This review contains spoilers.
There comes a time in every The Good Place season when the surprises of the finale have worn off, the premiere has had its say, and the new (though probably brief) status quo must be established. That new status quo arrives in full force in episode 3 Chillaxing.
Yes, Eleanor, Michael, and company’s experiment really did start in the two-part (should have been one part, but I digress) premiere. Here, however, is where the rubber meets the road. If nothing else, this final season of The Good Place is about what it means to put in the work and that work begins here in earnest.
After Eleanor developed a seemingly useful strategy for human very important business meeting Brent last week, Tahani must step up to the plate with her own demon-curated nemesis: John. John is just about as equally horrid as Brent, albeit in an entirely different way. John spent a lifetime at Gossip Toilet (seriously, someone pick up that URL) criticising his perceived betters and just generally making Tahani’s life a living hell.
Tahani’s strategy for John at first seems to be everybody’s preferred strategy: pawn him off on Chidi. Unfortunately, that isn’t really in the cards at episode’s beginning as Chidi is uncharacteristically enjoying himself in heaven and showing little interest in moral philosophy.
“When the weather is this perfect, I think Kant would say ‘Who’s up for some frisbee golf?’” Chidi tells Eleanor and Michael on his way to the links. This leads Michael to coin the entirely original phrase “Chillaxing,” which we now know is a portmanteau of “Chidi” and “Relaxing.” That’s canon for the rest of human existence.
Chid’s newfound appreciation for frisbee golf proves to be a bit of a blessing in disguise as Tahani is able to develop a useful strategy all her own. There’s a time-honored tradition in storytelling of the villain of villains ultimately being the one to destroy themselves. In Harry Potter (Once again, and I can not stress this enough, I will never read another book. Thank you.), Voldemort gives Harry all the necessary tools to defeat him simply by marking him as his equal. It seems likely that Shawn and the hellspawn of the Bad Place have fallen into a similar trap.
Yes, by sending Team Cockroach experiment candidates who have annoyed or wronged them in some way, they have made their task more difficult. But they also may have assured their success. The only things worth doing are difficult. Because John has a personal history with Tahani, Tahani may be the only one capable of saving his soul. And perhaps even vice versa.
After Tahani’s Chidi pawning, and spa day gambits fail (though we do find out that Natalie Portman does all of Scarlett Johansson’s stunts), she is left with really only one option: empathy. With the help of a very sad Janet, Tahani realises that she and John are essentially the same person from different backgrounds. Or as she tells John “If all you care about in the universe is the velvet rope. You will always be unhappy regardless of what side you are on.”
Upon hearing this, John does something unthinkable: he apologises! John still isn’t going to attend any of Chidi’s boring lectures but he’s closer with Tahani now and seemingly focused on self-improvement. This isn’t the sexiest presentation of moral philosophy that The Good Place has presented (and as Chidi is a living testament to, moral philosophy can be very sexy), but it is a simple and necessary one. By seeing things from John’s perspective, Tahani has mastered a moral behaviour we expect out of everyone but so rarely see. It’s a win. Not an exhilarating or flashy win but a win nonetheless.
Chillaxing saves a lot of its best material for the Chillaxer, himself, Mr. Chidi Anagonye. When Chidi proves reticent to start up his philosophy lessons, Eleanor is confident that she can break him. And she most certainly can. Drawing from experience once again, Eleanor runs the Jianyu gambit on Chidi, putting Jason back in the monk’s robes only to have him confess to Chidi that he’s a DJ from Florida who doesn’t belong here.
Within a week’s time, Jason is relaxing (excuse me: Jasaxing) in his budhole and Chidi is experiencing extreme stomach trauma. When Jason throws his rock into the flame at the luau, creating a Pamela Anderson motorcycle, Chid’s stress reaches a fever pitch. He marches into Eleanor and Michael’s office with the need to confess something.
“Tell me what’s bothering you, Chidi. I’ll wave my hand, it’ll explode, and you can go on with your life,” Michael tells him.
Rather than exploding Jason (Jasplosion…ok I’ll stop) Chidi says it’s the motorcycle and Jason witnesses his beloved Pamela Bikerson blow up for a second time. Chidi has done the right thing once again and set himself down a path where he will become the teacher the citizens of the Good Place needs. The experience, however, is too much for Eleanor who bursts into tears upon seeing Chidi’s stress and selflessness.
When the time comes to submit material for Emmy races, NBC needs to cut together a reel of Kristen Bell simply looking at Chidi, taking him in, and experiencing approximately nine trillion different emotions at once. It’s marvellous acting work and has almost singlehandedly served as the emotional crutch of the season.
“I still don’t have a grip on the human emotional spectrum,” Michael says and it’s hard not to empathise with him. After all, who does? Yes, the demon’s choice to make things personal may ultimately be what saves humanity. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be hard, brutal, at times excruciating work. Chillaxing isn’t The Good Place at its absolute creative heights. It’s The Good Place at its hardest working, which is in many ways just as admirable.