<em>The Good Place</em> recap: ‘Janet(s)’ is a radical tour de force

Is The Good Place just better when everyone’s dead? “Janet(s)” is the best episode of season 3, and I don’t even know if it’s a close contest. The resurrection trip to Earth is over. The Study Group/Soul Squad/New Hashtaggy Team Name Pending is dead again, just like that Kenneth Branagh movie, which means a lot of this season so far feels like much ado about nothing, just like that Keanu Reeves movie.

Death isn’t the problem, though. The problem is that they’ve fled to a place beyond places: Janet’s Void. It is a white space as large as infinity, just like the infinitely large white space designers claim will really enhance the words on the page. Something got bonzered in the dimensional shift, and all the recent humans look exactly like Janet.

This playful conceit turns “Janet(s”) into a grand showcase for D’Arcy Carden. See! Carden as Jason Mendoza, capturing Manny Jacinto’s holy-fool dudely dopiness with laser-printer specificity. See! Carden as Tahani Al-Jami, channeling Jameela Jamil’s blissful aristocratic ignorance with aplomb. See! Carden as Eleanor Shellstrop, really selling Kristen Bell’s Arizona-trashbag noble sleaze. See! Carden as Chidi Anagonye, wearing glasses and lecturing. (William Jackson Harper’s playing the cerebral everydude, that’s a tough impression to nail!)

And there’s still Carden as Janet herself, who leaves the Janetized humans inside her void to join Michael on a journey to the accounting firm responsible for deciding who gets into the Good Place. More on that journey in a moment, because the big emotional story of this episode — the thing that would be The Thing, if not for the latest show-turning twist — puts the focus on Chidi and Eleanor.

Chidi has a very Chidi-ish reaction to the news that he and Eleanor fell in love untold reboots ago. Because of various philosophical principles, he argues that he isn’t the man Eleanor fell in love with, and she isn’t the woman he fell in love with. That Chidi and Eleanor from the alternate reality afterlife were two very different people, with their own unique experiences that drove them toward their own unique decisions.

Janet-Chidi explains this to his Janet-pals with a complicated whiteboard lecture. Carden’s multiple performances in these scenes are delightful, but the fun really starts when the problems begin. Eleanor’s conversation with Chidi initiates an exterior and interior breakdown. She’s losing track of her own being. Is she even really Eleanor after all these reboots? She doesn’t even look like Eleanor anymore! It’s the particular existential confusion philosophers describe as “That Feeling You Get From Watching Primer.” And Eleanor’s dissolving sense of self also contributes to a crack in the voidworld, not helped much by the gang’s tendency to conjure up things using their new Janet powers.

The solution is love, the fifth element. There’s a sweetness to Chidi’s declaration here, which rescues the Void and transforms everyone back into their familiar de-Cardenized forms. But I treasure the decision to save season 3’s Big Romantic Moment for the episode where everyone onscreen looks like Janet.

And yet, the Chidi-Eleanor drama can only be a sideshow. The freaky stuff is happening in Accounting.

NEXT PAGE: Allegory, screech!

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