Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
The Good Place is easily my favorite series currently playing on TV. I love its twisting narrative, its exploration of ethics, its very specific sense of humor, and the entire cast of the first three seasons, with one exception.
During a recent rewatch of the show, a particular scene caused me to wonder what if Chidi, one of four humans possibly torturing each other for all of eternity, is not a human at all, but is actually God trying to better understand humanity by studying humans who, at the beginning of the series, think they're in something akin to Heaven, and soon discover that there being there is a mistake. I decided to rerewatch using that a recontextualization point.
Obviously, there are Mad Spoilers in every one of these posts. The last paragraph completely spoils the first season, so this is not for people who aren't pretty much caught up with the show, which has just started its fourth and final season.
Cast, if you're watching the episode for the first time:
Eleanor Frostrap: recently deceased woman mistakenly sent to The Good Place, kinda selfish
Michael: Figurehead of The Good Place, trying to help people acclimate to their new environs. Nervous about everything going wrong.
Chidi: Moral philosophy professor and Eleanor's soulmate. Only person who appears to know Eleanor's presence in The Good Place is a mistake.
Tahini: Do-er of good deeds. Fashion Do. Desperately wants her soulmate to speak to her.
Jiyanu: A Buddhist Monk who has taken a vow of silence. Tahini's soulmate.
Janet: Database of helpful knowledge with a human appearance. Always in Incognito Mode.
Teacup: Construct of a dog. Doesn't feel pain. Or love. I mean, of course he feels love. Do you want a dog who will love you more?
Gunnar and Antonio: Dumpster target practice.
Literally, Everyone Else: Window dressing!
"Eleanor, this place is a perfectly made Swiss watch, and you are a wrench in the gears. Actually you're a hammer, just smashing the gears into dust." are Chidi's opening lines in this second episode. You could argue that Chidi is merely being expository to bring the audience up to speed, in case they missed the first episode, but it is such a perfect encapsulation of Eleanor's relationship to "The Good Place" that is should seem suspect coming from someone who gets stomachaches at the least sign of stress, and who wears boots he can't stand, for years, rather than offend a close friend.
His entire first scene is him explaining to Eleanor every minute detail about why she's responsible for "The Good Place" going completely haywire at the close of the last episode. He's mostly calm and reasonable, as if his speech is prepared, except when Eleanor interjects with judgemental criticisms of the other people in the "The Good Place", which seems to genuinely surprise and disappoint him.
When defending herself, Eleanor declares herself "a Medium Person", and points out that she should be in "a Medium Place". Chidi flinches at this. Perhaps, storing this idea for later.
He does not flinch when Eleanor comes up with the idea of Chidi teaching her ethics. Instead, he goes into quandry mode, announcing a stomachache.
Watch Chidi's face as Michael stresses out about the chaos around him. His faces aren't shock or disgust, but disapproval. When Michael decides to lick his sweat off a damp cloth because he doesn't understand how human bodies work, Chidi makes a face similar to when Eleanor is frustrating him. As if he believes Michael is taking his performance too far.
When Chidi is debating whether or not to teach Eleanor ethics, he writes on the board Is this a test for me? Her? Ethics? This isn't referenced in the dialogue. Instead, Eleanor commandeers the conversation for a bit, until Chidi confronts Eleanor with the fact that she doesn't know anything about him, but he knows a ton about her. Is it really just because he's a good listener? Or is he nearly omniscient?
"This is what I fear about you, Eleanor, you are too selfish to ever be a good person."
Eleanor and Chidi are part of a task force to clean up the neighborhood after the destruction caused by Eleanor. While they are cleaning, other residents (actually demons) take Flying Lessons. In an attempt to be able have some time taking flying lessons, Eleanor hides a bunch of trash instead of throwing it away, causing a literal garbage storm. Chidi asks her what she's done "this time", and she lies. He clearly knows she is lying, and she is almost immediately struck by something akin to lightning, which then inspires her to confess her role in the garbage storm. That's some serious Zeus shit, Chidi. And Chidi has been talking about Greek philosophers all episode.
That night, on her own, Eleanor decides to go clean up the trash, Chidi "catches her". When Eleanor asks how he knew she was doing it, he claims that he was watching her from his house which is (he points) up .. where there is a doorway and an apartment BUT he didn't come from that direction, and everyone else in "The Good Place" lives in their ideal house. Why is he in an apartment above some of the froyo shops? Or does he have no home of his own and is always just watching Eleanor from above?
