justira: A purple, gender-ambiguous unicorn pony in the style of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (lady business)
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Okay friends LISTEN UP because I have A Truth to drop on you: Chances are are incorrect about Jason. You are undervaluing Jason, underappreciating Jason, and missing the point of Jason's character. Also, he's way too good for Tahani.

Backing up a moment: I am talking about The Good Place, which is a fantastic show that should be watched absolutely without spoilers, so if you're not caught up go do that now. If you need to be sold a little more: it's a speculative fiction show about subverting sitcom tropes with a diverse cast and oh yeah, everyone is dead (that's not a spoiler). Also Adam Scott shows up in it playing the role he was born specifically to play, which makes sense because The Good Place was created by Michael Schur, who also worked on Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn 99 so if you are reading this and are being blown away by how I'm namedropping an extra concentrated dose of quality TV and you haven't watched The Good Place then I feel like you know what to do.

Spoilers! Definitely watch the show! I'm not joking! Also none of this will make sense if you haven't watched anyway.

So back to Jason, who I assume you have all met by now because you did like I said and watched the show. While Manny Jacinto is very pretty, Jason is not really my type. But I will, apparently — demonstrably — defend his character and role on the show against all comers. Come at me. I dare you. This is the hill I will die on.

Jason: Someday the world will see what I already know: That Jason Mendoza is a beautiful, unique soul who has so much to give this world.
— S1E04: Jason Mendoza
Before I continue, I must disclaim and I must credit. First, I wrote this post as the show was actively airing, and I had to cut off canon input on the post at some point so I could get it done and posted. I stopped at S2E10. Second, this post started as an incredulous reaction in an idle chat with [personal profile] owlmoose when she made the offhand remark that Tahani was too good for Jason. Reader, I bristled. I bristled like a dog confronted with a lime. This reaction snowballed into hours-long discussion with [personal profile] owlmoose, Jenny, and Bridget. This post is based heavily on that discussion, with points and counterpoints contributed by all, and I credit many of the ideas in this post and even some bits of the phrasing to my very very smart friends who were willing to indulge me in my sudden NEED to talk about Jason.

Because look, real talk: Jason is the character who least deserves to be in the Bad Place. He is the most genuine person on the show, but I'm not just talking about his personality. As a character — as a construct designed to fulfill a certain role in the storytelling mechanics of the show — he plays a vastly underappreciated and, I believe, deeply subversive role on the show. It is he, not Eleanor, who is the source of greatest friction in the entire "this is totally the Good Place" setup, and it is he, not Eleanor, who serves as the barometer for the show, because he's the most context-sensitive (and the show is very, very interested in context).

Let's get something big out of the way first: This is a show about subverting tropes, not playing them straight. It's a show about setting up expectations and then doing something different. It is a show where you should take absolutely nothing at face value. So why, oh why, dear watchers of The Good Place, should we take Jason at face value? You ignore and belittle Jason at your own peril, friends. Because Jason's character gets at some of the deepest and most persistent elements of the show in terms of both themes and structure.

So let's dig in.

Michael: Four people, perfectly suited to make each other miserable

The four humans of the cast are very carefully balanced and constructed, both within Michael's scenario and also in the more general sense of how the show fits together. And, if you take a good solid look at Jason's character, you see that he is much more than stupid comic relief, or even a good-natured simpleton. He's a meticulously crafted vertex in this matrix of characters. There's a lot going on in this show structurally and thematically, and I think it's very instructive to take a look at what the show cares about. There's the good/bad binary, there's someone's actions and their consequences in life versus in death, there's the examination of morality and moral frameworks. That's all some very relevant high-level stuff, but I want to pull out some specific themes that pervade the show. I want y'all to keep an eye out for these and think about them once I start going into details about the characters and Jason in particular. These are the axes along which the characters move:
  • Context and Motivation
    There's a quote of Eleanor's that I'm going to keep coming back to: "Oh man you are a good person. I swear, if I had known you and Tahani and Chidi on Earth, I might have for real gotten into the Good Place." (S1E10). What is the show about besides the contexts you find yourself in? The frameworks you operate in? But the show also insists that motive matters. There's the large-scale motive the show presents us with — the humans don't want to be tortured for eternity in the Bad Place — but there are also much more personal examinations of motivation, such as with Tahani, the doer of global-scale good who nonetheless did not have good motives. Motives are inherently influenced by context — like each character's background in life — but context, too, is motivated. As the characters act — and especially when they go off-script — their context changes. Michael is constantly adapting the scenario based on the characters' internal conflicts, and at its core Michael's scenario was created to put each character in the most torturous situation (context) based on their internal landscapes (motivation).

