The Good Place is back from its midseason hiatus, and I have a review of tonight’s episode coming up just as soon as I tell you the same thing I told Pippa Middleton when I went paragliding in Gibraltar…
The “shut the door, have a seat” cliffhanger at the end of “Derek” suggested that The Good Place was headed for another huge shakeup of the status quo, and that’s exactly what “Leap Into Faith” delivers.
It’s just not the shakeup implied by the cliffhanger.
Instead of Shaun discovering Michael’s scam and punishing him and the four humans for it — a development that may still come in time, but which could be tough to get out of (for both the characters and the writers), given what we know about the Bad Place — he instead gets suckered in by Michael’s forged notes about the second and final attempt at the neighborhood, and by episode’s end, he, Vicky, and all the other Bad people have abandoned the neighborhood, leaving Michael, Janet, and the idiots alone there. It is, as Chidi notes, everything they wanted: no more lying, no more fake torture, and just six friends (or five, depending on how Janet’s feeling about the humans today) learning how to be better and hoping for a shot at the real Good Place.
Getting to that point requires more plot mechanics than normal from the series, which also means that “Leap Into Faith” isn’t as hilarious as some of this season’s other episodes, at least not for the first half. Once we get into the party Michael is throwing to say goodbye to the neighborhood — with DJ Bad Janet playing only Puddle of Mudd’ “She Hates Me” and “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”(*), sometimes at the same time — things perk up a fair bit comedically, but it’s mostly the show back in clever rather than funny mode. (Then again, Bad Janet does fart on Vicky…)
(*) If you didn’t know, Good Place creator Mike Schur co-hosts a podcast with sportswriter Joe Posnanski that is in theory about sports but in actuality is about minutiae so small that Larry David wouldn’t find any of it worth making an episode of TV about. Last month, the two of them had me, Linda Holmes, Tonight Show executive producer Mike DiCenzo, and former Yankees ace pitcher (and new Atlanta Brave) Brandon McCarthy on to draft our favorite holiday songs — “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” is discussed — which is 90 minutes I simultaneously cannot recommend at all and cannot recommend nearly enough. It’s utterly pointless and utterly ridiculous, and if you need something idiotic and silly, brother, are you in luck.
Despite that, I already deeply love the episode for two reasons:
1)It turns Blake Bortles into a genuine plot point;
2)The dramatic change in expression on Michael’s face once he’s sure Shaun and the others are gone and he can finally express his concern for his new friends.
Let’s take the second one first. Even before that moment, “Leap Into Faith” is another fantastic Ted Danson showcase in a season full of them. It’s Michael back in full heel mode — worse, really, because he has to overdo it to ensure Vicky and the others won’t figure out that he’s turned — and Danson smiling malevolently as he throws out comedy roast insults at Jason, Tahani, Eleanor, and Chidi was a treat. But that change in expression by the train tracks, from stoic bordering on malevolent to goopy and sentimental mess, was as delightful to behold as the now-classic scene in the first season finale where Michael drops the facade and evilly laughs at Eleanor:
This one’s not nearly as surprising as that, not only because it’s meant to echo the original, but because by this point in the episode, Michael is clearly helping them out. But it doesn’t matter, because Ted Danson is a comedy acting god, and that moment radiated with pure joy.
As to Bortles, I’m kind of perversely hoping his Jaguars go on an ’07 Giants-like run through the playoffs and Super Bowl, just to see how (or if) the show deals with Michael telling Jason that the Jags will never win the Super Bowl. (Remember, all these episodes post-“Dance Dance Resolution” take place a few hundred years in our future.) But given the unexpected success of Jason’s favorite team this year — sometime with help from their quarterback, usually not — the idea that Bortles goes from punchline to plot device, with Michael mashing up his name with Derek’s(*) so the humans will figure out how to call the train even while Janet is cuffed, feels weirdly perfect. And maybe this time, the captioning will actually include his name?
(*) The gang sending Derek and his wind chime genitals to be Mindy St. Clair’s sex robot was a nice way to both give those characters a happy ending if we never see them again and also park them together in case they’re needed for future story developments. Though will having her own genie allow Mindy to turn the Medium Place into a super kinky Good Place?
I’ve mostly given up trying to guess where the show will go next, as well as how long it might stick with any one status quo. This one feels like it could be too low-stakes to continue for very long, but at the same time I can see huge potential for the “Hell is other people” concept to come back now that the gang no longer has the constant threat of Vicky, Shaun, et al hanging over them. Will they keep attending Chidi’s ethics lessons with quite as much enthusiasm, or might they backslide without that ongoing tension?
Whatever happens, I can’t wait to see it, and I’m so glad the show is back.
What did everybody else think?