Chidi Searches for 'The Answer' in a Powerful 'The Good Place' (RECAP)
[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Good Place Season 4 Episode 9, "The Answer."]
If you were sad about the lack of Chidi (William Jackson Harper) in the previous episode, sigh no more. “The Answer” is a Chidi-centric half-hour comprised mostly of flashbacks that determine how this moral philosophy professor got to be... well, the way he is. As Michael returns his memories, he recalls key moments that impacted him as a son, a friend, a philosopher and a partner (so yes, there’s some new Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Chidi stuff here).
No, the overall plot about the potential end of humanity doesn’t move forward a ton. But in pumping the brakes, The Good Place provides moving insight into the origins of one of its most lovable characters and sends a powerful message about what it means to live a worthwhile life.
In the present, Michael (Ted Danson) gets to work on giving Chidi his memories back. As he snaps his fingers, we see key moments in his life play out one by one, starting with his birth and childhood. The key takeaway there is that young Chidi, the morning after hearing his parents have a nasty fight, gave them a 55-minute presentation about why they should stay together. He cherishes the memory and believes his intervention preserved his parents’ union; he found the answer to their problem.
As he nervously, indecisively makes his way through life, Chidi believes there’s always an answer. Girlfriend breaks up with him? There's an answer. The professor reading his thesis utterly despises it? There's an answer! Even when he dies and goes to the first Fake Good Place, he still believes there’s a solution that’ll solve everything. He can never see himself “hucking a Molotov cocktail at a drone,” as Jason (Manny Jacinto) describes his spur-of-the-moment decision-making process, or learning from failures, as Tahani (Jameela Jamil) has. But then, in walks Eleanor.
The Big Question
The episode shows a few moments from a reboot in which Chidi’s “soulmate,” Esmeralda, brings knives to parties, is obsessed with her birds, wears all black and is utterly terrifying. Chidi’s philosophy lessons with Eleanor become a welcome respite from that uncomfortable pairing, but he’s taken by surprise when the girl from Arizona kisses him. Eleanor knows Esmeralda isn’t Chidi’s soulmate, but Chidi, unconvinced, falls back on his mantra: There’s an answer. “I’m going to take a second to think about what I owe to my universe-approved soulmate and not just make out with you,” he says.
Except for the fact that Eleanor and Chidi are, in all but that one s-word, meant for each other. His next memories prove it; they cuddle on a couch, she helps him with his thesis, and, finally, they reflect on their lives together before his memories are wiped. Once they bid each other farewell, he goes with Michael and asks the question he’s always wanted to ask. “Soulmates aren’t real, are they?”
An Unsolvable Puzzle
Michael tells him he doesn’t think so. In his opinion, soulmates aren’t found, they’re made through relationships and hard work. He uses Chidi’s parents — and that memory that encompasses such pride for the indecisive bookworm — as an example. He says that Chidi made them remember they loved each other, and as a result of that memory, they put effort into their relationship and went to counseling.
As a result of that revelation, Chidi realizes life’s not a puzzle that can be solved. Before his memories are wiped, he gives Janet a note and says that if they meet again, he wants her to give it back to him.
Eleanor Is The Answer
That note comes back in a very big way at the end of the episode, when Chidi awakens. He apologizes for being “super annoying” for many years (those memories returning prompted some self-reflection) and thanks them for everything they’ve done, and when Eleanor tells him they only have an hour to come up with a plan for how to fix the afterlife and save humanity, Chidi shows how much he’s grown. “There might be 800 [answers], or zero,” he says.
He asks Janet to give him his note, and when she does, he unfolds and reads it. “There is no ‘answer,’” it says. When he unfolds it further, there’s one more sentence written underneath: “But Eleanor is the answer.”
- Others may disagree, but I think this was the best episode of Season 4 so far. Sure, it interrupted the overall narrative flow a little, but I’d argue it has the most emotional depth out of the nine installments in this half-season. In terms of character exploration and depth it felt like it was from Season 1 or Season 2, which were my two favorite seasons of the show.
- The callbacks to Chidi’s past and things he’s said and done were incredible. The fork in the garbage disposal, the red cowboy boots, having him say “what we owe to each other”… it was all done with such attention to detail. The care that was taken with this story is splendid.
The Good Place, Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC