A structurally-bold episode brings The Good Place back from its winter break in fine, fine form.
Trust is a tricky little gremlin. It can be as simple as it can be complex and fickle, and The Good Place takes an interesting look at trust in midseason premiere "Leap to Faith," asking that we consider where it even comes from in the first place. Most of the time, trust comes down to value: you trust someone because you understand that something they value keeps that trust in tact. This doesn't necessarily mean a person's values keep trust intact. It means that what a person values keeps trust in tact. Maybe a person's set of values is that thing they value — a dedication to a moral code is usually enough to serve as a foundation for trust. It's not uncommon, however, to trust someone whose moral code you don't know very well, because you know something else they value will keep that trust in line. Maybe it's the promise of a reward. Maybe it's the threat of consequences. Or maybe it's the value they place on their own morality.
Where the demons from the Bad Place are concerned, it's definitely the middle option. Remember, these people are bad. In the absence of anything resembling a moral code, the only thing keeping their trust in tact is a fear of consequences and/or the promise of promotion. The people from the Bad Place trust each other not because they value morals, but because they value reward and the escape of punishment.
Little do they know, Michael's values have shifted. His morality, thanks to a season's worth of coaching from Chidi and The Gang, is now more important to him than it is that he earn a promotion or dodge the consequences that come from fucking up. Because the rest of the demons don't realize this, Michael is able to exploit their misplaced trust and help the gang escape their fates...provided of course that they can trust him enough to make the necessary leaps of (or to...whatever) faith.
When we last left The Good Place, things were in a pretty precarious position. It was looking like Michael's boss Shawn had figured out that the whole Neighborhood Ruse was exactly that, but the reality turned out to be a real good-news-bad-news type situation. Michael did successfully fool his boss into thinking that the Neighborhood Ruse was a success — but since his demon overlord doesn't realize how many times Michael had to reboot the neighborhood, he sees it as having been a rousing success in its ability to cause the gang so much emotional anguish. As a result, Michael gets promoted, and is then is told to dismantle the neighborhood and bring the gang with him back to the real Bad Place.
Understandably enough, the gang immediately freaks out and ponders whether their best move is to expose Michael's deception or simply make a break for it and escape to the Medium Place...right up until Eleanor suggests that they trust Michael. Not only is this a huge moment of drastic character growth for Eleanor, but it's earned as hell. This once-fundamentally misanthropic character is the sole voice of reason here, suggesting they trust Michael not because they know he fears consequences, but because they have faith in the evolution of his moral code. Michael's slow redemption was a fascinating narrative focus for season two, but it wouldn't have been possible without Eleanor's successful turnaround over the course of season one. Early Days Eleanor would never have trusted Michael, but her character's growth turns out to be a deciding factor in the gang's acceptance of Michael's subsequent moral rehabilitation. They decide to trust in Michael's moral code, while the rest of the Bad Place demons wrongly trust in his fear of consequences and thirst for a promotion.
Through a series of cleverly-placed clues (many doled out through a great roast scene in which we're reminded that yes, each member of the gang is actually kind of the worst), Michael is able to communicate his plan to the gang, set Demon Vikki up to take the fall, and help everybody successfully avoid being sent to the Actual Bad Place. As usual, Dansen knocks the moment in which Michael reveals his true plans just all the way out of the park, revealing the almost heartbreaking depth to which he actually does care about his new friends. This leads into a fun flashback sequence showing how the plan came together, giving the episode a neat little reverse-heist structure and effectively clearing the board for whatever happens next. Because it could pretty much be anything.
On just about any other show, this would be pretty concerning, as The Good Place is yet again in a position to go absolutely anywhere. Mike Schur and his writers' room ended season one on an almost maddeningly open-ended note: The story wasn't wrapped in any sense of the word, but it could have easily gone in any number of directions, which is exactly what made the second season's singular vision and supremely confident execution such a thrill to experience. So obviously, I'm in. Season two has been as unexpected as it's been strongly-told, and once again finds itself with the possibility of going to a variety of different places. Whatever it chooses, I'm pretty sure it'll be a good one.
Oh, and Also...
- I find it really interesting that Michael's Neighborhood fuck-ups, followed by the rocky journey of his moral education, wound up registering as emotional torture to Shawn and the bureaucrats of the Bad Place. Kind of an interesting commentary on what could be read as their core incompetence.
- "Aw...Maximum Derek!" Jason Mantzoukas is a goddamn treasure.
- I wonder if there's a white board in The Good Place writers' room where they just have various funny ideas for things that Janet can be made to do/be, and then they just slot them into episodes when the appropriate moment presents itself. Whatever the case may be, it's insane how clear it is that there is no shortage of ways for D'Arcy Carden to be unjustifiably funny in the role.