‘The Good Place’: Eleanor Struggles to Forgive and Forget (RECAP)
This week’s episode of The Good Place was all about family, juxtaposing Eleanor’s awkward, fraught reunion with her (still-alive!) mother against Tahani’s awkward, fraught reunion with her sister, Kamilah.
They’re both trying to get their problematic relatives into the Good Place, knowing those pearly gates are closed to themselves but opened for others. There’s just one catch: their personal vendettas, grudges and resentments keep getting in the way of absolution.
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The episode opens with Eleanor and Michael going to save Eleanor’s mother, Donna Shellstrop. Eleanor’s still in denial that her mother’s really alive as they pull up to her (sizeable) new home — and that Michael didn’t tell her the truth sooner. Michael promises that this is the last piece of her life he kept secret, and reminds her that this mission is to help her mom get into the Good Place, not about her childhood. Of course, that notion is washed away when “Diana” answers the door and Eleanor starts their quest out with an enraged “How could you do this to me?”
From there, Donna invites them in and they meet her boyfriend Dave, who is a wealthy architect with a young daughter named Patricia. Eleanor’s convinced Donna’s running a scam, and the happy home life she seems to have with Dave is nothing but a front.
Con Artist or Con-tent?
Throughout the episode, Eleanor learns more and more about Donna’s suburban life and, despite mounting evidence, remains convinced it’s all a front. Donna may be running for PTA Secretary for Patricia’s school, she may have bought the kid a bunch of stuffed animals and she may seem to be happy with Dave, but Eleanor won’t accept that there isn’t a wad of cash hidden somewhere so her mother could make a quick getaway if the time came.
She and Michael attend the PTA meeting during which her mother is voted into office, and after the vote, Eleanor decides it’s time to reveal everything to Dave. She tells him all about Donna Shellstrop, why she changed her name, who she was before she came into his life and why she’s not a person he’d want to be with. Shocking Eleanor and Michael, Dave says he knew all about Donna’s past, and that she told him about it soon after they met. When Patricia’s older, he says they’re going to tell her, too.
One would think that would put an end to Eleanor’s speculating, but she still clings to her theory that Donna’s running a long con. When Michael presses her on why she can’t just accept her mother’s improvement, Eleanor finally snaps and reveals the truth; she’s upset that she never had the mother that Donna is to Patricia. If she was truly capable of change this whole time, Eleanor reasons, then Eleanor must not have been worth changing for.
An Expected Find, An Unexpected Truth
With the truth out, Eleanor and Michael go back home with Dave and Donna. Eleanor seems to have accepted her mother’s changed nature and offers to help her with the laundry, but when she takes down a box of detergent, Donna panics. Eleanor discovers wads of cash hidden inside the box, but she ends up arriving at a very different conclusion than the one she’d first had. Donna, she says, is truly happy in her new suburban life, but is keeping the money just in case she wants to go back to her old ways of partying. At her core, Donna’s worried about being “basic,” a true Shellstrop concern. Instead of fearing it, Eleanor says she should embrace it.
Donna tells Eleanor she’s right, and they have an emotional conversation about how Eleanor has become a better person. The next day, she and Michael tell Donna and her new family goodbye, now knowing that Eleanor’s mom really has become a better person, and perhaps even one worthy of the Good Place.
The Art of Forgiveness
Meanwhile, Tahani, Chidi, Jason and Janet have gone to Kamilah’s art exhibit in Hungary with the intent of repairing the relationship between the two sisters; Janet says their rivalry was largely the reason Tahani didn’t get into the Good Place, and the same is likely true for Kamilah. Though Tahani approaches the task with good intentions, it doesn’t take long for things to go sideways. She apologizes for her role in their estranged relationship, but Kamilah refuses to accept, and Tahani becomes so enraged that she starts throwing eggs at the art and eventually puts an ax through a table. Sisterly love!
This lands Chidi and Tahani (Jason and Janet have gone off to look at various pieces of art together) in handcuffs for tampering with the exhibit, and as they sit, Tahani remembers how her parents always pitted her and her sister against each other in various competitions. With that in mind, she realizes all of Kamilah’s works seem to be inspired by their childhood — two unified objects representing their parents, and two separated objects representing them. Emotional, Tahani goes to embrace her sister, and the two reconcile. Kamilah later names her next art exhibit after both of them, showing how far they’ve come.
One Last Revelation
The episode ends with Eleanor and Michael driving to pick up the rest of the gang and talking about Donna Shellstrop. Eleanor’s still a little upset that her mother couldn’t show her the same affection during her childhood as she’s shown Patricia, and pins her inability to get close to anyone on her mom. With that, Michael drops a bombshell, at least to Eleanor. She can, and did, get close to someone; Chidi, during one of the reboots. Though this isn’t news to the audience it’s certainly stunning to Eleanor, who gapes at him as he continues driving.
“Do you want to listen to a podcast, maybe?” Michael asks as the episode ends.
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- Tahani and Kamilah’s reconciliation was incredibly sweet, if unexpected. I actually enjoyed that storyline more than the A-story this episode, and the reveal of the symbolism in Kamilah’s art was very well-executed.
- Michael trying to act like a dad to Eleanor was also incredibly sweet. I’d always seen the pseudo-father-daughter bond between them, but didn’t expect the show to write it into canon in any way, shape or form.
- At this point, the humans have made amends with just about everyone they’d most want to help on Earth (unless there’s still something to come with Chidi’s best friend). I have to wonder — what’s the long game, here? Will next episode end with someone, maybe the Judge, pulling them back to the afterlife?
- Kudos to Kristen Bell for her powerful acting in the scene following the PTA vote. Eleanor’s anger and confusion was more than justified, and she portrayed it perfectly.
The Good Place, Thursdays, 8/7c, NBC