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'The Good Place' midseason finale recap: 'Derek"

For The Baltimore Sun

They say you can tell a lot about someone by the boyfriend they choose to build from scratch, and Janet’s creation of Derek Hofstetler, P.I., on “The Good Place” threatens to tell all the wrong people the truth. Those people will have to translate the word jumble that comes out of his mouth first, but the jig is up once anyone rearranges the mangled syntax.

In order to buy some time and keep Janet focused, Michael rushes Tahani and Jason off to a romantic picnic far away from the office. Tahani teaches Jason the delicate elegance of croquet, and he shows her that the true sport of kings is swinging a mallet at champagne glasses. Their playful chemistry is growing on me, and I love seeing the relaxed, carefree side of Tahani that Jason brings out. She’s even started to react to his social status with aristocratic unease instead of outright horror. Love is just that powerful.

So powerful, in fact, that Jason proposes to her in the most casual way possible: “maybe I could be that friend or your husband?”

Tahani initially balks at the idea – yes, she’s making progress, but she’s not about to start shopping at Target like a plebeian. “Why on earth would I marry you?” She scoffs, most haughtily.

To which Jason responds: “Well, first of all we’re not on earth.” I think his time as a fake Buddhist monk may have had more than zero impact on him.

Eleanor, Chidi, and Michael must devise a way to break up Janet’s relationship without hurting Janet or murdering anyone, an act generally frowned upon in the philosophy community. Chidi, of course, is there to draw moral lines in the sand, which Eleanor and Michael swiftly hop over by deciding to convince Janet that Derek is useless and needs to have a paperclip inserted behind his ear. If ya catch my drift, WINK. They don’t have to work too hard at Phase 1: Apparently, in building her perfect rebound, Janet made sure to include jealousy, bizarre arguments, and a lack of personal boundaries. Guess it goes to show that a woman can create an endless void and some guy will still manage to invade her space.

So the good news is Derek and Janet’s relationship is self-collapsing, the bad news is they keep disappearing, and the worst news of all is that Jason and Tahani will be getting married on the beach, where the best things happen. Poor Janet is even called upon to officiate! She gets to marry her husband… and his beautiful new wife.

Tahani and Jason share some hilarious yet ultimately touching vows. Tahani is a guiding light for Jason and teaches him something him new everyday, without either one of them having to go to jail. And with Jason, Tahani gets to let her hair down (metaphorically of course, she’s not a factory wench) and discover the fun in the afterlife. For all of their faults, they care about one another and balance each other out.

This romantic union is destroyed by a visit from the goon squad. Michael tries to break up the wedding, but Chidi’s ethics lessons have gotten into his head, and he can’t tiptoe around the ethical quandaries nimbly enough. Naturally, Eleanor volunteers to ruin the party, revealing the truth about Janet and Jason’s marriage and the emotional havoc the entangled feelings keep causing.

Speaking of complicated feelings, Eleanor is still keeping that limited edition “Cannonball Run II” VHS a secret from Chidi. She suggests to Michael that he should reboot everyone and then catch them up to speed later. It would solve both the complications with Janet, get rid of any need to sort through her feelings, and ensure that she doesn’t have to keep the secret from Chidi anymore. Three birds!

Michael won’t do it, though: They’ve all come too far and risked too much already. It’s a testament to his character growth that he does not immediately snap his fingers and demand a clean slate for his problems.

Eleanor, too, realizes that this has to be handled the old-fashioned way: With a heartfelt speech about how making out with strangers in a walk-in freezer won’t heal deep-seated pain (not based on a real example). Getting over Jason will take time and support from friends and yes one more heavy make out session with Windchime Derek.

When you reach the point in a wedding ceremony where a robot makes out with her ex in order to absorb his knowledge, it’s a sign that today just isn’t the day to get married. The wedding is off, but Jason and Tahani are still committed to one another, and they cuddle in bed while Janet boxes up Derek and sends him to the storage unit holding the arc of the covenant.

After a stressful day of keeping secrets, Eleanor makes the decision to show Chidi the tape. He is shocked at his own assuredness saying I love you (this is the guy who “once tried to rent socks”). There is clearly a strong relationship between Eleanor and Chidi, but watching a past version of yourself declare love to your ethics student would be confusing for anyone.

A visit from Michael spares Eleanor from having to dig into any emotional complexities. He can’t think clearly anymore because he keeps encountering ethical roadblocks that he now has to take seriously. He is in awe of Eleanor’s ability to keep fighting to become a better person, and in my favorite monologue of the episode, Eleanor explains that trying to become better has silenced the little voice in her head demanding she should. No, she’s not perfect, and we as viewers can only hope she never will be, but giving effort is half the battle and even if you don’t win, at least the pesky voice reminding you of your flaws can no longer insist you didn’t try.

The best part about all of this is that Michael didn’t come over to hatch a plan or find a way to avoid getting caught by Vicky: He needed to vent his frustration with someone he trusted, and if that’s not the job description of a friend, I don’t know what is.

Everyone has made a lot of progress today, and things just might work out for the gang after all…is a naïve thought to have in the final moments of a fall TV finale.

Michael returns to his office, and Sean the all-knowing is waiting for him with the scariest words a boss can say: “Have a seat and close the door.” We’ll have to wait until January to see how that performance review went down.

The Good Lines

“How do ethical philosophers feel about murder?” “It’s generally frowned upon.”

“Has anyone ever told you what a drag you are?” “Everyone. Constantly.”

“His brain is wrong.”

“Classic elements of British sport, whimsy and restraint.”

“I believe it was Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin who called croquet ‘barely a game’”

“I’ll always be that guy you made!”

The best things happen at the beach: “Swimsuit issues and Saving Private Ryan and Jersey Shore and crabs.”

“You’re the one who gave me windchimes instead of a penis” will now be my standard comeback to the slightest hint of accusation.

“There’s no easy way to say this…but I never should have made you.”

“Do you remember when your change oil light came on? You just abandoned your car in a parking garage.”

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