Recap: The Good Place Season 1

Hannah Lazar - September 15, 2018

The Good Place, created by Michael Shurr of The Office and Parks and Rec fame, is a show that explores what it means to be a good person through its witty humor, phenomenally written characters, imaginative setting, and subversion of the comedic tropes found in sitcoms. The plot follows a woman named Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), who has died and gone to The Good Place, where only the best of humanity ends up...except she’s not one of humanity’s best. In fact, she’s more of an average person, with very selfish tendencies, and now has to figure out how to hide her true identity in a series of escalating hijinks and conflicts.

The show begins with Eleanor meeting Michael (Ted Danson), the “architect” of her neighborhood in The Good Place. He explains that she ended up in The Good Place because she was an exceptional human being on Earth, and is paired up with a soulmate, named Chidi (William Jackson Harper). Chidi, unlike Eleanor, seems like the ideal member of The Good Place, since he was an ethics professor on Earth. Eleanor reveals to Chidi that she does not actually belong, and the first two episodes depict their arguments over whether she’s even worth helping since Eleanor is a very selfish person. For instance, on Earth, it is shown that she shirks being the designated driver in her friend group on numerous occasions. Eventually, Chidi agrees to help, only for Eleanor to receive a note warning her that she doesn’t belong.

Initially, Eleanor suspects that Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), another member of The Good Place and her neighbor, is the culprit who wrote the note, but that is proved not to be the case. The two end up becoming friends, and discuss Tahani’s dissatisfaction with her own soulmate, Jianyu (Manny Janncinto). Jiyanu is a silent monk, who has been very unresponsive to her attempts at bonding. Later, Eleanor decides to try talking to the monk, who actually speaks to her...and is not what he seems. He admits he wrote the note, and that his real name is Jason Mendoza, a former drug dealer who does not belong in The Good Place either. He went along with the vow of silence to avoid detection.

Following this, he joins Eleanor in Chidi’s ethics lessons, but proves to not be very receptive to them, and decides to reveal his identity to everyone in the neighborhood during a restaurant opening. To prevent him from doing so, Eleanor smashes the owner’s cake, her selfish actions creating a sinkhole. After the disaster, it is revealed that Chidi had never actually been in a real relationship before, and is upset that Eleanor is not his actual soulmate. To make it up to him, Eleanor decides to arrange some leisure activities he previously described to her, showing that she has improved as a person. The sinkhole closes as a result, and Michael insists that Eleanor help him discover the cause.

After an episode of bonding between Tahani and Jason, and Eleanor distracting Michael from the truth, Michael decides that he is the reason for all the problems, and announces his departure, which will result in him being tortured for eternity. He also mentions that the only one who can actually condemn him to this fate is Janet (D’Arcy Carden), the Good Place’s personified encyclopedia. Eleanor, Jason, and Chidi, not wanting Michael to unjustly suffer, decide to try killing Janet, which ends up being successful when Chidi accidentally activates her kill switch, after many moments of arguing over the morality of their actions. Janet is rebooted with no memories and operating in diminished capacity, so Michael decides to stay and investigate, since her murder indicates that he is not the biggest problem in the neighborhood. Eleanor, deciding that she’s done enough damage as is, decides to admit to the neighborhood that she doesn’t belong.

Following that, Michael interviews Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason about Janet’s death, where he confirms Eleanor’s claim. This leads to Trevor (Adam Scott), a cruel representative of The Bad Place, showing up to take Eleanor to her rightful place in the afterlife. This induces Chidi to admit he was actually the one who killed Janet, and that Eleanor is improving as a person, and the crew tries to rescue Eleanor from her fate...only to learn that the Eleanor Shellstrop that actually deserved to be in The Good Place had ended up in The Bad Place had come with Trevor, and had expected to go to her own rightful place. This complicates things even further, needless to say.