  • Performative vs. Genuine
    There's a ton going on with this show in terms of performance contrasted with authenticity, and it's not just the humans, either. There is the larger-scale narrative of Michael's deception as a type of performance. There's Janet putting on a show of being okay with Tahani and Jason's relationship even as it causes her and the entire world she created to glitch. And it's not precisely about lying or telling the truth, either — this is a very medium-aware show, and I think this has more to do with playing to an audience versus doing a thing for its own sake. Tahani, for example, is very performatively good while lacking motivational authenticity. Chidi's constant internal agonizing over goodness is genuine in the sense that it is deeply felt, but it, too, is performative, even if the only audience he's really trying to convince is himself.

  • Self-Absorption vs. Self-Awareness
    This is something the humans on the show really struggle with. Tahani is the most obviously self-absorbed, but Chidi also suffers from a kind of navel-gazing absorption, and both characters have to learn to move out of that inward-focused preoccupation and towards a healthier outward awareness. Eleanor lacks the self-awareness to realize how much of an act she's putting on. Janet has an entire arc about developing not just self-awareness in the usual sense, but an actual awareness of self, of having a self to be aware of. Michael, too, is on a journey towards self-awareness, and his arc is perhaps the most demonstrative because he's the only character that has had a full memory and full agency throughout the show.

  • Ignorance and Information
    The Good Place is very concerned with who has what information at any given time: Who knows Eleanor isn't supposed to be here? Are the humans aware they're in the Bad Place? Will Vicky reveal to Shaun what's happened to the experiment? A lot of the shakeups in the plot depend on information exchanges between iterations of the experiment, attempted first by Eleanor passing herself information between the first and second iteration and then in the larger-scale info dump Mindy St. Claire gives once she's fed up. But it's also about the context the characters come from: who had what information going into Michael's scenario. Chidi, for example, is the most informed — that's the basis for his initial role on the show. He's the teacher, and his role is to address Eleanor's ignorance. But Eleanor's ignorance is largely — literally — academic. She does not lack the working knowledge that comes from adequate socialization; she just rejects it.

So that, in my opinion, is some of the stuff going on in The Good Place. And I didn't mention Jason once, did I? But I do think we now have a pretty good picture of the structure he's embedded in, both in terms of what sort of people he's surrounded by and what kind of thematic framework he's part of. So let's go all in. Let's apply that framework to Jason.

But first, let's just talk about the dude a bit.

In poking around on the internet to see if anyone thought Jason was as worthwhile to think about as I did, I found at least some people (Reddit link) that were confused about how his character fit together, and in the discussion that birthed this post Bridget (a Jason ally!) remarked that she was not sure Jason really fit together into a coherent whole. But I think there's a way to look at Jason that helps his character make a lot more sense.

Michael: These five people all need organ transplants, or they will die. Eleanor's perfectly healthy. Chidi, do you want to slice her open and use her organs to save the five sick people?

Eleanor: Chidi, Chidi, think about this. I'm your hottest friend— No, Tahani. I'm your nicest fr— No, Jason. I'm your friend.

— S2E05: The Trolley problem
A lot of people get really hung up on how stupid Jason seems, but I really think that Jason's defining characteristic, as far as stuff relevant to the show's interests goes, is that he is very genuine and seeks honest emotional connections. His background is startling in its privation in terms of education and socialization. He's incompetent at almost everything he tries, and people generally don't find universal incompetence endearing, but I find it significant that Jason is actually pretty good at sex (with a human). Good sex is about as two-way a street as it gets, and I think it says something about Jason that he's good at an act that requires a good connection with someone else. Overall, he's bad at social rules, but good at personal rules: he doesn't have a very good understanding of what society at large considers good or bad and why, but he has a keen understanding of goodness and badness on the personal scale. That doesn't mean he's always good to everyone around him, but he truly values niceness between people. He's childish and reckless and doesn't think about consequences, but that's largely another problem of scale: he's concerned with the immediate effects of his actions on the people most proximate to him, but doesn't really consider how these ripple out beyond his immediate circle and affect or are affected by society at large. Framed this way, I think Jason makes a lot more sense, and also fits very neatly into the carefully constructed quartet of human that the show has set up.

