The Good Place S02E09 Recap: 'Best Self'

At this rate, it's no longer a milestone when The Good Place chooses to tear down its concept; it's become a regular occurrence, and maybe even, in a way, the very concept of the show. Ever since last season finale's afterlife-shattering reveal, I'm not sure if a single episode has passed without some twist or turn that inherently changes what the show is. And each could easily be a season of a show or even a show in and of itself. The Good Place moves at a pace unlike anything I've ever seen before on television.

And yet, it still finds moments where it can slow down and focus on its characters. It's a show that's really big, but somehow manages to feel really small within itself. It finds opportunities to do its equivalent of bottle episodes. It finds a way to be incredibly compelling simply by having four to six characters talk and hash their shirt out for the better part of half an hour.

This is a qualifier I've given the show in the past, but I feel like it bears repeating. The Good Place can basically be two separate shows. Sometimes, it's the sitcom equivalent of a Lost-style show, moving its plot forward at breakneck speed. Other times, like in this week's "Best Self", it slows down, focuses on the characters, and feels more like a supernatural version of Community. Like Community, this is a show about a group of forked up people from all walks of life forced to work together to figure their shirt out and better themselves (Community is more about power dynamics but I feel like the comparison holds muster). In the process, one of the characters reveals a deceit and the rest have to find a way to forgive them, because all they have is each other.

That's truly the formula that makes The Good Place such a good show. People will point to the plot progression and the twists, its willingness to leave everything behind in order to move on to the next thing, but it's episodes like this that prove that it's so much more than that. "Best Self" highlights everything that's great about each and every one of the characters, and by the end, it still manages to move on to the next thing. In fact, in a more definitive way than ever, as the final shot of the episode is Michael's Fake Good Place disintegrating as he and the gang board a train to the Bad Place.

That might seem surprising considering the show has spent its entire run actively avoiding the Bad Place, but that's exactly what the episode strives to justify. As we saw last week, the gang is on a deadline to find a way to the Real Good Place after Shawn orders Michael to shut down his experiment, thinking that the four subject have escaped to the Medium Place. Michael creates a special hot air balloon that should take them there, but it needs everyone to be their best selves, as the title suggests. Chidi, as you might expect, second guesses the very idea of what it means to be your best self when there are over 800 versions of yourself that you don't even remember, so the balloon rejects him. Eleanor manages to talk him down, but in the process, gets in her own head, notably about how previous versions of herself and Chidi expressed love for one another that he doesn't seem willing to reciprocate now. And in turn that messes up Tahani, who's hung up over Jason. Janet straight up breaks the machine before Michael reveals that it probably wouldn't have worked in the first place, and neither will the literal billion other ideas he thought of.

In other words, the gang is screwed, so they spend their final night of freedom before Shawn captures them partying and reminiscing, before they have the very human idea of doing the dumbest thing possible with terrible odds of succeeding; the only way to even possibly come close to getting into the Good Place is to walk through the Bad Place and get the arbiter of disputes between the two Places to hear their case. And so, the show packs things up, destroys everything we know about it, promises to show us the Bad Place and the judge that have been teased since the very beginning of the show, all with its characters once again evolving from where they were at the top of the episode. Everyone gets something funny to say and there's meaningful change on many levels, and that's the kind of stuff that makes The Good Place the best sitcom on TV.

"Best Self" gets 9.5 shirtholes out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Very insulated episode, with only a couple of locations and no other character appearances outside of the main six. There wasn't even a flashback. This is as much of a bottle episode as you're going tog et with this show.
  • An underrated part of this episode and even this season is how the revelation that there have been 800 different versions of the fake good place have truly had an effect on these people, even if it's in a subtle way. It goes to show that even though we didn't get to see as much of them as possible, they're still making the most of it.
  • I didn't catch any Tahani namedrops, but she does shade the Swiss Alps in the fall, so that must count for something.
  • Jason: "Top of the balloon. Ultimate shotgun."
  • Jason: "Maybe I should have realized this wasn’t the good place because of all the diarrhea."
  • Chidi: "Maybe you shouldn’t be eating all that frozen yogurt right now. We’re about to be in a balloon, man."
  • Eleanor: "I read books that weren’t even written by the real housewives."
  • Eleanor: "You’re not better than me was my yearbook quote."
  • Michael: "One night you took a walk along he lake and you had your first kiss. Which, gross. Kissing is gross! You just mash your food holes together, it’s not for that!"
  • Michael: "You humans have so many emotions. You only need two, anger and confusion!"
  • Eleanor/Michael: "I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed." "Oh, come on! Everyone knows that’s worse!"
  • Janet, asked to give a speech: "Because of the way we were conceived of and created Janet’s don’t typically give speeches.
  • Eleanor/Tahani: "I mean look at you, a self obsessed socialite, a ridiculous giraffe, an absurd British aristocrat, a narcissistic attention seeker..." "Are these all me?"
  • Michael: "Car keys! So I could lose them and say has anyone seen my car keys."
  • Michael: "This is all garbage that I have no real use for."
  • Jason: "What do you guys think the bad place is going to be for you? I’ll probably go to Skrillex concert and I’ll be waiting for he best to drop and it’ll never come.
  • Chidi: "I’m pretty good at turning any place I go into my personal hell, so..."
  • Michael aphorism attempt no. 1: "As long as I’m with you guys I’m always in the fake good place."
  • Michael aphorism attempt no. 2: "The real bad place was the friends we made along the way."
  • Michael aphorism attempt no. 3: "In a way the good place was inside the bad place all along?"