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'The Good Place' Season 2, Episode 3 recap: Team Bad Place uncovers the game

For The Baltimore Sun

“Architect’s log: The Good Place. Season 2, Episode 3. The pace is quick, the laughs are solid and hot chowder has replaced frozen yogurt. End dictation.”

This round of The Good Place flew by – it helps now that the show is back to 30 minutes instead of the dual-episode season premiere – and while it wasn’t as packed with laughs as some others have been, the story structure was an extremely creative bridge leading to what one hopes is equally creative storytelling.

Michael is on attempt No. 3 (ahem, that’s attempt No. 2, if you’re reading this, Sean of the Most High and All Knowing), and so far, so good place. Eleanor still has to wear the Beat Person sash, Tahani rudely implies Eleanor has “chin bloat,” and the neighborhood explodes in a giant confetti shrimp nightmare based on Eleanor’s recklessness at the opening reception. In desperate need of guidance, she summons Janet (“Busty Alexa”) and asks to be introduced to someone very smart who might be able to help with her ethical quandary and magically turn her into a good person.

This sounds like a job for Chi --!

Sorry, no, too nerdy, keep looking.

Whomever she ended up finding, by day 128 of torture, the devil’s luck runs out: the gang has reunited and is faced with a glowing red Tardis that is going to send one of them down to The Bad Place, and Eleanor figures out the game.

Michael furiously erases their collective memories with a snap, and from here on out he’s like a psychotic Mary Poppins cleaning up a hellscape.

Through a seamless and thoroughly entertaining montage, we watch Eleanor and Team Bad Place uncover every plan he can muster: He gives her a soul mate who turns out to be a terrible jazz spoken-word artist, and that is evidence in itself that hell is real. He forgets to lock the door when confessing that this is The Bad Place, which is just hilariously sloppy on his part. He opens the door on soul mate after soul mate, until even Glen appears.

No matter the scenario, Eleanor will figure it out: at a dude ranch, as a Monty Python monk, in the middle of a field (“Bees, bees, bees!”), trapped in the house with a robotic clown. Every scrap of creativity is wasted (for Michael, I mean. For us it’s a comedic treasure trove), and he must restart the scenario, including a reboot to Janet, who still has her failsafe built in to plead for her life: “Michael, no! I have two tickets to ‘Hamilton’ and Daveed Diggs might be coming back.”

But Michael may be the only one on the planet who dislikes Lin-Manuel Miranda, and he slams his palm on the button. Again. And Again. And again.

Finally, even Jason figures out the truth, and Michael is forced to admit that they may have a problem on their hands. He arrives in the town square for the usual demonic pep rally, but no one has showed up, save for Becky (a.k.a. Real Eleanor, a.k.a. the girl who never got to play her triangle, a.k.a. a wonderful metaphor for the plight of strong recurring characters).

She informs him that the actors are on strike until their demands are met. Becky, of course, wants to be a leading lady again, Gail longs for a backstory as an MMA fighter, and Gunner still believes that gnawing on people in their sleep is the best form of torture. Luckily, Becky has been taking intro classes at Upright Citizens Brigade and is now a theatrical expert ready to take charge. Michael can accept that she is the new architect with a better plan, or she’ll turn over his countless failures to Sean.

By this time in Torture Iteration #158, Chidi has begun providing Eleanor with ethics lessons, but while on a break at the local Chowder Fountain (between this season and last, the show seriously has it out for chowder), they overhear Glen and Todd, the giant fire monster who misread Hell’s Outlook calendar and tried to take the conference room early, talking about Michael’s failures as an architect of The Bad Place.

Chidi and Eleanor summon Janet for an escape, and they board the mystery train. Chidi is once again concerned that his overuse of almond milk led him to The Bad Place, and once again I’ve fallen in love with him.

They end up back at Mindy St. Clair’s. As you’ll recall from last season, Mindy was a money-chasing, hot-shot corporate lawyer from the 1980s who, in a burst of cocaine-fueled energy, came up with a plan to solve 90 percent of the world’s problems with a massive charity. She pulled out her life savings the next day, intending to start the fund but was electrocuted by the third rail of a subway track, so as a compromise, she was sent to The Medium Place, neither terrible (“We have your favorite beer!”) nor utopic (“It’s always served warm!”).

The group shows up at Mindy’s ranch house, seemingly located at the edges of West World, and she cuts their introductions short: She knows them, they’ve been there 15 times, now will someone PLEASE tell her they remembered the cocaine they promised. According to Mindy, the variations are always slightly different; sometimes it’s Eleanor and Chidi, sometimes it’s Jason and Janet, and one time Tahani even managed to catch a ride, but everything always ends the same. They end up going back, either to save their friends or avoid seeing Mindy in the nude one more time.

Mindy, 1980s working girl that she is, created a story board for all of the ideas they have ever had for destroying Michael’s plan, and it reads like a sitcom season arc: “The one where Eleanor seduces Michael,” “The one where Chidi attacks Michael,” “The one with Jason and the magic panda.” I admire the writers meta-joke building, but frankly I would pay additional money to NBC to see all of these episodes greenlighted.

Alone, Eleanor and Chidi bicker over the board until Eleanor can’t stand it and goes to vent to Mindy. But Mindy is your friend who has heard the same story about your boyfriend ending his text with a really hurtful “k” for the 10,000th time: she is bored, and she knows the complaining is ultimately for nothing.

She pops in “Cannonball Run II” and reveals a video of Eleanor and Chidi cuddling in bed next to one another. Eleanor tells Chidi she loves him, and before she can assure him that she doesn’t need him to respond right away, he says “I love you, too.” For Mindy, this kind of emotional maturity is considered “anti-porn,” but for this viewer, it is a sweet, satisfying moment made all the more touching by how invested I am in their relationship after such a brief time.With a new plan in mind, Eleanor grabs the tape and heads back to The Bad Place with Chidi and Janet.

Meanwhile, back at the Misery Ranch, Michael reflects on his failures with none other than Jason, who accidentally gives himself away by enthusiastically responding to his real name. Classic Jason.

Michael confesses that he can’t stand the thought of losing The Good Place to Becky, but acknowledges her serious leverage over him. Jason, nodding sagely, fulfills his role as a wise Floridian DJ and weaves a parable about his former 60-person dance crew that encountered a very similar situation. Well, mostly, except for all of the relevant details and the end results. But the camaraderie exemplified in that abandoned orange juice factory does give Michael an idea.

Eleanor, Chidi and Tahani confront Michael about the nature of The Good Place. Everyone seems ready for a fight until Michael, in a complete shock, admits that he is cornered by circumstance and needs a “new dance crew.”

“So what do you say? New best friends?”

To quote Chidi Anagonye: “WHAT?!”

My prediction is that Michael is going to join forces with the team and they will pretend not to know that The Bad Place is all around them. They’ll keep their punny restaurants and chowder fountains, and Michael won’t have to be burned on a thousand suns.

A potential option, but this show is VERY good at surprises, and if I’m wrong, I won’t be disappointed.

The Good Lines

Michael moaning about how fat he feels from stress ranks as one of my favorite moments on the show, as well as the most relatable.

Chowder (n.): “hot ocean milk with dead animal croutons.”

“It was almond milk. I used it knowing the damage to the environment, but I loved the way it left a film on my tongue.”

“I always assumed that The Good Place was full of cool people, not talking sweater vests.”“I call that my looking hole.”

“We slashed all their tires. It was dope. The end. By Jason Mendoza.” – A book report.

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