[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Good Place” Season 2, Episode 3, “Dance Dance Resolution.”]
The number of jokes that an episode of television has is rarely an effective form of measuring comedy. Some rapid-fire set ups don’t actually deliver on the volume of punchlines and just end up getting exhausting before too long. The double-episode premiere of NBC’s “The Good Place” had plenty of surprises that weren’t necessarily framed as jokes, but drew plenty of laughs by upending Season 2 expectations in a shocking way. Now that the series had established a firm foundation for a post-twist world, the third episode was the show’s chance to take a deep breath, to patiently and calml—
Just kidding. Everything went nuts.
“Dance Dance Resolution,” written by Megan Amran and directed by Drew Goddard (who also directed the original pilot), may not have had the narrative timeline wizardry that the premiere did. But this jam-packed look at Michael’s continued frustration in setting up his shiny-veneered Bad Place was no less satisfying. Cycling through these failed attempts quicker than a housefly’s birthday, it’s a profoundly funny episode of TV that builds an even greater understanding of this constructed universe and doubled as a hyperactive joke machine.
All due praise to the performances and the direction of this episode, but the underrated masterstroke of “Dance Dance Resolution” is putting “Attempt #3” right up top, signaling right away that this was going to be a tumultuous state of affairs for the next half hour. Though the details shift in each iteration, the episode comes down to the idea that Michael is losing this battle.
We get a glimpse at the over 800 different tries to get his torture scheme just right, each time foiled by Eleanor’s quick thinking, a failure to close a door, or some improbably sourced logic from Jason (Manny Jacinto continues to find fresh, satisfying ways to make the character more than just a lovable loser). On top of all that turmoil, Michael’s also dealing with an actor strike, spearheaded by an increasingly rogue Vicky (Tiya Sircar) bent on becoming both star and shot-caller.
When Attempt #802 Eleanor and Chidi overhear a few members of Vicky’s resistance chatting about Michael’s effectiveness as a leader, the two come up with a plan to trick the rest of the torture-verse into thinking that they’re playing along. Desperate for answers, they and Janet hitch a ride back to the Middle Place to catch up to what their past selves know.
The return to the Middle Place also gave us a chance to check in on Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe), who thankfully wasn’t a ruse set up as part of last season’s gambit. It’s fascinating to see how, through Mindy, the show has essentially personified purgatory, too. The idea of getting stuck in a specific time, apathetic about the world around you and with only your interests to keep you busy while the rest of existence goes on without you seems like a pretty apt description of something designed to be neither heaven nor hell.
But aside from some sorrow-tinged cocaine jokes, having Mindy back also gave “The Good Place” the chance to readdress the love triangle issues from last season. Romance has never been this show’s biggest draw. But like so many other parts of this episode, “The Good Place” somehow found a way to have its cake and eat it too. By having this videotape show what feelings might be lurking just under the surface, it can acknowledge them without dwelling on them and can get back to Eleanor and Michael’s battle of wits.