The Good Place 2.8 “Leap to Faith”
Linda Mendoza (Director), Michael Schur, et al (Writers)
Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper (Cast)
The Good Place returned this week with the episode “Leap to Faith,” which is a fast-paced delight. Since we are generally more familiar with the term “leap of faith,” there are a few references to how the Kierkegaard book title might be more accurately translated as a leap into faith.
And that’s what this episode asks its protagonists to do: to take a leap into trusting someone who has never deserved their trust. And now, my intrepid readers: spoilers. If you are not caught up on the show, you should probably stop reading this now. If you haven’t even finished season one, you shouldn’t have even read this far. Go watch the show and then read Searching for the Good Place Within America. If you are caught up, on the other hand, let’s go!
In this episode, demon and burgeoning friend-to-mortals Michael is surprised by his boss dropping in and reading his files, and he begins an elaborate disinformation campaign to keep both his job and his new pals safe. While acting like the devil he always has been, he drops a number of clues for the human protagonists about how to circumvent his boss’s plans.
As fans of the show have come to expect, it is Eleanor who picks up on these clues. Her vast experience with shitty people during life gives her a set of interpretive skills that she uses to figure out what is going on, who it hurts and who it helps. In a twist, in this episode, her natural skepticism leads her to trust Michael. She sees that he is behaving inconsistently in order to betray, but also sees that it is his boss, not our team of human protagonists, being betrayed. She picks up the clues, and interprets them accurately because she is smart and action-oriented.
If I had to sort the four human protagonists of this show into Hogwarts houses, Jason would obviously be in Hufflepuff, Chidi in Ravenclaw, and Tahani in Slytherin. In this episode, Eleanor tells her team to split up as they sneak away to avoid being conspicuous, and then they all follow her anyway. Eleanor, their fearless leader, is a Gryffindor because she is smart and savvy in a take-charge way.
I like that The Good Place celebrates different kinds of intelligence. Chidi, a philosophical intellectual, is knowledgeable and smart in the academic ways you would expect. Eleanor, a walking trash fire during life, is also smart in a very different way. She can figure people out. If I was writing this review a few years ago, I would probably be excited to note the difference between EQ and IQ, but in 2018, I’m just glad that both are appreciated, valued parts of the team, serving the group of four humans time and time again.
The creator and executive producer of The Good Place, Michael Schur, also co-created the sitcoms Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. All three of these shows that I love deal explicitly with the group dynamics of comparatively functional people doing their best. The comedy comes from cleverness, kindness, and great timing in ridiculous situations, rather than from jerks tearing each other down.
In The Good Place, Schur employs not only the tropes but also many of the actors from his other shows, so that we get to see Marc Evan Jackson, Adam Scott, Jason Matzoukas, and more familiar faces we know from Schur’s earthbound shows being cheerfully, hilariously absurd in their guest star roles in the afterlife.
Schur is also consistent about what he feels makes people terrible. Thus, all the demons of hell remind us of Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation, for instance. Ugh, they are the worst. And in “Leap to Faith,” part of Michael’s evil façade includes a comedy roast of the protagonists. My stomach and throat actually tightened when I realized I was going to have to watch one. As Michael says after spewing hate at his pals, “now, that’s funny because it’s cruel and humiliating!” Yes. That is where the humor in comedy roasts comes from, and Michael (and Michael Schur) are right.
And I can only assume the naming of the character Michael is intentional, though a quick Google search does not reveal discussion about it: Schur has given the character, a duplicitous demon who is a showrunner in that he literally runs the show, his own name. In The Good Place, which is about manipulation and how intentions and effects do not necessarily align, we never forget who is pulling the strings.
The descriptions available for the rest of the season’s episodes promise both a lot of feels and a lot of exploration of responsibility. I am looking forward to both.