Old Habits Die Hard in ‘The Good Place’ Season 3 Premiere (RECAP)

The Good Place - Season 3
Spoiler Alert
Justin Lubin/NBC

It seems you can save people from death, but you can’t save them from themselves. Or can you?

That’s the question Michael’s trying to answer in The Good Place‘s hour-long Season 3 premiere,”Everything is Bonzer!” After the former human-torturer bargained with The Eternal Judge to get Eleanor and her friends a second chance to be better people on Earth, it seems the human component of Team Cockroach is having a hard time holding up their end of the deal. They’re all failing spectacularly at being good, for very different (and hilarious) reasons.

Michael takes it upon himself to fix things, and of course, nothing goes according to plan.

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A Nudge in the Right Direction

The episode opens when an excited Michael goes to talk to The Doorman, who approves his mission to save the humans. Michael then goes about rescuing his friends, turning their deaths into near-death experiences; he pushes Eleanor out of the way of the shopping carts, bikes past Chidi to get him out of the air conditioner’s path, saves Tahani from being crushed by the statue and lets a suffocating Jason out of the safe.

When he gets back, Michael relays his Earthly experiences to Janet. Less concerned with gumballs and more concerned about Jason, Janet asks if he’s safe. Michael reassures her they’re all fine, and they’re all about to become better people.

There’s just one catch: they’re not becoming better people.

Michael and Janet realize their friends are in hot water, so the former devises a plan to “nudge Eleanor and Chidi together.” Janet reminds him that if the Judge catches on, he could be in real trouble. Not to worry, Michael insists — the Judge is too busy binge-watching NCIS. (She has a thing for Mark Harmon.) Winning the doorman’s favor with a cup of antimatter, Michael heads back down to Earth and sends Chidi and Eleanor on a collision course with each other, ending with her walking into the moral philosophy professor’s office.

What We Owe to Each Other

Eleanor wastes no time getting to the point: she’s not a great person, but getting pushed out of path of those shopping carts made her want to try. Impressed that she flew all the way from Arizona to see him, Chidi agrees to help. And just like that, it’s Season 1 all over again, on Earth!

Eleanor’s grateful, but thinks Chidi must have another motive for helping her. He tells her he does; he had a near-death experience, too. He went for an MRI to see what’s wrong with his brain, and following that — and meeting a lovely neuroscientist, Simone — he started being able to make choices. Temporarily.

After a piece of advice he gave to a friend goes horribly wrong, his progress, like Eleanor’s, is all erased. Like Eleanor, he gets a visit from Michael. The eternal-being-turned-librarian gives Chidi a morale boost, telling him he needs to help people in order to feel better. And the rest, it seems, is history.

Michael then returns to the afterlife, where a worried-looking Janet doesn’t seem reassured. She’s right to be concerned: in the Bad Place, Michael’s old boss, Shawn, is doing everything he can to hack into the Judge’s system.

A Flaw in the System

Just as they did in the Good Place, Chidi’s teaching Eleanor about Aristotle. And just as it happened in the Good Place, Eleanor’s not quite getting the hang of it. (“I wrote down — ‘what? Huh?’ And then this doodle of a burrito, because the first time I read Aristotle, I thought it was pronounced like “Chipotle.”)

They walk together across campus and run into Simone, who needs Chidi’s help with an experiment that night. Eleanor picks up on their chemistry, and when the neuroscientist walks away, she asks why he hasn’t asked her out. Chidi’s indecision has prevented him from making a move, and he makes Eleanor promise to drop the subject.

This lands him back in an MRI machine, helping Simone with another experiment. While in the machine, Eleanor asks him some pretty pointed questions about his relationship with his university colleague. Chidi ends up asking Simone out as a result of Eleanor’s meddling, much to Michael’s dismay and Janet’s delight. Michael might be upset that the Cheleanor ‘ship is taking on water, but it seems there’s another reason he’s displeased.

“Until we get our group back together, this whole thing is hanging by a thread,” he says, and decides to go back to Earth. Janet warns him against it, but he doesn’t listen. He should have; Michael’s trip opens a back door for Shawn to access the Judge’s system, meaning they can now see everything happening with the four humans. “Oh, fork!” is an understatement.

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From Monk to Mogul

At the beginning of the next episode, Eleanor’s grilling Chidi for details about his date with Simone. This gives him an idea, and he runs to her office and announces his new thesis: he’s going to explore the effects of near-death experiences on people, both morally and scientifically. She’s more than happy to help, and he gives Simone the kiss he wanted to give her on their date.

A few weeks later, Chidi has his first participant in the study — none other than Tahani Al-Jamil! She explains what led her to Chidi’s office, and much like the others, her life was going well…until it wasn’t. Disillusioned with glitz and glamour, she moved to a monastery and became a monk, until the allure of celebrity life crashed back into hers.

Tahani seems happy enough to have the spotlight back in the form of her bestseller self-help book, until Michael — in the guise of a smarmy investor — reminds her of the shallowness of her pursuits. When her assistant gets a call about an academic study on near-death experiences she nearly hangs up, but Tahani grabs the phone and agrees to participate. Michael watches in the background, smiling.

Dance Dance Reinvention

At this point, there’s just one human left unaccounted for. As he tells “Zack Pizazz” (read: Michael in disguise as a talent scout), Jason’s had a tough year. Narrowly escaping that safe gave him a new outlook on life, but didn’t give him a winning squad. His determination to take first in a big dance competition didn’t pan out, so he turned back to crime to pay rent.

As he did with the other humans, Michael guides Jason to Australia. He can’t get him there with a promise of a dance crew, but the deal is sealed when he says he knows some people who are also “looking for meaning” and would want to meet him. Thus, Jason heads down under, and the four humans get together for Chidi’s study.

In true “The Good Place” form, nothing is as it seems. It turns out there’s a fifth participant in the study: Trevor, one of Shawn’s demons! Michael seems to know he’s there, saying something “very bad, and dark, and evil” is happening.

What the fork?!?

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Other observations:

  • I love the half-hour installments, but this hour-long premiere was a real treat. I never felt like the plot was dragging, and it was great to see all four humans instead of splitting up their stories over two weeks.
  • A few of my favorite quotes: “Our biggest exports are racist sheriffs and HPV.” “We are going to eat, breathe and vape dance!” “Claustrophobic? Who would ever be scared of Santa Claus?” (I know most of these are Jason quotes. Every word that comes out of that pre-successful amateur DJ’s mouth is pure gold.)
  • Maybe I should be happy about Simone and Chidi, but… Eleanor is right there. Granted, she’s not the woman Chidi fell in love with, and he likely won’t be able to stay with Simone. But my heart wants what it wants, and it wants “Cheleanor” back together ASAP.
  • Time to read into tiny details! I couldn’t help noticing the “safety ladder” sign between Michael and Jason as they talked on the dock. Nothing is as it seems on this show, and there are no coincidences. Is Michael the humans’ safety ladder? Are they going to get back to the afterlife via a “safety ladder” if the doors to the Judge’s chambers close on them?

The Good Place, Thursdays, 8/7c, NBC