Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By
Review: The Good Place, Season Three, Episode Eight
Starring: Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper
Warning: this review contains spoilers. If you have not seen Season Three, Episode Eight of the Good Place, it is recommended that you catch up before reading.
The latest episode of The Good Place might have been the deepest yet when it comes to the series’ exploration of philosophy.
The purpose of this review is not to evaluate The Good Place as a whole series, or this particular season, but to look at this one episode for its theological implications (You can read Insights’ review of seasons one and two here).
To recap, season three of The Good Place has seen the characters, who were all dead and working their way through the afterlife, resurrected and hiding away on earth. With no previous memory of their time in the fake Good Place (or the medium place afterwards) they have the chance to earn their way into the real ‘good’ version of the afterlife by learning to be good people. In Australia, they were all part of a study group into ethical philosophy, an effort that was quashed when they regained some knowledge about the afterlife.
Reviewers have not been entirely kind to this season of The Good Place, taking it to task for its new status quo and those Australian accents. This episode, however, stood out as maybe the best in the series so far and certainly the deepest. After the characters have left Australia for Canada, Michael and Janet go to spend time with a man named Doug Forcett. What started off as a joke character in The Good Place’s pilot episode becomes a fascinating character. Doug discovered the truth about how to get to The Good Place through the points system and is now obsessed with getting his score high enough. Subsisting off of vegetables he grows and ensuring he lives a worthy life, he does everything he can to keep others happy, a worthy attempt at the good life that puts him far ahead on points but seems like torture for him.
This is one of the most fascinating parts of the series to date, in that it presents a character who is able to live well but in a way that is without joy and arguably without much meaning. Absent the concept of grace and the Atonement, we are left with this kind of existence as a means of how people should live, a sacrifice not only of worldly materials and wealth but also joy.
As is mentioned during the episode, Doug Forcett has become a ‘happiness pump’ for other people. His existence is helpful to other people but is miserable for him. For Christians concerned with doing what is right by God’s creation and the poor (of which the Uniting Church has many), it is worth reminding ourselves that without the love and grace of God to sustain us, we find ourselves in a similar position.
The other point to make here is that Doug’s motivation is skewed by his desire to get into The Good Place. In other words, while his actions are good his intentions are guided by something other than altruism. For Christians, who so often want to do good for others as part of our service to Christ, this should serve as a gentle reminder to check our motivations.
Finally, it is worth noting that as Vivien Kane writes, a revelation towards the end of the episode presents an interesting paradox: Doug tries hard through how he lives to get to The Good Place, but may not be going there in the end anyway.
Beyond this, episode eight has a strong subplot as Eleanor and Chidi finally make some progress in their relationship, something that has been hinted at for a long time. There is still plenty of room for this storyline thread to progress but the fact that it is addressed is encouraging.
Complaints about this episode are few and far between, but it should be noted that the episode sees Janet get her powers back via a Deux Ex Machina that is a little too convenient.
The episode finishes in a way that nicely sets up a future confrontation with denizens of the Bad Place. If the show’s writers manage to maintain the standards that this episode established, The Good Place’s third season will be in a strong finishing position.
New episodes of The Good Place stream weekly on Netflix
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor
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