For example, Jason had the chance to fake being a famous DJ and get the kind of superficial acclaim and acknowledgement that Tahani thrives on. But because it wasn't genuine, wasn't honest, wasn't real — because it lacked that emotional connection with his audience — he spurned this opportunity. Throughout the show Jason consistently seeks emotional connection and authenticity, to be seen and appreciated as he is and take others on the same terms. And the thing is, the show never says he's wrong to do that. I'll come back to what I mean by that towards the end of this post.

But while we're on the topic of metanarrative — smooth transition! — there's a good question to ask: Is Jason a static character? Or: Is Jason a good static character? Good static characters need certain builds. Their issues and struggles need to NOT be themes that the show is particularly trying to evolve or explore. Static characters run largely perpendicular to the story, not parallel. And yet the qualities about Jason that have the most impact on the plot are some of the main themes of the show: seeking genuine connections, eschewing false appearances and pretences, and, maybe, eventually, balancing selfishness with context, self-absorption with self-awareness. Jason is running parallel, if behind. He fits right in. He's on the same axes as the other characters, but at different points.

It's time to plug him in. Let's plot him on those axes and examine some of the ways in which Jason runs with or counter to the other characters.

The most obvious point of comparison for Jason is Eleanor. She's the other human set up as not belonging in the Good Place, and Jason is the second character to join Chidi's morality lessons alongside her. Their behaviours and backgrounds during life are, at first glance, very similar. Their jobs are essentially the same: they sell fake drugs. But you know what? Let's start with Chidi instead.

Just taking their educational and social backgrounds into account, Chidi, unlike Jason, has all the resources and education — all the information — to make good choices, and just... does not. While Jason generally does not know better in any given situation, Chidi has, put a certain way, most of a doctorate in knowing better. Having a lot of education in moral philosophy is not the same as having a working understanding of how to make good decisions, but Chidi's background — his context — has given him all the tools to be able to do that. Chidi is not self-absorbed in the usual sense, but dealing with his internal landscape -- his self -- takes up so much of his mental bandwidth that it hampers his ability to make good choices. He and Jason are alike in this sense, of the show often-but-not-always presenting them as having real internal limitations. Chidi learning to turn that focus outward is a major arc for his character, and I think the show has similarly given Jason opportunities for self-reflection. For purposes of this post, I am going to focus on those opportunities and decisions, on what resources and tools are available to each character. Unlike Jason's lack of socialization and education, Chidi’s indecisiveness gets at something rooted more in his actual character and approach to the world, and his tendency to get bogged down in the intellectual exercise of thinking about morality regularly results in damage to the people around him. Time and time again he is shown hurting his friends through his indecisiveness and moral agonizing. Chidi often seems to almost have too much information, and it paralyzes him. Chidi is very aware of context — hyper-aware in most cases; conflict over this plays a major role in S2E10 ("Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent") — but he's not good at applying that awareness to real-life problems. (Jenny helpfully provided the analogy of understanding the rules of math but having trouble with word problems). Chidi's the sort of person who tries to solve emotional problems by learning excessive amounts of intellectual facts. Where Chidi obsesses over building moral frameworks and performing morality to his inner critic's satisfaction, Jason approaches the enterprise with a sort of innocence: he's not concerned about performing morality in any particular way and is only concerned with having authentic interactions with the people immediately in front of him — a context-sensitive approach borne out in S2E10 where Eleanor lectures Chidi about moral particularlism. Chidi, in theory, knows the "objectively" "correct" thing to do, but anytime he tries to apply it to real life he's super bad at it. Overall, Chidi chooses to prioritize the theoretical over the actual. In doing so, in lacking that self-awareness, he not only hurts the people he cares about, but also makes himself unhappy. While Chidi turns every place into his personal hell, Jason is pretty good at making anywhere heaven.

Chidi: I am pretty good at turning every place I go into my personal hell

Tahani, like Chidi and unlike Jason, has enough information about being good to put on a credible show of it on the macro scale, but she has issues when it comes to the particulars, as Chidi does, if not in quite the same way. Her major flaw is that she only cares about the appearance of being good and the social perks that come with it. Not just good, but worthy: her endless name-dropping is another way of saying "Look at all these people who want my presence in their lives! Am I not worthy?" Tahani is overly preoccupied with consequences and appearances, and it really would be good for Tahani to be less self-absorbed in that way. While Jason doesn't think much about consequences, he's also honest in a way that Tahani struggles with. When Jason asks her to put their relationship out in the open, she's embarrassed, and her self-absorption and lack of self-awareness hurt him.
Jason: Here's the thing.
I'm nice to you, and you're mean to me. There's something wrong about that, but I can't put my finger on what it is.

