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The Good Place - The Trolley Problem & Janet and Michael - Double Review: "Can Michael Change?"

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The Good Place continues to be one of the best comedies on television right now. After a somewhat rocky start to the season as the series attempted to regain its footing following the reveal that our favorite foursome is actually in the Bad Place, the show is back on a roll with “The Trolley Problem” and “Janet and Michael.” (And yes, the bad pun was intentional). These two episodes really serve as a deeper dive into who Michael is and who he can be. Has he redeemed himself enough to get to the real Good Place? Not yet, but he is growing as a character. For the first time, we see him care about someone other than himself. We see him struggle with being vulnerable and deciding whether or not to turn “kill” Janet. So while he may still be a demon who slips back into old habits from time to time, I really do think he is capable of change. Of course, there’s always the chance Michael could be faking it, but we’ll probably not know for sure until the season finale, so I’m choosing to believe the best in him.

“The Trolley Problem” opens with another one of Chidi’s ethic lessons with him posing various hypotheticals about killing one person to save five people. While Eleanor, Tahini, and Jason grapple with the various scenarios, Michael completely misses the mark, instead trying to figure out how to kill all six people. Even the homework assignment Michael hands in is problematic, focusing on how everyone “sucks” and belongs in the Bad Place as opposed to the ethics of a man stealing a loaf of bread. Michael claims he’s having trouble connecting with the material because everything has been theoretical, so he decides to see how the various scenarios would play out in the “real” world, bringing the trolley problems and its numerous iterations to life, so to speak. Even though the scenarios are just simulations, the “people” still feel pain, and it’s absolute torture for Chidi. As Eleanor then figures out, Michael had no real desire to learn ethics and was just using these simulations as a way to torture Chidi.

Understandably, Chidi is furious, and William Jackson Harper does a great job portraying Chidi’s nuanced emotions. Chidi always tries to see the best in people and works tirelessly teaching the group ethics. In the 800 iterations, Chidi always helped Eleanor, never once saying no, even though it was tortuous for him. He may have been sent to the Bad Place because his indecision caused the people around him pain, but Chidi always tries to do the right thing. So while Michael may be able bribe the others with gifts, Chidi can’t be bought so easily, even if it is a notebook from his favorite philosopher. What Chidi really wants, and deserves, is an apology; he just wants to feel valued and appreciated. So when Michael finally does admit he felt lost and vulnerable and lashed out because he didn’t understand ethics, Chidi readily accepts Michael’s apology, even after all the horrible things Michael did. No one would have begot Chidi for holding a grudge, and his ability to forgive despite everything is just further proof that Chidi is a good person at heart. He may not be perfect, but heart is always in the right place.

So while Eleanor and Chidi are busy being tortured by Michael, Tahini and Jason struggle with what it means to be a couple. Tahini, being the status-obsessed person that she is, doesn’t want anyone to know that she and Jason are together. Jason, rightfully so, suggests that maybe she should talk about it with someone, but given the situation they are in, her choice in a therapist is extremely limited. Michael is out for obvious reasons, and she doesn’t want Eleanor or Chidi to know, so Janet gets the gig by default. What first starts out as individual sessions soon turns into couple’s counseling, but there are a few glitches along the way, namely Janet. While she is able to help Jason and Tahini work through some of their issues, it soon becomes clear there is something off with our favorite not robot. My initial thought was she was malfunctioning because she was serving as Tahini and Jason’s therapist, but as we learned in “Janet and Michael” the problem goes much deeper.

While the glitches started out small, they have escalated to the point where the neighborhood is in danger of exploding or imploding, both of which options are equally likely. After passing a series of tests, my favorite of which was the random generator, Michael realizes Janet may be malfunctioning because she is disseminating information that is incompatible with objective truths, or put simply lying, and comes to the conclusion it’s his fault. After Michael stole Janet from the warehouse, he lied about being a Good Place architect and then a billion more times to support that lie. Even though Janet immediately dismisses that theory, this is still an important moment as Michael takes responsibility for his actions. While he apologized to Chidi last episode, he only did it after being prompted by Eleanor, but this time, we see Michael accept his accountability without having to be told. No one made him admit his manipulations; he came to it on his own. This coupled along with Michael’s realization that he can’t kill Janet as they have become friends makes me believe Michael is capable of change. As we see in the flashbacks, when Michael was first creating the neighborhood, he was having difficulty with the design, and without knowing the specifics Janet helped him come up with the idea of frozen yogurt for as an OK food. He has come to rely on Janet and regard her as a friend, and even though killing her would solve the problems, he can’t do it. Again, there is no one here stopping Michael from killing Janet; he comes to the decision himself. When it was first proposed Michael was going to take ethic lessons with the gang, I wasn’t sure if he was capable of becoming good, but after this episode, I have a glimmer of hope.

When we finally get to the root of the problem, it turns out that Michael was half right. Janet is malfunctioning because of lies, but it is her lies not his that are causing the glitches. Janets aren’t supposed to be able to lie but after being rebooted over 800 times, Janet has somehow gained the ability. And what has she been lying about exactly? Well, her happiness about Tahini and Jason being together. Even after being rebooted so many times, Janet somehow still loves Jason, and those feelings only grow strong after every reboot. Therefore, rebooting Janet again would only make things worse. I, personally, love that the writers brought back Janet and Jason’s marriage from season one. It was such a random and epic twist that they fell in love and got married, so I’m glad it was brought back up again. As we saw with Eleanor and Chidi at Mindy’s house, they somehow keep finding their way back to each other even after being rebooted again and again and again. So it makes sense Janet would still love Jason on some level even if she didn’t remember. I’m really intrigued by this concept of innateness, that somehow the core foursome and Janet are still drawn to the familiar, even when they can’t remember. I really hope the writers continue to explore this theme as the season continues.

So our core foursome spends most of this episode in the background. We get little glimpses here and there of what they’ve been up to, but it’s really Eleanor’s talk with Janet that sets things in motion for the next episode. Eleanor suggests that Janet find a rebound guy to take her mind off Jason, but that’s not really a viable option in the Bad Place. So what does Janet do? She ends up creating a rebound boyfriend named Derek, which is something she’s also not supposed to be able to do. While not the smartest creation, Janet did succeed in making a “person,” so to speak. In fact, I’m not sure who is smarter: Derek or Jason. As Michael notes, creating Derek could be very dangerous and have disastrous consequences. I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens next as I’m sure it will be filled with hilarious mayhem.

So hit the comments below to let me know what you think. Does Chidi belong in the real Good Place? Is Michael capable of change or is he faking it? What will be the implications of Janet creating her new boyfriend Derek?

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