Michael's Gambit

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"Michael's Gambit"
The Good Place episode
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 13
Directed byMichael Schur
Written byMichael Schur
Original air dateJanuary 19, 2017 (2017-01-19)
Guest appearances
Episode chronology
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The Good Place (season 1)
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"Michael's Gambit" is the season finale of the

Mindy St. Claire". The episode was both written and directed by series creator Michael Schur

In the episode, Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason must decide which two of them will go to the Bad Place to make up for Eleanor and Jason's absence there. They struggle to find a pairing on which they can all agree, and Eleanor realizes why their time in the Good Place has been unusual. In flashbacks, Michael wonders if there is a better way to design neighborhoods in the afterlife.

The episode is known for its plot twist, in which the neighborhood is revealed to be the Bad Place in disguise. Schur created the ending when developing the show but kept it secret outside of a few crew members, with the exception of Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, who were told when they signed on as cast members. The episode was seen by 3.93 million Americans in its original broadcast and was acclaimed by critics, with many praising the twist and Danson's performance. For his work on the episode, Schur was nominated for several awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.


After Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) barely miss the deadline to return to the Good Place, Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) decides the Bad Place is owed two individuals and gives Eleanor, Jason, Chidi (William Jackson Harper), and Tahani (Jameela Jamil) thirty minutes to pick who to send. Eleanor proposes that she and Jason go, since they arrived in the Good Place by accident. Jason resists but is eventually convinced. They say their goodbyes, but the "real" Eleanor (Tiya Sircar) appears and announces she would rather go to the Bad Place than stay with Chidi, her supposed soulmate who does not love her. This forces the group to reconsider.

Shawn tells Michael (Ted Danson) privately that Michael will be in trouble for his mistakes. Flashbacks show Michael receiving his first neighborhood to design and wondering if there is a better way for architects to do their job.

As the group discusses who to send now, they quickly descend into arguing. Eleanor has a sudden realization and calls Michael and Shawn back. She explains it is impossible for them to ever leave for the Bad Place, as the "Good Place" is actually the Bad Place. Despite its appearances, the neighborhood presented challenges designed to psychologically torture the four humans: Eleanor is surrounded by people who are better than her, Chidi was forced to struggle with Eleanor and Jason's secrets, Jason was left confused and anxious due to his cover story, and Tahani was often left feeling isolated. The other residents are demons working with Michael. In another flashback, Michael pitches his neighborhood as an experiment where humans torture each other without realizing it; Shawn, who is actually Michael's boss, expresses doubts.

Eleanor asks how Chidi and Tahani, who seem like good people, ended up in the Bad Place. Tahani realizes her fundraising efforts were tainted by selfish motivations, and Michael explains that Chidi's rigidity and indecisiveness made others miserable. To the humans' horror, Michael announces he will erase their memories and restart the experiment. When Michael steps out to talk to Shawn, Eleanor quickly writes a note and gives it to Janet (D'Arcy Carden). Shawn allows Michael to try again but warns that this is his last shot.

Michael wipes the humans' memories and reboots the neighborhood. He welcomes Eleanor to the afterlife again and introduces her new "soulmate", Chris Baker (Luke Guldan). When Chris leaves, Janet appears and gives Eleanor her note, which reads "Eleanor — Find Chidi".


An image of Michael Schur.
Michael Schur, series creator and writer/director for the episode

The episode was written and directed by Michael Schur, the show's creator. It is his second writing credit (after the season premiere) and first directing credit for the series.

When developing The Good Place, Schur turned to dramas such as Lost and Breaking Bad, which contained many cliffhangers and, in his words, left viewers "so absorbed in something and so intrigued by something that you have to know how it ends."[1] During the development process, he worked with Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof to gather advice and input on the series; Lindelof urged Schur to "take the time to think about what you're going to do before you do it."[1] As a result, the entirety of the first season, as well as the start to the second season, was planned out in advance, and Schur and the writing staff would deviate little from this plan during production of the first season.[1][2] Schur also took some inspiration for the flashbacks from Lost. He noted that the scenes were "usually [a] two- or three-beat mini-story, told in distinct beats throughout the episode [and] reflective of the larger question of the episode."[2]

Schur told Kristen Bell and Ted Danson about the season's twist ending when they were originally brought on board. He felt it was important for their characters to know what would happen, mainly since Michael orchestrates the scheme and Eleanor is the one to figure it out. He explained, "I wanted them to know the whole picture. I thought it would be sort of uncool to Ted Danson to say, 'I want you to play an angel,' and then four months later go, 'Just kidding. You're a devil.'"[3] Schur also told the writers about the twist at the beginning in order to ensure the writing would be consistent and set up the finale,[3][4] but he did not tell the other actors on the show until they were near the end of filming for the season. He later remarked, "They gave the most honest and real performance they could give, simply because they didn’t know."[3]

The episode was written and filmed before the show premiered. Originally, the writers had several other ideas for how to have Eleanor tell herself about Michael's scheme, including writing a message on herself in a manner similar to Memento, before deciding on giving Janet the note.[4] To write the note, Eleanor tears a page out of T. M. Scanlon's book What We Owe to Each Other.[5] The sinister laugh from Michael after Eleanor figured out his plan was improvised by Danson after several takes and spliced together with other footage.[4] In the rebooted neighborhood, many details, such as the furnishings in Michael's office and the clown paintings in Eleanor's house, were slightly tweaked or rearranged; Schur later explained that this shows how extensive Michael's plan is.[4]

While NBC had made previous episodes available to the press early, the network did not release the finale ahead of time, likely to preserve the twist.[6] The network would also renew the series for a 13-episode second season in the wake of the finale.[7]



