The Good Place Season 3, Episode 6 (“The Ballad of Donkey Doug”)

NBC

Oct 25, 2018 Web Exclusive
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In "The Ballad of Donkey Doug," The Good Place's first episode since shifting its plot to focus on the Soul Squad (fka the Brainy Bunch) saving people other than themselves, the show asks a question it's previously explored only superficially. Are some people not worth saving? 

Behind all the show's jokes about the oddity of human habits and routines, pun- and callback-heavy visual gags, and roasts of Floridian "culture," The Good Place is a show about redemption, change, growth, and the existence of good, evil, and neutral forces, all explored through an explicitly philosophical lens. Whether through Eleanor's relinquishing of her selfish old ways, Chidi's constant moral debacles, Tahani's super slow but nevertheless unfurling path towards letting go of the class shackles that restrain her, or Michael and Janet's gradual humanization, the show has time and time again given viewers moving anecdotes and arcs about the potential for people to mature. Its character development stems from a belief that people can better themselves if they really try, even if that maybe sometimes requires an external push from a higher force.

So when The Good Place uses Jason's dad, Donkey Doug, to suggest that some people can't be saved from their bad ways, it's a big deal. Donkey Doug embodies all of Jason's trashy qualities with far less of the innocence that makes Jason charming in spite of his sheer imbecility. He's unafraid to proposition Tahani, now legally Jason's wife, to "put things in each other" (she says no, somehow a first for Donkey Doug); rob three factories to make a combined body-spray-energy-drink that is almost certainly fatal (Jason: "I mean, two factories I can understand, but three?!"); and expose Jason to porn from third grade onwards (he steals it from a hacked cable channel, which is why Jason thinks he's good at electricity).

In short, Donkey Doug is not a good person. Sure, as with Jason, a major part of his badness stems from his sheer idiocy. Jason, raised by Donkey Doug, would never have had a shot without literal divine intervention (Michael and Janet, thank you for everything); Donkey Doug, bound entirely to earth and not in on the secrets that Jason and the Soul Squad have learned, may not be capable of contributing anything close to a net positive effect on society. This idea-that some bad people are incontrovertibly bad-is poignant given the rise of right-wing thought across the globe, particularly among actual governmental leaders. At least Jason's choice to try to save Pillboi instead offers a glimmer of hope that some people can be saved, though it's pretty sad that Jason, Michael, and Tahani have to convince him that they've secretly been NASA agents this whole time to put him on his path. Eleanor would call it a bummer.

And holy shit is Eleanor great in "The Ballad of Donkey Doug." We've seen perhaps less of Eleanor's bad sides this season than in any other; oddly enough, she's become the show's straight man of late. Chidi's currently too preoccupied by his moral indecisions (and, in last week's episode, a full-on meltdown) to continue his former straight man role. Instead, Eleanor, whose path to becoming good on Earth has been both lightning fast and entirely believable, has come to fill that role. This season, she's called Michael on his bullshit at least twice and decided the Soul Squad's best next steps even more frequently. On "The Ballad of Donkey Doug," she cements her straight man role by consistently providing Chidi with the advice he needs to properly break up with Simone, his main challenge this episode.

As with last week's "Jeremy Bearimy," in which the writers blatantly use Eleanor as a vessel for bleak social commentary on America (her rant to the Australian bartender on how the U.S. works is all too real), she's also a mouthpiece for the show's most unsubtle beliefs. In "Donkey Doug," the shining example is, as said to Chidi, "More guys should be bi. It's 2018, it's like, get over yourselves!" This bit of commentary follows myriad subtle nods across The Good Place that Eleanor might be bicurious. She's told both Tahani and Janet that they have rockin' bods (and she's said far feistier things to and about Tahani), and in "Donkey Doug," she enters one of Chidi's Simone breakup simulations first as Simone and then later as herself to make out with Simone (though Janet stops that before it can happen, sadly). It's been said countless times before that representation in media matters, and although The Good Place is by no stretch of the imagination an LGBTQ+-targeted show, this expansion of Eleanor's character is as meaningful as it is funny.

"Donkey Doug" as a whole is equally meaningful and funny. Episodes this season have veered strongly in one direction over the other, but "Donkey Doug" strikes a solid equilibrium. The Jason-Tahani-Michael plot aptly balances jokes that riff on Florida's insanity (the taxi that's a monster truck that crushes an actual taxi early in the episode is probably the best non-dialogue joke so far this season) with the Mendoza gang's stupidity and trashiness, and just as often, it adds more to the episode's discussion of whether some people can't be redeemed. The Eleanor-Chidi-Janet plot leans a tad more in the funny direction, because Chidi's hilarious neuroticism and its even funnier effects on his inability to break up with Simone give Eleanor plenty to riff on and Janet plenty with which to approximate, but not quite hit, her omnipotent non-Earth self. Nevertheless, it's not at all short on meaning: This plot ultimately leads to Chidi properly breaking up with Simone and saying, through a small bit of tears, "I hope you keep the study going. It might help a lot of people."

In other words: Chidi might be doomed to eternal damnation in the afterlife, but for his time on Earth, the study saved him. As "Donkey Doug" explores the concept of not saving certain people, it also points out that even decent-to-good people need saving. This notion is poignant specifically because most people who would enjoy a show like The Good Place are, presumably, decent-to-good people. That the show uses its most neurotic, internally troubled character to establish this idea makes it all the more crushing. In redeeming Chidi, The Good Place redeems its audience. And that's more than we asked for in the first place.

(www.nbc.com/the-good-place)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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