NBC’s The Good Place is a show that enjoys a good challenge. After all, it spent a whole episode dissecting The Trolley Problem — it doesn’t steer away from asking tough ethical questions. As the series enters its third and bizarrely most “normal” season, it’s introducing what might be its biggest moral mystery yet. And we’re the ones who are supposed to solve it.
“Everything is Bonzers!” starts right where we left off last season — and surprise! It turns out our Fab Four really have been saved from certain death. I was sure they’d been put into their own Strange Place that simulated the real world, but nope, this is the real deal. Eleanor, Tahani, Chidi, and Jason are alive, part of Michael’s latest experiment to see if bad people can change for the better with “a little push in the right direction.”
Eleanor, whose floundering journey to redemption was covered in the season 2 finale, has flown all the way to Australia to meet “Chidi Anna-Kendrick,” convinced that he can help her become a better person. It’s normally something that would paralyse the moral philosopher, but shockingly, he immediately agrees to help her. That’s because Eleanor isn’t the only one who’s gotten a visit from the late-night bartender. That’s right, Michael has been interfering in the lives of his four subjects, way beyond the parameters set by the judge.
Ah yes, the age-old philosophy of...Chocolate Rain. Photo: Justin Lubin (NBC)
After trying and failing to become more assertive, Chidi gets a boost by school librarian Michael (with a terrible Australian accent that he’s so damn proud of) to help the next person who came through his door — which, thanks to Michael, happened to be Eleanor. Chidi and Eleanor’s private philosophy sessions, interrupted only by Eleanor helping Chidi ask out a charming neuroscientist named Simone (played wonderfully by Killing Eve’s Kirby Howell-Baptiste), inspire him to finally choose a new thesis about whether near-death experiences can change a person’s morality. This leads him to Tahani, who embraced a life of Buddhist modesty until her ego coaxed her to make it a career, and Jason, who returned to a life of crime after his dance troupe didn’t win any competitions (God, I missed Jason). Of course, neither of them would’ve known about Chidi’s study, which is taking place halfway across the world, had Michael not intervened.
This is where things get dicey, philosophically speaking. The experiment has already failed. Our heroes couldn’t improve their lives for longer than a few months, falling back into old habits while maybe feeling a tad more guilty about it. If we look at this from a strict code of ethics, this is wrong and all of them should be sent to the Bad Place. They failed to become good on their own. And furthermore, by reuniting the group, Michael and Janet tainted the experiment, violating the rules so much that the results are now worthless. Michael should be retired and sent into the eternal sun of torment.
But, that’s not the whole picture, is it? Michael knows his subjects can become good, and that they need to be together in order to bring that goodness to fruition. Therefore, if he wants the results he knows are not only possible but ideal, he has to break his own rules. It’s morally questionable, but eventually would do more good than harm. If we look at this from a more relative stance, he’s doing the right thing. He might be sacrificing integrity, but he’s helping four lost souls who he knows have the ability to become truly good people. They just need a bigger push than originally anticipated.
Michael (Ted Danson) and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) are in a Morally Questionable Place. Photo: Justin Lubin (NBC)
For the past two seasons, the show hasn’t just been teaching Eleanor about ethics and moral philosophy, it’s also been teaching us. And now, it’s our turn to be tested. We, as the audience, are being presented with a moral quandary, and no one on the series is going to answer it for us this time (Michael is in too deep, and Chidi and Eleanor don’t even know what’s happening). The question: Is Michael doing the right thing?
It’s an interesting experiment and an innovative show development, bringing the audience into an ethically murky situation and letting us figure it out for ourselves. The Good Place is checking to see if we were paying attention to Chidi right alongside Eleanor and Michael, and whether we can make a value judgement that best serves the situation the characters have found themselves. I don’t believe the show is going to answer this new ethics question for us, at least not right away. That trolley is going to keep on steering forward. But we’re being asked to determine whether we’re okay with it.
Jason (Manny Jacinto) and Tahani (Jameela Jamil) on their very different paths to redemption. Photo: Justin Lubin (NBC)
- As far as my personal opinions on the moral quandary, which I’m dubbing the Michael Experiment™, I am on the fence. I originally felt Michael’s actions were wrong and that failure of the experiment meant game over. But that would also mean these characters, who I know can become good given the right circumstances, would suffer in the Bad Place for eternity. I don’t want that to happen. So, I’m totally in a kerfuffle. Let me know your opinion in the comments.
- I’ll take any excuse to see Manny Jacinto’s dancing. Someone gif the crap out that routine please.
- I found Tahani’s failed road to redemption the most tragic, because she tried really, really hard to fix herself — selling all her possessions and moving to a remote Buddhist temple because she felt she needed to cut off the toxic elements from her life completely. And it was working until some fake Viceland-like show came in and thought it would be “supes dope” to enable her addiction to attention. That said, the fake “73 questions” video they did with her was poetry.
- How is Eleanor going to pay for her long-term stay in Australia? She can’t have that much money saved up.
- Apparently, Michael’s Experiment™ isn’t just affecting Eleanor and her friends, it’s also caused an uproar in the demon community. Understandably so — they don’t want word getting out that bad people can become good! The episode ends with Adam Scott’s Trevor on what looks to be a secret mission to infiltrate Chidi’s experiment and destroy it from the inside. I wonder if he’ll tell a woman to “smile more” again. Made me want to punch his teeth out.