The Hammer In The Gears: The trash pickup, which Chidi volunteers himself and Eleanor for, to prevent Eleanor from taking flying lessons, is Tahani's idea. So far the series suggests that she is also a selfish person, who only did good deeds as a way to compete with her sister. But, at this point in the narrative, she doesn't know she is competing with anyone in "The Good Place", so why does she suggest everyone clean up The Neighborhood? Could Chidi have orchestrated this? How? It would seem to hint that Tahani is, like most of the residents in "The Good Place", also a demon.
All of her time with Michael, having things explained to her, in the first two episodes, are done in front of Jiyanu/Jason, opening the possibility that Tahani and Michael's interactions are all played out for his benefit, not hers.
The giant crack in this theory is that the two of them will eventually have some alone time, in which Michael clearly does not know / think that Tahani is a demon. So she can't be working for him. BUT ... what if she is a different kind of actor in this scenario. What if Chidi (God) has placed Michael and the Demons as the main way of testing Eleanor and Jason, with Tahani being a non-demon entity working for him, who is there to run interference and keep the somewhat incompetent demons in check. She is responsible for many of the events that put Eleanor at risk of being outed. Maybe Eleanor is right to hate her.
I have watched The Good Place all the way through a number of times. I've seen the first season at least five times, twice mostly by myself, and three times introducing it to other people. I made it through the second season with one of those groups of people, so I've seen that three times. So far I've only watched the third season while it was airing, but I'll get to it.
I was having a lousy week, and decided to watch a random episode, and ended up on Season 1, episode 3, when I started noticing some things I hadn't picked up on before, and it gave me an idea. What if Chidi isn't actually an indecisive human philosophy professor who accidentally gets Soul Mated with Eleanor, a woman who gets into The Good Place by mistake (according to the narrative we are presented with at the beginning of Season 1). His uncanny knack of picking up on what's happening around him only when it's convenient to teach Eleanor things at first had me wondering if he was a demon. But then I wondered What If Chidi Is God.
Some very basic Googling showed me that I wasn't the first to think of this. There are a ton of Good Place theories as we ramp up to the final season. This show has had major twists up its sleeve since the very first episode, and while it will be difficult for a final episode twist as big as the one at the end of Season One, it is possible. Is this it? Will the final twist be Chidi Is God? His name, in Igbo, means "God Exists", and names are super important in The Good Place, just ask Congratulations You're Beautiful (the translation of Tahani Al-Jamil). While there is no consensus on what Chidi's last name, Anagonye (also an Igbo name) translates to, if you break it apart, you get "ana", the ground, "go" to make, and "nye" means "for". So a possible translation cold be Creator Of Your Earth (direct translation "Maker Of The Ground For You".
For the next few weeks, I'll be rewatching the entire series with this angle in mind. This means there will be massive spoilers for a series defined by unexpected plot twists, so you should really watch the entire series yourself (not by yourself, invite some friends over, buy some frozen yogurt and clam chowder) before reading any more of this.
Cast, if you're watching the episode for the first time:
Eleanor: recently deceased woman mistakenly sent to The Good Place.
Michael: Figurehead of The Good Place, trying to help people acclimate to their new environs.
Chidi: Moral philosophy professor and Eleanor's soulmate.
Tahini: Party host.
Jiyanu: A Buddhist Monk who has taken a vow of silence.
Janet: Database of helpful knowledge with a human appearance.
Chidi is the first character Eleanor meets who comes to her, instead of her going to them. She's in the midst of being shown her new home by Michael when Chidi knocks, introduces himself, and then Michael invites him in. He gives a quick bio, which includes his birth in Nigeria where Igbo is one of the primary languages.
He interrupts his own quick bio to ask Eleanor about herself, thus establishing himself as a listener, and keeping him from having to give a too in-depth background story. Or is he just being polite?
He already knows that The Good Place has TARDIS rules so that you hear everything in the language that you speak. When did he have time to learn this? Eleanor hasn't even seen all of her tiny house yet. She certainly doesn't know the rules of the neighborhood yet. He also knows the rules about cursing immediately.
He is genuinely excited to spend all of eternity with Eleanor "in pursuit of the fundamental truths of the universe ... together, as soulmates." He promises her he will "never do anything to cause (her) harm." The camera then shows Eleanor explaining that she doesn't belong in The Good Place, so that we don't see Chidi's reaction until she finishes, and he gives a low key "Wait, what?" which, later, would be an uncharacteristically chill response to such a big conundrum.
When he learns that Eleanor's job in life was to defraud the elderly into buying fake medicine, he doesn't seem surprised, his focus is on making Eleanor understand why her being good at her job makes her a worse person. This is BEFORE he agrees to teach her ethics or help her. But he is already invested in getting her to question her behavior from when she was alive.