Tahani: Oh, Jason. I genuinely like you, but it's hard to change all at once. Can you give me a little more time?

— S2E05: The Trolley problem
This interplay between her and Jason is an example of Tahani falling into the same patterns after death as she had in life, and can be generalized to her treatment of other people when she was alive. As the show says, her motivation is corrupt: she's shitty to everyone around her because she's not making an authentic effort to be good to people, to be nice to people. Put in front of actual people, Jason makes consistent efforts to be nice to them. Put in front of actual people, Tahani mostly wants to remind everyone — including herself — that she's better than they are. Chidi suffers a similar self-centeredness, turned inward (so even more self-centered, in a way? yes? yes!): he needs to keep proving to himself that he is good. Jason does not try to prove anything to anyone.

Eleanor, on the other hand, is all about that. She is constantly trying to prove how much she doesn't care. She likes to think that everyone else is just as bad as she is and is just putting on an act, and to do that she has to have some template for badness, and, inversely, goodness. She's aware of society's moral framework; she's aware of social frameworks in general, as demonstrated by the high school cafeteria scene, but she rejects that framework and rejects all others, too. She has that information and context but thinks they are irrelevant to her because her goal is to only think about herself and convince herself that she doesn't care — about anyone else, about anything else, about anything. Eleanor's besetting sins are self-centeredness and apathy, and looked at a certain way these echo traits that Jason also has, though he has them in a less twisted sense. Jason is largely apathetic about morality, and he's self-centered in that he largely seeks out actions that decrease discomfort for him (unlike Chidi, who seems to seek out discomfort, perhaps because it makes him feel like he's on the right track). However, Jason's natural impulse is to be kind, or at least to be authentic, while Eleanor has buried those impulses very deep under layers and layers of performative apathy.

Eleanor is a good point of transition to the axis I've touched on a couple times but haven't really focused on yet: performativity vs. authenticity, the characteristic that I said is the core of Jason's character. I've been avoiding it til now because I wanted to show that Jason really is plottable along the same axes; he really is swimming in the same waters as the other characters and he's not just a clown who's largely irrelevant to the meat of the show. So here we go. Let's look at performativity in The Good Place (a piece of fiction performed for us).

In life, all the characters on the show have been shown to be performing constantly, in some way, putting on a deliberate and inauthentic front for some real or imagined audience — except for Jason. He always seeks to be authentic. In fact, the show gives us a literal example of Jason being asked to perform — to play Acidcat instead of himself — and he hated it, because it wasn't real. If people are to admire him, he wants it to be as himself. He wants to be respected not because he's playing a different or better self — whether that self be some performance of a better Jason, or an actual imaginary role such as Jianyu — but because he is likable and nice. Jason is not performing for anyone. This is a sharp contrast to everyone else on the show.

Tahani is very performatively good: she pursues the appearance of virtue as a way of gaining social capital and (parental) acknowledgement/approval. It's very important to her to be known as good, and while she is very aware of how she is competing with Kamila for what she sees as limited resources, she lacks self-awareness in a more global sense. Her performance of goodness is purely large-scale utilitarian, a framework the show examined very early on and discarded as inadequate.
Eleanor: Even when I do nice things, I'm only doing them so I can get something out of it, the ability to stay here, which means none of this had any real moral value.
— S1E11: What's My Motivation
The outward effects of her actions are, by her reckoning, a net good: isn't raising billions for charity good? But because her goodness is a performance, she is unkind on a smaller scale, constantly belittling others in an effort to feel bigger herself. Her imagined audience — her parents? her sister? the world? herself? — only matters to her insofar as their opinions of her matter, not their feelings. Jason, on the other hand, isn't nice to people to get something out of them, not even their good opinion. He's just genuinely nice.

