people like Eleanor and Jason who aren't supposed to be there. Tahani spends most of this episode freaking out about her very low ranking among all the neighborhood residents, which in turn floods her with memories of all the times she came up wanting compared to her smarter, more talented, more famous and beloved sister. As we saw recently with Chidi's panic over Michael hating his life's work, the Good Place not only doesn't remove people's anxieties, but can actually amplify them, because if they don't feel better about themselves here, where can they?

At the same time, the episode has fun with the unfortunate situation Eleanor and Chidi have found themselves in, as they have to pretend to be a loving couple to fool their temporary houseguests(*), which in turn forces Eleanor to recognize what a bum deal Chidi got when she was mistakenly assigned as his soulmate for all eternity(**). She starts the episode realizing she's started doing good things without having to think about it in advance – baby steps, and even they move backwards sometimes – but spends most of the half hour having to lie to the houseguests, and in the end is placed in two huge positions of power, as she realizes her kind gesture to Chidi is what caused the sinkhole to close, and as Michael inadvertently asks her to help him investigate herself. Eleanor has become a slightly less terrible person, but absolute power has corrupted far better, and she is coming to realize just how much power she has over her environment here, for good and for ill. Should be interesting.

(*) A couple of episodes ago, Chidi helped illustrate how little effort Eleanor has paid to learning about him by pointing out the place where he lives in the middle of the neighborhood. Now, apparently, he is living in the house with her? When did this happen?

(**) One thing the show hasn't gotten into – and which may simply be too dark and sad for a comedy like this to address – is the What Dreams May Come question: for the people who had found their soulmates on Earth, isn't it pretty lousy that you won't be with them in the afterlife? Or with your parents, your kids, or anyone else who mattered to you but didn't accumulate the necessary point totals? So far, the characters we've met were single when they died, and Eleanor and Tahani at least are presented as having no strong family ties. (Though Chidi has obvious affection for his mother.)  

This is the last of the five episodes NBC sent to critics before the premiere. I have screeners for the next couple, so my plan is to keep the show in the rotation, but I'm curious how people are feeling about it in general as we near the season's midpoint.

What did everybody else think?

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