Even for the denizens of Hell, apparently, consent matters — and casual misogyny is the surest sign of evil.
During the Nov. 3 mid-season finale of “The Good Place,” Adam’s Scott’s demonic Trevor — Michael’s (Ted Danson) counterpart in the Bad Place, propositions the self-destructive Eleanor (Kristen Bell) at her lowest and most vulnerable point: After watching her BFF Chidi (William Jackson Harper) hit it off with his true soulmate, the Real Eleanor (Tiya Sircar) Trevor’s suggestive taunts — “Man, these horndogs are vibing like mofos!” — only darkened her mood further.
Later, while Chidi and Real Eleanor are taking a romantic stroll, our Eleanor and Trevor are doing shots at the bar. He tries to persuade her to just give up, that she’ll be happier in the Bad Place: “Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be miserable. We will torture you. But you’ll also be happier — because you won’t have to keep trying to fit in somewhere you just don’t belong.”
Eleanor takes another shot — “Aight,” she sighs — and Trevor’s emboldened enough to push it further, asking if they’ll ever hook up. She shoots him down: For all our Eleanor’s faults, sex doesn’t seem to be one of her infinite self-destructive weapons of choice.
“Okay! You know I had to ask, babe,” he responds, and they move on. If Trevor, who calls himself a demon, is Michael’s true counterpart, then he has designed a neighborhood in the Bad Place — which means even an Architect of Hell listens when a woman declines to sleep with him.
Maybe non-consensual sex can’t happen in the Good Place, where they technically still are — and certainly not on a prime-time network sitcom starring the lead of a Disney film. But it doesn’t matter, because that’s not the point of the scene.
Shifting the definition of “evil” to Trevor’s douchey Pickup Artist sexual advances (continually pressing his case, uninvited touching, laff-it-off affability when shut down), the show puts a lens on these behaviors — which men often overlook even in plain sight, or justify as they’re doing them — and equates them with the theft, slander, selfishness and rudeness that we’ve seen in Eleanor’s past.
By treading lightly on these issues of consent and their implications, the show’s able to connect a serious and often grim cultural issue to its own brightly hopeful, strong feelings on common courtesy, interpersonal respect, and the social contract. The same narcissism and undeveloped understanding of other people’s subjective existence can lead to Eleanor’s crappy life on Earth, or — especially for men — to really damaging, awful acts and behavior.
This isn’t to say that Eleanor entirely escapes, because it’s not like any of us, man or woman or other, ever really can: The next day Michael, Trevor and the rest of the gang meet to negotiate for Eleanor’s soul, and casually lies — in front of Michael, Janet and the whole gang — that they hooked up: “Who are they gonna believe, me? Or a woman?”
The scene, the episode and season, and possibly the entire series turns on the decision Eleanor makes next: She revokes her consent to traveling with Trevor to the Bad Place, and decides to stay in the Good Place. After Eleanor asserts herself, Michael finally follows suit, backing her up. After an entire episode letting Trevor’s demonic gang of jerks walk all over him, Eleanor’s decision gives him the strength to stand up on her behalf.
Perhaps the savviest thing about Schur’s “Good Place” is the modernity of its ethical concerns: We don’t need another story about a Hell populated by Papists or adulterers — we need a story like “The Good Place,” or “Black Mirror” to bring those life-or-death, black-and-white concerns into a relevant context. Much has been made of that running joke from the pilot, the points system assigned to moral acts:
It’s funny, perhaps a little satirical — but we’d hazard a guess that, deep within the idealistic hearts of the show’s producers and writers, it seems as relevant and true as it does to us. Believe in Heaven and Hell or don’t, either way it’s human nature to imagine absolutes — and in our always-connected, always-on world, having common decency and respect for other people is not elective but required. Because as Eleanor herself is learning, Sartre was wrong: Hell isn’t other people — that’s just what lonely people say to make it hurt less.
“The Good Place” airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. It returns Jan. 5.