Chidi's agonizing over moral decisions is performative in a way similar to how I defined him to be self-absorbed: not indicative of selfishness or lack of care, but as a reaction to his internal landscape. He is not trying to prove to some outside audience that he is good, but needs to perform these self-excoriations to prove to himself that he is still, always, trying to be good. His agonizing over morality is both genuine in sentiment and performative in expression. Like Tahani, he has an urge to prove to himself that he is worthy, but he also seems convinced that he will never get that validation from his brain. Instead, he tries to use his effect on the external world as a barometer for whether he is navigating his tortured internal landscape correctly. However, that is validation he just about never gets, in large part because of the significant disconnect between his intentions and how those translate into his actual actions, and from there the gap between the results he wants and the results he gets, culminating in a huge disparity between his intentions and how others actually perceive him. Chidi lives in that gap between his intentions and their outward results, and I believe this is largely due to how self-consciously performative this entire process is. Jason and Chidi are both frustrated when people consistently fail to "get" them, but they deal with it very differently. Jason refuses to perform some more palatable version of himself, while Chidi agonizes over adjusting his performance to make his audience — both his jerk of a brain and the people he's trying to get a response from — produce the reaction he was trying to achieve. In some ways, Chidi and Tahani are looking for the same thing: a soul-deep certitude that they are good and worthy, or are at least doing good and worthy things (looking at your agony over your thesis, Chidi), but the modes in which they want that certitude to resonate are very different. The tl;dr of all three situations — Chidi's, Tahani's, and Jason's — is similar in that they all want to be liked, but their reasons and approaches are very different.

Eleanor, meanwhile, actively avoids being perceived as good, and provides the most direct contrast with Jason. She cynically imagines that everyone is just as bad as she is, or at least wants to be, in their natural, authentic state. Everyone else, she believes, is just a hypocrite about how they really are as opposed to being genuine like her — a view that is extremely self-centered. Jason, meanwhile, assumes everyone is presenting their authentic self — even Janet — an approach that has huge ramifications on the plot. Eleanor rationalizes her bad behaviour by telling herself that really she's doing the right thing by being honest while everyone else is only pretending, but she lacks the self-awareness to realise just how performative she's being (a self-awareness that Chidi has in such excess that it circles back into the self-absorption I talked about for him; Chidi's brain is an Ouroboros).
Eleanor wants to think of herself as indifferent and for others to think of her that way, too, but at its core her attitude is an active reaction to her context. Jason actually is indifferent in many of the ways Eleanor lacks, but he doesn't want others to think he's indifferent about the things that matter most to him. Even his silly sports team preferences (ps my sportsball peeps tell me the Jaguars actually got really far this season) and passion for dancing are relevant here, because he's always honest about being into those things, even when this brings him derision. Eleanor would pretend not to care about that derision — she would pretend not to have passions in the first place. But Jason is take-it-or-leave it in exactly the way Eleanor aspires to be but has to fake her way towards. Eleanor is the opposite of Tahani in a lot of ways, in that she is many ways performatively bad as part of a way to prove how much she doesn't care about social capital and parental approval — the things Tahani craves. But rebellion is an act of caring, and Eleanor's true opposite here is not Tahani, who is also performing, but Jason.

Jason, in the end, actually has many of the qualities that the other characters aspire to or pretend to have. Jason has something like the appearance of that moral certitude that Chidi wants, but is not actually performing morality in any way. He's not precisely indifferent to the morality of his actions in the way Eleanor seeks to be, but he doesn't really think about them beforehand or plot particular moral strategies like Tahani, Eleanor, and Chidi all do, in their various ways. One way of looking at this is that Jason is completely unconstrained by all the things the others are constrained by internally. Chidi is just a huge mess of internal conflict that constrains his actions so much that it renders him incapable of taking action or making decisions much of the time. Eleanor and Tahani, too, are constrained by their twisted internal landscapes. Jason's constraints, however, are external to him: his upbringing and education, the kinds of people he's surrounded by, his poverty. He never seems to really question these circumstances. So it makes sense that a change of scenery and a new set of friends would produce better behaviour.

Jason: That judge guy just said everyone here has done bad things. Let's look at this ethnically.

Chidi: For what I hope is the last time, it is "ethically."

Jason: You guys helped me and Eleanor, right, but we're bad, so you helping us was bad. It's basic consequentialism: the morality of an action is solely judged on its consequences.