As Michael tries to negotiate with the Trevor and the other demons from The Bad Place, Chidi and the new Eleanor begin to bond, which drives a wedge between Chidi and the original Eleanor. Michael eventually declares that he will fight for our Eleanor’s right to stay in the Good Place, and in response, Trevor threatens to get an “Eternal Judge” named Shawn (Mark Evan Jackson) involved. Simultaneously, Tahani discovers Jason’s true identity, which leaves her shaken. After that, new Eleanor makes our Eleanor realize she loves Chidi, and Tahani also seems to believe she loves Chidi, so they both confess, leaving poor indecisive Chidi in a bind. We learn that Chidi’s indecisiveness was so bad that it indirectly led to his death.

Back in the Good Place, Jason decides to marry Janet, and it is decreed that our Eleanor can stay, so long as she accrues enough points to justify it. However, since self-preservation is her primary reason for being a kind person, she can’t increase her score, and plans to leave the Good Place. Additionally, Michael discovers Jason and Janet’s marriage, so they accompany Eleanor and go to a “Medium Place” inhabited by Mindy St. Claire, an attorney who had lived a mostly selfish life but whose actions prior to her death led to a massive global charity being formed. In the Good Place, Eleanor and Jason’s fates are still being debated over and Shawn decrees that Eleanor and Jason don’t belong, and if they don’t go to the Bad Place, Chidi and Tahani will go instead. Eleanor decides to go back and prevent that from happening, and once they arrive, Shawn decides that they can choose any two of the four to go.

While arguing over who goes, Eleanor has an epiphany: they have been in the Bad Place the entire time, because the four of them have been torturing each other by design, not by accident. Michael confirms this theory, explaining that this “Good Place” is a new version of the Bad Place that he had designed himself. Since his plan failed, Michael begs Shawn for a redo, which would erase the memories of all the human characters, and he gets his wish. Before Michael does it, though, Eleanor rips a page out of one of Chidi’s books, writes “Eleanor – Find Chidi” on it, and stuffs it in Janet’s mouth. After the reset, Janet gives Eleanor the note, and the season ends on a cliffhanger.

What I find very interesting about this plot development is that, upon watching this season again, it is made very clear that this twist was hiding in plain sight the entire time. The Good Place is introduced as a utopia completely without conflict, but stories inherently need conflict to, well...be an interesting story. Therefore, the audience initially does not question it when things go awry, because conflict is desired and expected, lest we be forced to watch a boring story about flawless people in a flawless place. Even beyond that genius play on expectations, there are so many hints and nods to this twist that are hidden in the dialogue that it’s pretty astounding, with one of my favorite coming from Eleanor herself. In the end of the first episode, she tells Chidi that her parents are likely in the Bad Place, and jokes that they are probably being used to torture each other. Little did Eleanor know at the time, that is exactly what is happening to her.

Furthermore, this twist raises so many questions about what exactly makes a person worthy of eternal happiness. After all, Chidi was a professor of ethics, and Tahani was a philanthropist who donated millions of dollars to charity, and both believed they belonged in the Good Place. However, through their backstories, it is revealed that they weren’t quite the best people either. Chidi is so caught up in the ethical value of his actions that he is barely capable of making decisions, whether they be good or bad, and Tahani was a philanthropist because she constantly lived in the shadow of her sister, and wanted to upend her. The show also asks you to think about Eleanor and Jason’s “crimes,” per say. While Eleanor was definitely a bad person, she wasn’t the worst person to ever exist, and Jason’s biggest crime was not being very smart. Additionally, Eleanor is shown to be capable of change, which begs the question: what exactly makes someone a good person? If it is entirely based on how selfish a person is, and if every human has selfish desires...then how is anyone expected to actually end up in the actual Good Place? The only example the show provides of someone who ended up there is Abraham Lincoln. However, not everyone has the power to end slavery...so what is really expected of us?

Beyond the moral quandaries, this season definitely leaves us wondering what’s going to happen to our favorite band of misfit humans. Will they succumb to Michael’s will and spend eternity torturing each other, or will they figure out their situation again and revolt? Will they end up in the actual Bad Place? Or will something else happen? I bet the next season and beyond will waste no time in addressing this, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.