They go out for froyo later, and he suggests that Eleanor confess everything to Michael, explaining that her predicament might just be a test. When she expresses her fear that Michael will send her to The Bad Place if he finds out, Chidi summons Janet (Again, Eleanor knows nothing about Janet yet ... How long was Chidi in The Good Place before Eleanor arrives? Because Eleanor is under the impression, according to episode three, that they all arrived in The Good Place at approximately the same time), to ask what The Bad Place is like. They hear an audio clip of people screaming, including the phrase "That bear has two mouths!" which Eleanor points out "doesn't sound awesome."
When Eleanor asks for Chidi's help in keeping her secret, he comes out as a moral philosophy and ethics professor who "just doesn't like to be dishonest". He then mentions "I'm in a perfect Utopia and I have a stomach ache. I think I have to tell Michael (about Eleanor not belonging in The Good Place)." But before he can go to Michael, BOOM, Michael shows up with Tahani and Jiyanu (whose name means Builder Of The Universe ... similar to the meaning of Chidi's last name, hmmmm...). Is this Michael the Director (or Michael the Demon, as we discover later) keeping Chidi from making a decision, or is this Chidi God summoning a distraction before Eleanor tips him into making a decision about helping her?
At the Welcome To The Neighborhood party that Tahani throws, Chidi asks Eleanor to tell him about one "decent act" she performed during her life. When she has trouble coming up with an answer immediately, he downgrades "decent act" to "something neutral".
He seems genuinely surprised when Eleanor has her first realization, as she wonders if anyone cared about her death. And is appropriately terrified at Eleanor's clown door.
When the neighborhood goes haywire at the end of the first episode, he tells Eleanor what she should already know, but somehow doesn't: "This is all happening because of you."
Those were all observations that could have been made during a first watchthrough of the episode (they weren't, I didn't pick up on any of them), when there was no reason to believe any part of the show was being misleading. But, of course, the big spoiler at the end of Season One is that they aren't even in The Good Place, they're in The Bad Place. Michael's entire character journey throughout the season turns out to be a giant lie. Nothing we knew about him was accurate. So, apart from Eleanor, who is our point-of-view-protagonist, why are we to believe anyone's story?
Cast, With All The Info Acquired From The First Three Seasons:
Eleanor: Recently deceased terrible person being tortured by every other member of the cast.
Michael: Head torturer of this neighborhood of The Bad Place. Demon.
Chidi: Recently deceased indecisive philosopher being tortured by every other member of the cast.
Tahani: Recently deceased self-obsessed socialite being tortured by every other member of the cast.
Jason Mendoza: Recently deceased failed DJ and drug dealer pretending to be a Buddhist Monk who took a vow of silence. Being tortured by every other member of the cast.
Janet: Stolen database designed for use in a Good Place neighborhood. Actually trying to be useful. Still not a robot. Still not a person.
We aren't even given any information about Chidi in this episode. Everything we hear about his life comes from him telling Eleanor about himself, much the same way everything we learn about Michael comes from his own expository dialogue.
Now, this will quickly change. We do get a ton of glimpses into Chidi's so-called life, as the series expands. But what if he's spending this episode getting a better feel for post-death Eleanor, so that he can design better and more complex tests for her?
Unlike Michael's lies, I don't think Chidi is interested in whether or not Eleanor is qualified for the good afterlife. Clearly, he thinks she isn't. For him, this isn't a test about how a person's behavior affects where they go when they die. It's an exploration of a person's behavior when the consequence goalposts are constantly being moved. She's Job, and Michael is the gleeful adversary. But, unlike Job, she isn't a devout follower of anything in the beginning. He keeps building her into someone who believes in things (his goodness, her own potential for improvement, that there will be shellfish in The Good Place), only to keep stripping it away from her. Each time he does this, it's a little more agonizing for her. The things that bother her later in the series wouldn't even phase Episode One Eleanor, if Chidi wasn't constantly making her aware of how her behavior affects others. Michael didn't do that. Chidi did. Sure, the narrative Michael puts forth at the end of the season, beginning of Season Two, is that he arranged for all these people to come together, but I don't buy that Michael is an incompetent demon or Satan, I think his goalposts are constantly being moved, too. And I think Chidi is the person behind it.
I haven't decided if I think Michael *knows* that Chidi is God, and if everyone but Eleanor is in on it.
This would have a fantastic meta-consequence, as well, as, according to the lore they've built around the series, Kristen Bell, who plays Eleanor, and Ted Danson, who plays Michael, were the only actors who knew that the characters were actually in The Bad Place. What if William Jackson Harper, who plays Chidi, is the only actor who knows he's God?
I really want to watch the next episode to see what else presents itself, but I'm going to limit myself for now.