— S1E12: Michael's Gambit
This is what I mean when I say Jason is the most context-sensitive character. The characters all come from wildly contrasting context in life. Chidi and Tahani are studies in privilege, while Eleanor and Jason are the opposite, and the two characters who are set up as extremes of education and intellectual understanding are actually not Chidi and Eleanor, but Chidi and Jason. These are the most relevant facts about them, because we are not given any others. We know nothing about Jason and Chidi's family dynamics, because that's not the point of their characters. Eleanor and Tahani are set up as extremes of toxic family dynamics, and that is what shapes their characters and future relationships with morality; that's what matters. Eleanor had the socialization and education to know about morality, she just chose to squander it. Jason never had those to begin with. In terms of resources, Jason had the fewest, and watching him transplanted from his living context to Michael's post-death experiment is fascinating, because Jason is actually not particularly tortured by Michael's scenario. He's on such a different level of self-actualization that the relative security and plenty he finds himself surrounded by not only allows his positive qualities to blossom (as it does with Eleanor, letting them both develop as friends to the others), but also is such a positive contrast with how his life used to be that he is largely not distressed by most of scenarios Michael dreams up, and actually departs from the script in significant ways that are based in seeking very basic things, like people being nice to him. That's some rather-low-on-Maslow's-hierarchy sort of thinking: all the other characters are used to having their basic needs met and concerning themselves with the sorts of dilemmas Michael extrapolates for them, while having his basic needs met makes a huge difference to Jason. His biggest conflict is when he has to hide who he is, and as more people learn his secret, he becomes less frustrated. This is a very interesting contrast to the other three, all of whom eventually become focused on purposeful self-improvement — sometimes even at Jason's prompting, such as when Tahani is forced to examine her feelings of shame and embarrassment at being with Jason. Jason does sometimes get chastised for his choices, such as when Eleanor has to convince him to let them all return from Mindy St. Claire's the first time, and he learns from such instances as much as Michael's resetting allows, but he never makes a project of self-improvement. His instincts are, on the whole, already pretty good, and what he lacks is information and context.

Claire suggested a fun exercise when comparing contexts: Imagine switching Jason and Tahani's backgrounds. It's very easy to see Jason as one of those rich guys that gives absurd amounts of money to jaguars (as in rescuing and rehabilitating them) and also to the Jaguars (as in the sportsball people) and being pretty pleased when he realizes it's not the same thing and he accidentally saved a bunch of cats. He'd be someone with an amazing PA (perhaps someone like Janet?) that keeps him from making apocalyptic money blunders. Someone who's pretty chuffed to have a cool sister like Kamila (she might be Banksy!).

Tahani, on the other hand, would definitely be a crime boss.

Claire, thank you for that delightful theoretical insight. I may need to fic it.

Jason: Hey, Janet! You look sad.

Janet: People keep asking me questions that I don't know the answers to.

Jason: That was my whole life on Earth. You know, it doesn't matter if you know things. All that matters is what's in your heart.

— S1E09: ...Someone Like Me as a Member

Janet: Jason, when I was rebooted, and I lost all my knowledge, I was confused and disoriented, but you were always kind to me. And according to the central theme of 231,600 songs, movies, poems, and novels that I researched for these vows in the last three seconds, that's what love's all about.
— S1E10: Chidi's Choice
And then there's Jason's relationship with Janet. Jason married Janet because she was nice to him, which counts for a lot in Jason's world. But he was also nice to her, and the consequences of this spiralled outwards and out of Michael's control in a spectacular fashion. Jason treating Janet like a person — nicely, genuinely — caused her to be more of a person. And this led to character development not just for Janet, but for Michael's too. As in Eleanor's comment about being surrounded by good people, the more Janet is surrounded by people who treat her as a person, the more of a person she becomes. Jason was the first to do this, but as Janet was repeatedly murdered and reset, those kernels of individuality that Jason fostered developed into a persona — personhood — that Michael genuinely connected to. This led Michael to treat Janet like a person too. Michael feeling conflicted over repeatedly resetting Janet is actually the chronologically first time he was shown to genuinely care about anyone else, laying the groundwork for his growth over Season 2. Jason's role in this development provides a biting commentary on how Janet is treated, as well as revealing a lot about how Jason treats people.

