‘The Good Place’ Recap: Dammit, Janet(s)Rolling Stone — Alan Sepinwall
A review of “Janet(s),” this week’s episode of The Good Place, coming up just as soon as your amusement has been scheduled…
Well, what do you know? The Good Place returns to the afterlife full-time and turns out one of its best episodes in a long time. Funny how that works.
Our interlude on Earth wasn’t without its moments, particularly in the episode prior to this. But there was always a sense of the series working with its dominant hand tied behind its back. Turns out its off-hand could compensate pretty darned well, but it still wasn’t the creative team using their full powers. “Janet(s)” very much put all of those things on display — ironically, in an episode where much of the screen time only featured one-sixth of the ensemble.
Arc-wise, a whole lot happens over the course of these 20-odd minutes. Eleanor gets Chidi to admit that he loves her, too, and they kiss without immediately getting their memories wiped again. Michael discovers that it’s been 521 years since any human got into the Good Place(*), but can’t get anyone from the accounting department to believe that the point system has been hacked. And in the most significant development of all — and the best mid-season cliffhanger the show has done so far — the Soul Squad finally arrives in the for real, actual, no foolin’ Good Place. To quote Eleanor, holy forking shortballs!
(*) The Jeremy Bearimy of it all means we can’t know for sure if the last person to gain Good Place admission died in 1497, but let’s assume so for lack of a better theory. The internet doesn’t offer a ton of notable deaths from that year, so I’m going to go with Flemish singer/composer Johannes Ockeghem, if only because I assume Raymond Holt is familiar with his work.
But a lot of that comes at the very end of the episode, which is primarily a showcase for the joy that is D’Arcy Carden’s performance as Janet — and as the four dum-dums who all happen to look like Janet while they’re stuck in her void(*). Carden’s really only doing a straightforward impression of Jason, and it’s a great one in how she captures the sing-song quality of the dumb-but-wise things that come out of his mouth. (Jason-Janet listing things white people say: “Billy Joel! I Found it on Etsy! There was nowhere to park! Did you fill up the Brita?”) But what’s impressive is how well Carden’s performance and Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan’s script delineate who each Janet is channeling even before she starts wearing a sweater vest for Chidi-Janet, a high-necked sleeveless floral print for Tahani-Janet, etc(**). She evokes just enough of the mannerisms of Kristen Bell and the others to sell it, so that even when Eleanor-Janet and Jason-Janet have swapped clothes to try to fool Chidi-Janet, they still seem like Bell and Manny Jacinto when the charade gets dropped.
(*) Mike Schur on how they filmed the Janet-only scenes: “We did the scenes a few different ways — some had multiple D’Arcy-heighted stand-ins, for eye-lines, and sometimes she was just by herself in a white room, acting to no one. It was wild. There was also a pole with a weird lip mold so she could ‘kiss herself.’ I think she went a little crazy. In a fun way!”
(**) I look forward to all the “My sexuality is Janet dressed as Jason” memes on Twitter tonight. And Eleanor’s attraction to her own temporary body is yet another reminder that our heroine is bi.
It’s a delight to watch, even as it’s an unexpected twist in the ongoing Eleanor/Chidi romance. After three seasons of gradually building up the idea of them as actual soulmates, rather than the cruel prank Michael sold them on at the start, the two come together in an episode where they’re both being played by a different actor altogether. But the body swap of it all actually ties in nicely with Chidi’s philosophical arguments about how he’s not the same Chidi who fell in love with Eleanor in past simulations. And it also makes the moment where we transition from two Janets kissing to Eleanor and Chidi kissing feel more powerful: their love is now real and solid enough to make their true selves fully present, even in this surreal white void. I’ve been pretty agnostic on this coupling for most of the show’s run, but recent episodes have sold it very very well, that world-saving kiss most of all.
Michael and the actual Janet’s adventures in Accounting, meanwhile, were a fun return to the bureaucracy of the afterlife that we’ve mostly been missing this season. Stephen Merchant is an inspired choice to play head accountant Neil. He has a goofy but sweet comic energy that neatly fits the show’s vision of the afterlife, and he’s one of the few comic actors working who can make Ted Danson look short — and, as co-creator of the British Office, which led to Michael Schur’s sitcom career, he helped begat this particular show we’re enjoying now. The Accounting office matches what we’ve seen in other corners of the afterlife, with retro technology and an extreme degree of specialty, as there are people assigned just to deduct points for “Impressions (Borat)” or “Songs With Specific Dance Instructions.” And poor Matt from Weird Sex Things feels perpetually suicidal.
As we suspected, Shawn has figured out a way to game the system and divert all of humanity to the Bad Place for the last five centuries, which now raises the stakes significantly for the show going forward. It’s no longer just about saving these four dummies, nor even about the notion of a binary Heaven/Hell system being unfair. It’s that the system has ceased to work altogether, and now everyone is being eternally damned, but the system is (in a very The Wire kind of way) too oblivious to its flaws to recognize that. It’s a huge turn in things, and a greater responsibility for Michael. As satisfying as Chidi and Eleanor’s kiss was, even more satisfying was Janet convincing Michael that he had to stop looking for other authority figures to fix things and take the responsibility on himself. It’s an important growth moment for both him as a character and the two of them as friends (so well established in last season’s “Janet and Michael”). And the scene neatly plays it for both dramatic and comic effect: Michael gets his big hero moment where he stands up to Neil and says, “So… I’m gonna do it,” and then he instantly looks ridiculous when his move is to slap the corner piece of birthday cake out of Neil’s hand as a distraction so they can run into the sorting room and escape to the Good Place.
That our heroes have now arrived at the place the show allegedly began, and what they want to be their final destination, would suggest the story is running out of road. But things are never easy on The Good Place — not even when characters are in the Good Place — so I look forward to seeing the real thing as much as I look forward to seeing how Eleanor and friends won’t get to stay there permanently quite yet.
Only three more episodes to go this season, and over a month til we get to see the first of those. I can’t wait. Can you?
Previously: Death Becomes Them