First off, spoilers! If you’re not caught up on “The Good Place,” first, why the heck now? Second, stop reading if you don’t want spoilers. On with the show.
The Good Place is an awesome show that deals with morality and ethics. And one of the underlying premises is the idea of if fundamentally bad — or perhaps more accurately put, flawed — people can change. And in season 3 of the Good Place, Michael, a demon, and an all-knowing judge are involved in an experiment to test just that. Let’s do a quick “last week on the Good Place” just for context.
In the universe of the Good Place, there is a system that tracks all actions of humans on earth. At the time of their death, the sum of their actions dictates if they were a good or bad person and whether they go to the Good Place or the Bad Place.
There are multiple good and bad places (called neighborhoods), and each neighborhood has an architect that builds them. Each neighborhood has, what seems to be kind of an operating system, called Janet, that runs them and can also work as an informational database. Janets are sentient. More on them soon.
Michael is a Bad place architect that has built a neighborhood designed to torture four humans psychologically. The trick is they are supposed to believe they are in the Good Place, but due to their contrasting personalities, they will torture each other.
This plan fails as the humans realize they are in the Bad Place and bond with each other. One of the humans, Chidi Anagonye, is an ethics professor and teaches the humans how to become better.
Michael, having failed at his plan, teams up with the humans. Their new plan is to become better people (and demon) and get into the Good Place.
They meet a judge, who decides who can go to the Good Place, and convince her to let the humans go back to earth in an alternate timeline. If they can prove they can become better, they will go to the Good Place. As of season one of episode three, it appears to be going poorly. Michael is convinced this is because the humans improved each other and need each other to become better people. I have a contrasting theory. The reason the humans got better in the Bad Place was because of Janet!
More on Janet
As mentioned Janet is the operating system that runs the subsection of both the Good place and the Bad place. However, there are two flavors it seems. The Good Place Janet is friendly and designed to help people, even to her detriment (think Asimov’s laws of robotics). The Bad Place Janet is mean and cruel and seems designed to antagonize humans.
Because his neighborhood was a ruse, Michael stole a Good Place Janet to run it. And I think that’s key. Here’s some more information we glean about Janet as the show goes on.
When Janet’s are rebooted, they gain more knowledge and abilities. Over the course of the show, Michael keeps rebooting the neighborhood as the humans discover they are in the Bad Place. By the time he joins forces with them, the neighborhood has been rebooted over 800 times. This leads our Janet to believe she may be the most advanced Janet ever.
Good Place Janets are designed to help humans, possibly even to a fault. At one point our heroes have to sneak through the Bad Place in disguise. Janet’s disguise is to be a bad Janet. To test her, they ask her to refuse to help. Their initial simple task is to ask for a glass of water. Janet struggles to do this.
Our Janet also doesn’t know she is in the Bad Place initially. Michael convinced her she is in a Good Place neighborhood, that is just different than ones she is used to.
Our Janet has feelings, a subconscious and memory, even after she is rebooted. One storyline has Janet marry Jason Mendoza. However, when all the humans’ memories are wiped and Janet is rebooted, seemingly no one remembers, except, of course, for Michael. Jason winds up in a new relationship with Tehani Al Jamil. Through sitcom logic, Janet winds up being a relationship counselor for Jason and Tehani. However, she starts glitching, and we realize it’s because she is jealous of Tehani because she’s in love with Jason. She also develops a close friendship with Michael.
Putting it Altogether
While it’s very straightforward, let’s put our pieces together. Janet is designed to help humans, and our humans are bad people. Because she is rebooted so many times, she becomes increasingly advanced. Even if she can’t consciously remember, she subconsciously knows our humans are in the Bad Place and have to become better people to escape (as does Michael) In the first episode of season three, we see Michael nudging the humans after their initial tries at becoming better fail. However, what’s essential is Janet is there with him monitoring the humans. And Janet nudges Michael.
As I mentioned, Michael has a theory that the humans can become better people. And his theory is that instead of torturing each other, the humans helped each other, and so the solution is to bring the humans altogether, which happens at the end of episode one of season three. However, I’d argue that the one constant for the humans has been an increasingly improving Janet. And from the beginning, she’s been helping the humans. In the first iteration of the neighborhood, she gets them a train to the Medium Place. She passes Elanor a message from her previously reboooted self. She even learns to act badly to save Michael, who is then able to argue to the judge on behalf of the humans. My theory is that it’s not the humans’ bonds with each other that is making them better. I argue it’s the sentient operating system designed to help them. And in an era of Black Mirror style sci-fi arguing the perils of ever-increasing technology, I actually find something optimistic and encouraging about Janet. At least for now, we’ll have to see where season three takes her!