Michael tells a story to a reluctant Bad Janet in the bright quiet of Janet’s void space.
This week’s episode is structured around Michael telling Bad Janet a story about the humans; if she listens, he’ll let her go. I enjoyed the way that this framed the episode. Michael has become such a paternal character, it gave the story more gravitas to know that he was the one telling it. Like being tucked in and told a bedtime story. It also served as a good way of telling the audience how much time had passed. If Bad Janet was caught six months ago, then there are less than six months left before the finally judgement of humanities ability to become better.
This acknowledgement of the passing of time gives the narrative of the season more urgency. The past five episodes have largely felt like they could be set at any point near the beginning of the experiment, but this time skip brings the reality of how little time is left into stark focus.
As Michael’s story unfolds it becomes obvious that the new humans have, at least somewhat, grown in their time in the after life. Simone has accepted her death fully and formed friendships with the others, Chidi has kept Jason’s secret. Even Brent seems less monumentally awful. It was nice to see the new group interact with each other a bit more, as most of what has been shown before is the original gang interacting with the new humans one at a time. Seeing how the new dynamic has built up really added some depth to these newer characters.
Inevitably, this all goes down hill very fast. The conflict that ensues surrounding Brent’s terrible book, that give this episode its title, is almost uncomfortable in its relatability. Even after six months of being encouraged to be a better person by his entire surroundings, Brent is still a sexist, racist, obnoxious man completely riddled with a sense of toxic masculine fragility.
The way that this is dealt with smacks of a sobering reality. It is obvious that Brent has been surrounded by people who have enabled his douchbagery for his entire life and now by people who are doing much the same. Though they are actively trying to make Brent into a better person, no one has actually bluntly told him how much of a tool he is.
This is at one point referred to by Eleanor as ‘stepping on egg shells’around him. Avoiding telling him how terrible he is because it would hurt his feelings, whilst disregarding the fact the he is constantly hurting the feelings of other to varying degrees. The ones to eventually snap are Tahani and Simone, the two women of colour in the group, and the two with the most marginalised identities for Brent to be insensitive about.
This part of the episode also serves to show how white women are often complicit in perpetuating inequality and oppression. Because that is what Brent is, oppressive. He may not be threatening anyone with violence or using explicit slurs. But his presence and attitudes still very much play into age old systems of oppression. Eleanor’s asking Tahani and Simone to be gentle with him only adds to that. Why should they be kind and understanding to a man who obviously doesn’t see them as anything more than exotic conquests who are better seen and not heard?
Watching Brent get told off at the end of the episode was one of the most satisfying things I have seen on television in a long time. This explicit example of what people mean by toxic masculinity and white fragility is something that I would love to see more often. The satisfaction in this even overshadowed the warmth I felt when, despite a major set back, the gang grouped together to start making new plans.
All in all, this is my favourite episode of the season so far. It was much more fun and thought provoking than any of the others; combine this with the framing of a story telling Michael, and it was brilliant to watch. The only real issue I had with it was that, near the end of the episode, Eleanor says that all of the humans have probably lost points for their actions. Even though they weren’t kind to Brent about his terrible insensitive book, why should Simone be punished for standing up for herself?
Now, more than ever. I am truly excited for what may be about to happen next.
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