"Michael's Gambit" originally aired on

Mindy St. Claire". It was watched by an estimated 3.93 million American viewers, placing third in its time slot behind The Great Indoors and Grey's Anatomy.[8] This marked a 6% increase in total viewers compared to the previous week and was the show's highest viewership since October.[9] The episode also achieved a 1.1 rating among adults ages 18–49, placing third behind The Great Indoors and Hell's Kitchen.[8]


The episode received acclaim from critics. Dennis Perkins of

Vulture gave the episode 5 out of 5 stars, remarking that the twist "is the sort of move that masterfully adds depth to all the show's emotional bonding" and praising Danson for "utterly nail[ing] the heel turn".[11]

Writing for Variety, Maureen Ryan compared the episode favorably to Westworld, another plot-heavy show with big twists; she noted that unlike Westworld, The Good Place's twist "wasn't necessarily easy to figure out, and even if you'd guessed it, it didn’t really matter, because the show was a whole lot of fun regardless of what was going on in the main plot." She also called the finale "especially crisp and entertaining" with "the kind of unstoppable momentum that carried [her] past any mild wobbles."[12] Caroline Framke of Vox called the twist "a gutsy move" that the show landed "with ease and a confident grin" and likened watching prior episodes in light of the twist to rewatching The Sixth Sense, adding that lines from earlier "take on new significance in the best way."[13] Lenika Cruz of The Atlantic noted that unlike other shows blending comedy and drama, "The Good Place is, tonally, 100 percent sitcom" but has "the spine of a twist-y, reality-questioning show like Lost or Westworld". She described the reveal as a "a Truman Show/No Exit-style nightmare" and remarked that the "structural sitcomminess—where the show has to revert to the status quo" set the foundation for season two nicely.[14]

Several critics made comparisons between the episode and then-current events. In her review, Pape noted that it "couldn't be a better reflection on the world we're about to live in, where Donald Trump is president: One man's desire to do something entirely different and to be the envy of his peers leads to hell for many, many other people, who are mostly being punished for the crime of being human."[11] In a retrospective article, Ellen Jones of The Guardian noted that the episode, which aired the day before Trump's inauguration, resonated with many viewers who opposed Trump, with Eleanor's moment of realization that "This is the Bad Place!" becoming a liberal meme.[15] However, Jones noted that the show also challenged liberal attitudes, with the four humans embodying "the traits conservatives most disparage in their defeated foe: Tahani's smug condescension; Chidi's indecisive idealism; Jason's obliviousness; and Eleanor's ironic detachment."[15] Schur has denied that the show is about Trump or modern-day America and noted that work on the show began before the 2016 election took place.[15][16]


At the 2018 Hugo Awards, the episode was nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form; it ultimately lost to another episode of the show, season 2's "The Trolley Problem".[17] The episode was also nominated for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation at the 2017 Nebula Awards; it lost to Get Out.[18]


  1. ^ a b c Goldman, Eric (January 19, 2017). "The Good Place Creator on Planning for Season 2 as Season 1's Finale Debuts". IGN. Archived from the original on December 4, 2017. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Adams, Erik (September 19, 2016). "Michael Schur knows where The Good Place is going, thanks to Lost". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on June 15, 2020. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Snierson, Dan (June 3, 2019). "The Good Place creator Mike Schur on hiding the show's biggest secret from the cast". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on September 25, 2019. Retrieved May 3, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d Jackson, Marc Evan (August 10, 2018). "Ch. 13: Michael Schur, Creator". The Good Place: The Podcast (Podcast). NBC. Archived from the original on May 7, 2020. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Perkins, Dennis (January 19, 2017). "The Good Place ends an outstanding first season with its most masterful twist yet". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on January 30, 2018. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Goldman, Eric (January 21, 2017). "The Good Place: "Michael's Gambit" Review". IGN. Archived from the original on August 16, 2019. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  7. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (January 30, 2017). "'The Good Place' Renewed For Season 2 By NBC". Deadline. Archived from the original on May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Porter, Rick (January 23, 2017). "'The Big Bang Theory' adjusts up, 'My Kitchen Rules' adjusts down: Thursday final ratings". TV By The Numbers. Archived from the original on June 29, 2019. Retrieved May 3, 2020.
  9. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (January 20, 2017). "'The Good Place' Ratings Steady In Finale As NBC Ponders Renewal, Chris Pratt Lifts 'Mom'". Deadline. Archived from the original on October 13, 2019. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  10. ^ Miller, Liz Shannon (January 20, 2017). "'The Good Place' Season Finale Review: 'Lost'-Style Twists Turn the Show Upside Down For Season 2". IndieWire. Archived from the original on September 13, 2018. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  11. ^
    Vulture. Archived
    from the original on December 15, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  12. ^ Ryan, Maureen (January 19, 2017). "On 'The Good Place' Twist and a Strong Finish to a Fine First Season". Variety. Archived from the original on December 3, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  13. ^ Framke, Caroline (January 22, 2017). "The Good Place's truly shocking season finale twist took guts, and a whole lot of skill". Vox. Archived from the original on February 12, 2020. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  14. ^ Cruz, Lenika (January 20, 2017). "The Otherworldly Genius of The Good Place". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on May 28, 2020. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c Jones, Ellen (May 26, 2018). "Forking hell! Is The Good Place the ultimate TV show for our times?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 15, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  16. ^ Maglio, Tony; Nakamura, Reid (August 8, 2019). "How Mike Schur Avoids 'Trump Bulls–' in 'The Good Place' Writers Room". TheWrap. Archived from the original on April 12, 2020. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  17. ^ "2018 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. Archived from the original on May 7, 2011. Retrieved May 3, 2020.
  18. ^ "2017 Nebula Awards". Science Fictions & Fantasy Writers of America. Archived from the original on March 15, 2019. Retrieved May 3, 2020.

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