Jason's role as a causer of plot chaos — and plot advancement — is pretty neat, really. In S2E09 ("Best Self"), we have the line, "So in a way, it doesn't matter if I was better in version 492 or whatever, because the best version of me is just as much about my effect on the world around me as it is about my own egocentric self-image." Jason's effect on the world can be observed through two lenses: intradiegetic and extradegietic. Within the show, Jason has caused a good amount of turmoil, but almost never hurt feelings when he had the agency for that (e.g. not memory-wiped). Treating Janet like a person led to her being a person. And to us as viewers, Jason's effect on the show is generally to break down expectations — and breaking down expectations is what the show does. In a lot of ways, Jason is the character who is most in tune with the show's structure. The show is very concerned with who has what information, and Michael's initial scenario for the humans relies on friction. Eleanor, Tahani, and Chidi are all sufficiently socialized that they are conditioned to tolerate friction as a condition of social existence. But Jason actively avoids fiction. If Jason had been allowed to be himself sooner and blow everything wide open, the Bad Place realization would have happened quicker. The show rewards going off-script because that's what the show is about, and Eleanor and Jason are the characters who go off-script most often and more spectacularly. Jason and Eleanor’s stories are much alike, and we are explicitly supposed to like Eleanor and take her seriously. Why not Jason also?

In fact, if we dismiss Jason, are we ourselves not pulling a classic Shellstrop? Check it: Eleanor and co. are over here agonizing over personal and moral conflicts that Jason is just too stupid to have, therefore she — they — we — are free to feel better about ourselves and look down on him. Clearly Jason is nice because he's not smart enough to be anything else, to be morally complex at all, and therefore Eleanor is — we are — better than Jason.
Michael: A cactus, on its own, intends no harm. It's only when we interfere that it becomes dangerous. I need to remember my own agency here.
— S1E04: Most Improved Player

But this relies on Jason not having any interiority at all, and clearly he has one. He has conflicts, he gets hurt. He's given opportunities to do the right thing against his self-interest, and he does, even when it's a struggle for him, as when he does eventually agree to come back from the Medium Place. He has obstacles and moral quandaries, and he's muddling through, same as everyone else.

The Good Place concerns itself explicitly with moral frameworks and developing your own, not being led by those of others. Being surrounded by examples of goodness definitely helps, as Eleanor says and the show supports, but part of the idea is that you shouldn't take any other person's approach as THE objectively correct one (especially not the framework that gives rise to the Bad Place and Good Place in the first place!), least of all try to adopt another person's framework wholesale as your own. Chidi perhaps struggles with this the most: he knows of so many frameworks but has trouble synthesizing a coherent whole out of them for himself. Him unbending enough to take Eleanor's input is a major character arc for him and is shown in S2E10, but even then Eleanor has to appeal to him with the tools he's most comfortable with and respects most: specific philosophical frameworks. Eleanor herself started out reacting against the very concept of goodness, while Tahani was also reactive, if in the opposite direction. The narrative asks them both to build frameworks that are not reactionary, but innate. And Jason has an innate moral framework, but it is very personal, very small-scale. Jason does not seem to care much about goodness on the grand scale. But the narrative as a whole is showing that cosmic goodness and the entire good/bad binary is false and not a good framework, so perhaps there is something interesting in where Jason is coming from.

In the end, I think it's not a stretch to say that Jason’s lack of moral philosophy is related to the show’s stance that the framework is flawed. Or, another way of looking at it: you can't depend on other people to determine what good means or what goodness is. You can glut yourself on rules and theories, like Chidi has. You can depend on society to define it for you and then fit yourself into that framework superficially without any actual self-examination, like Tahani has. You can rebel against other people's definitions of goodness and relationships to it, as Eleanor has.

Or, you can just be good in the way that feels right to you, as Jason does. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it's no worse an approach to the enterprise of goodness than anyone else's on the show. It's just as relevant, has just as much room for growth and development, and is as much at the heart of the show as any other approach. Whether it be his limitations or his strengths, his choices or his resistance to change, Jason is part of the same struggle and part of the same narrative. Jason belongs in the Good Place, and he belongs on The Good Place.

Date: 2018-02-03 10:51 pm (UTC)
tassosss: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tassosss
This is an amazing analysis! Thanks for writing it. I don't have a lot to say other than I really love Jason, and I think you do an excellent job of articulating how he fits in.

Date: 2018-02-06 12:12 am (UTC)
azurelunatic: The Space Needle by night. Slightly dubious photography. (Default)
From: [personal profile] azurelunatic
Jason is a delight. His motives are so pure.

Date: 2018-02-06 05:43 pm (UTC)
kass: kitten face (Default)
From: [personal profile] kass
This is such a fabulous post. Thank you!


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