Emily McNeiece ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
This week’s episode of The Good Place takes a risk: it takes Derek (Jason Mantzoukas), a character the viewers have known for all of two seconds, and hinges an entire episode around him. In another show, this is a gamble that could have made the episode an unfocused mess. But through a combination of explorative character writing, tight pacing, and a notably hilarious performance from Jason Mantzoukas himself, “Derek” is an entertaining exploration of the show’s key relationships, giving viewers an opportunity to look back and see how much the core cast has changed.
Last week, Janet (D’Arcy Carden) created Derek as a “rebound boyfriend” after Eleanor, (Kristen Bell), suggested Janet should try to be with someone to forget her previous marriage to Jason. Derek is a half-formed human at best, ripe with confusing sayings and misconceptions, and he’s purely a joy throughout the episode. From his self-introduction (“Derek Hoffstetler, P.I.”) to his butchering of human goodbyes (“Good-bob! I hope we some place again very now.”), Derek’s attempts at “humaning” were hilarious as well as easily quotable. That is, when he wasn’t screaming his own name at random intervals, a behavior that was not only funny but also seemingly realistic as to how a newly sentient being would adjust to themselves.
Michael (Ted Danson), afraid of being reported to his boss if the other townspeople meet Derek, gathers Eleanor and Chidi (William Jackson Harper) to help him solve Janet’s heartbreak. Meanwhile, Jason (Manny Jacinto) asks Tahani (Jameela Jamil) to marry him and she accepts, making Janet even more upset and Michael more desperate.
I might be one of the few of this opinion, but the recent Tahani/Jason romance has not been convincing enough for me. The two seem just too different from one another: the dissonance between Jason’s good-natured stupidity and Tahani’s self-important regality, while funny, has been a bit too great for me to fully accept them as a couple, and the fact that their storyline keeps getting pushed to the B and C plots of recent episodes hasn’t helped this. Yet in “Derek”, though it still isn’t quite fully explored, I can start to see the chemistry between the two. Here, Tahani and Jason bond through crochet, watching Home Alone, and making flower crowns, and Tahani tells Jason why it is she’s attracted to him: their time together is an opportunity for her to knock down her prep school-constructed walls and trust in another. It’s a sudden moment of insight that shows just how far Tahani has come from her pompous socialite self of episode one.
After receiving invitations to Jason and Tahani’s wedding, Eleanor decides that they need to tell the engaged couple about Jason’s past marriage to Janet, thus breaking them up, making Janet feel better, and “killing” Derek. Chidi points out that ethically this is wrong: intending Derek’s death makes their actions morally corrupt. He insists that Eleanor and Michael must tell the couple with the sole intention of helping their marriage rather than hurting it. Along with a quarreling Janet and Derek, (“Here we go again with the whole genitals thing. You’re the one who gave me windchimes instead of a penis, Janet.”) Eleanor, Michael and Chidi crash the wedding, and Eleanor tells the couple the truth. When they don’t break up, Janet is still upset, and Eleanor admits that her “rebound boyfriend” advice wasn’t right. She admits, in a humble and even touching moment, that all you can do about heartbreak is think and talk it through. Janet, accepting this, puts Derek in a coffin and banishes him to the corner of her boundless void.
The glitching of the world resolved, and Tahani and Jason back on steady ground, everything seems to be returned to normal. Eleanor finally shows Chidi the video she had acquired from Mindy St. Claire’s (Maribeth Monroe) house of the two confessing their love to one another, and he admits he doesn’t have those feelings currently. Eleanor unconvincingly denies her own feelings, and there’s a quiet moment in which the two reflect, the tangible absence of the deep love in the video hanging in the air. Afterwards, Michael calls Eleanor into the next room, asking just how it is that Eleanor, someone Michael expected would give up, hasn’t given up on trying to be a better person. In a second of clarity, Eleanor admits she’s liked having a clear conscience lately, and wants to work to be better. It’s a small admission, still full of confusion and questioning, but it’s a sure one nonetheless. Eleanor’s not the same person she was upon her first arrival in season one, and although she may not have the memories of the last 800 or so resets, she’s now consciously working to better herself.
Right as we gain a small appreciation of Michael for reaching out to Eleanor, Michael’s boss Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) appears. It’s one of The Good Place’s classic twists, a resolution to which we’ll have to look forward to when the show comes back in January. We’ll miss you, The Good Place. Keep being awesome.
Episode Grade: A-