Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Review: The Good Place "The Eternal Shriek"

Wow! An escalating plot, a bunch of hilarious lines, and a brilliant final moment. All of this, and more, make this my favorite episode of The Good Place so far. 

But let’s talk about that last reveal. Faced with Chidi’s imminent confession and Michael’s headlong fall into eternal damnation, Eleanor finally stands up and admits that she doesn’t belong. A powerful character moment and a selfless act, it’s also a fantastic (and ballsy) choice for the show. 

We are only seven episodes into the season and the initial premise, evil Eleanor learns to be good while hiding her identity, still has some mileage in it. I expected for Eleanor to get caught eventually, but perhaps at the end of a season. A lesser show could easily stretch out that premise for a few years. So how wonderful to blow up what we know and move into the next phase of The Good Place. I’m very impressed with this decision. 

So Eleanor stepping up is a great choice for future episodes, but it’s also a great choice within this episode. Trouble starts when we learn that Michael isn’t so much retiring, as... well, I’ll let him explain it: 

“My soul will be disintegrated and each molecule will be placed on the surface of a different burning sun. And then my essence will be scooped out of my body with a flaming ladle and poured over (unlovely) hot diamonds. And then what’s left of my body will be endlessly beaten with a titanium rod for eternity. Like the piñata — except you have the string around my waist and it will most definitely be around my genitals.”  

Danson delivers these lines so well and the reactions from the cast, especially Harper as Chidi, are spot-on. Last week, I mentioned that Michael was a little too bland, but this week he gets to play with a few new emotions: bitter and resentful. He careens between his love for his humanity and his resigned despair that he will be torn from them and tortured for all time.

The plot has real stakes here on both a plot level and a personal level. On a plot level, who knows what will happen with Michael gone, and Eleanor knows that she can’t be a good person if she allows Michael to be murdered for her mistakes. On an emotional level, Michael has really come to mean something to both the principal cast and us as viewers. As Tahani notes, he’s been the loving family she never had - a warm embracing sun (“Like the one I kicked the dog into or the one I will burn on for all eternity?” he peevishly replies).

This leads to a great escalation as Eleanor determines that she has to kill Janet to save Michael, a fact that was neatly set up in the teaser. The entire bit with Janet begging not to be killed was hands-down the funniest moment of the series (Her repeated “LOOK AT THEM” had me rolling on the floor). D'Arcy Carden has shone as Janet throughout The Good Place, wringing laughs from little lines, and here we learn that you can't have too much of a good thing. She owns this episode from start to finish.

William Jackson Harper as Chidi also has a standout episode. The only negatives for this episode were his flashbacks, which dragged on to make a simple point and a single joke (lies are bad, those boots are ugly), but Harper sold them as best he could. I also didn't quite buy that lying would be the moral sticking point for the episode where the plot revolved around killing Janet. However, after Janet re-awoke (“Hello!”) the theme made a lot more sense.

Overall, the episode did a really great job intertwining the emotional arc with the narrative. “The Eternal Shriek” uses all the character traits that have been built up over the show: Chidi’s inflexibility, Eleanor’s growing conscience, Tahani’s need for affection, and makes real use of them.

For example, Tahani exercises her primary skillset, throwing galas, in an attempt to help Michael feel better. The Good Place also makes it clear, though, that this is also something of a selfish act. Even though Michael expressly asks her not to, she throws a party anyway in bullheaded belief that if she just does this one thing perfectly, Michael will shower her with the affection she craves. Unsurprisingly, this backfires and the gaity only makes Michael upset. Her emotional consistency, built up over the last few episodes, is therefore directly responsible for pushing Michael to comc clean about his retirement.

This is truly wonderful character work. And it is true of other castmembers as well - later, Chidi’s emotional reaction to keeping his secret leads directly to Eleanor’s decision to stand up and declare herself the problem. It’s difficult to dovetail the emotional with the plotting, but “The Eternal Shriek” really pulls it off. 

Easily my favorite of the season, “The Eternal Shriek” was great in its own right, but the final moment is what really impressed me. Burning down your initial premise takes chutzpah that most shows don't possess. We will see how it pays off going forward, but the "The Eternal Shriek" has easily earned my first ever A-grade. Keep it sleazy, folks!

Grade: A 

Memorable Moments
  • Enjoyed Harper's reading on the Chinese parable and Bell’s pronunciation of the word “cigars” in the first scene. 
  • Eleanor’s reasoning that killing Janet did not comprise murder reminded me quite a lot of Descartes Animal Automatism theory. 
  • “Why do bad things always happen to mediocre people who are lying about their identities?” 
  • “Listen, man. I’m dead, you’re dead, we all died. And now we’re killing her. Pay it forward.”
  • “Pretty dry. And too salty… Well, going out on a real low note here. Goodbye, everyone.” 
  • Like Eleanor’s return to Machiavellian form here. It’s a good detail that when the alarm pops up declaring that Janet has been murdered, Eleanor says, “Chidi, you just killed Janet. We have to flee your crime scene.” Note the “you” and “your”. 

  • While everyone else is dressed casually, Tahani wears a fancy funeral gown complete with veil for Janet’s sendoff. Because of course she does.
Photo Credit: NBC

No comments:

Post a Comment