The Good Place Season 3, Episode 10 (“The Book of Dougs”)

NBC

Jan 10, 2019 Web Exclusive
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"You still thinking about what's on the other side of that door?"

"No, not really. Because you're here, with me, on this side."

In "The Book of Dougs," The Good Place finally gives us something we've long desired: present-tense romance between Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and Eleanor (Kristen Bell). No longer is the constantly-teased blossoming of their love relegated to Michael's (Ted Danson) reboots of his Good-Place-actually-it's-The-Bad-Place torture routines; now, it exists in tandem with, rather than aside, the show's fucked up, Jeremy Bearimy-shaped timeline. As adorable, rewarding, and meaningful as it is to watch two of the show's key protagonists go on a first date in literal heaven, witness love freeing Chidi of his constant indecisions and worries, and experience Eleanor's joyous, constant disbelief and confusion that she's indeed capable of finding love ("This sucks, and I'm furious, and I'm the happiest I've ever been"), it's all a mask. Beneath this episode's sunny veneer is perhaps the single darkest episode The Good Place has ever given us.

Here's the thesis of "The Book of Dougs" in five short, damning words: We're all going to hell. Why? Well, underneath all the highs of the Chidi-Eleanor romance, of The Good Placewhich the protagonists have only sort of reached, because the entrance for humans is "525 trillion miles north south north" of the depot where they're currently situatedbeing stuffed with people whose niceness is so unwavering it borders on unbelievable, of Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) and Janet (D'Arcy Carden) hashing out their thoughts on the previously forgotten Janet-Jason romance arc ("It's nice to know I can talk about girls with my wife," Jason says to Tahani in maybe the episode's funniest line), is the revelation of something we guessed with last week's episode: Nobody has gone to The Good Place in over half a millennium because capitalism has fucked us all.

Yep, that's right: Because we live in a world dominated by unethically-made products, by corporations that wield uneven power and almost always use it to unfairly take advantage of regular-ass people, it's impossible to take any actions that have a net positive effect on the world. "The Book of Dougs" is "there is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism" recast as 22-minutes of sitcom plot topped with a smile-infused glaze.

Anyone who's been paying attention to The Good Place's plot these past few episodes won't be surprised that this point is the one on which "The Book of Dougs" fixates. More surprising is how deftly Kate Gersten's writing weaves in statements on the failure of governments and accountability institutions to, you know, hold people accountable. The episode most explicitly explores this idea in a scene between Michael and The Good Place's committee, led by Chuck, played by Paul Scheer.

A brief aside on Scheer's appearance: Anyone who's seen the other three shows helmed by The Good Place creator Michael Schurthese would be The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Ninehas been waiting for Scheer to appear in a guest role. It's borderline cathartic to see him finally get his turn in this episode, and it's just perfect that his character is a stereotypical "nice guy" dressed in a vest and a checkered shirt tucked into good ol' blue jeans with a cowboy-esque leather belt. This role requires just about the opposite of Paul Scheer's usual acting, and that's likely part of the joke, which succeeds 100%.

Anyway, back to the committee: A recurring trait of The Good Place's employees is a kindness and lovingness so strong that The Good Place, in conflating being extra nice with successfully effecting positive change in the world, seems to be screaming, "nice guys finish last." As interested and enthusiastic as the committee is in exploring Michael's claims that The Bad Place is tampering with the afterlife's accounting system, they plan to take 400 years to assemble an elite investigative team. What begins as a committee statement that "It's time to take decisive action" becomes "It's aggressive, but you heard right: We are only giving ourselves 400 years to select the members of this elite team." Another 1000 years of investigating team members for conflicts of interest will follow: "We have rules," says committee member Meg (Tatiana Carr). "We're the good guys."

This sort of slow-moving, patience-trying, overly bureaucratic investigation sounds awfully familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the mainstream media these past two years: We're doing something to hold the bad guys accountable, but bureaucracy moves too slowly, so these efforts amount to nothing, and the bad people are still getting away with doing terrible shit every day. When Michael shouts at the committee, "The bad guys are continuing to torture everyone," the response he gets is, "And that deeply concerns us. Have you seen the memorandum we sent about how concerned we are?"

Although Michael's rule-breaking has often landed The Good Place's protagonists in hot water this season, this scene alone justifies his actions. The Good Place here posits that radical, transformative action that escapes the confines of "civility" is needed now, it's been needed for ages, and it always will be needed. Or, as Michael says to Tahani in one brilliant sentence, "The Titanic is sinking, and they're writing a strongly worded letter to the iceberg."

Outside the committee's actions, "The Book of Dougs" seems to take ordinary government workers-if we're meant to assume this entire episode is a commentary on how little governments can do to heal the blights of late capitalism-to task too. Gwendolyn (Nicole Byer), the Good Place employee we meet shortly after the episode's cold open, acts, as do the committee members, with "politeness and an abundance of caution." She doesn't fully entertain her doubts about the protagonists' arrival in The Good Place until she actively witnesses Janet, Jason, and Tahani crying, despite plenty of prior evidence that something is afoul.

The excess of trust Gwendolyn places in strangers allows Michael to bend her kindness so strongly that she walks him directly into how to break a major rule of The Good Place: don't use the damn phone, and especially don't use it to call the committee. When Gwendolyn, in the episode's final scene, waves goodbye for far too long after the humans head to meet the Judge at IHOP (the Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes), the most dangerous place in the universe, The Good Place's placidity and pleasantry are cast as weaknesses. (Also, we're thrilled to, in theory, see Maya Rudolph reprise her pitch-perfect role as Judge Gen next week.)

So, no, our protagonists don't get to stay in The Good Place. And why would they? The whole point of this episode is that none of us are going there. Even though Chidi's borderline upsettingly muscular body-"surprisingly ripped," in Eleanor's now-infamous words-is toyed with for the second time this season thanks to his Good Place Post Officer outfit change (which will carry into the next episode), even though Tahani gets to have by far her funniest episode this season ("A curtain closing between first class and economy" is the smell that brings her the most joy), even though Chidi and Eleanor get to have sex in a closet (shout it with me: FINALLY!), it all sucks anyway, because we learn that we're all doomed. At least we get some wholesomeness before we suffer for eternity. (www.nbc.com/the-good-place)

Author rating: 8/10

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