9:30 am EDT, October 12, 2018

Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s Simone is the best part of ‘The Good Place’ season 3

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Four episodes into The Good Place season 3, and newcomer Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is by far the best new addition.

NBC’s The Good Place is famed for cleverly and recklessly reinventing itself. First by obscuring the true nature of the titular ‘good’ place for a whole season, then by resetting and re-resetting and re-re-resetting the main characters’ memories, and then by reviving the dead humans and sending them back to Earth.

Related: 19 The Good Place quotes to soothe your soul here in the Bad Place

In the Mike Schur comedy’s fourth season, Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason are alive again, and strangers, while Michael and Janet work from afar to make sure they find each other and become better people as a result.

And as if that wasn’t enough change, The Good Place has also shaken things up by adding Killing Eve‘s Kirby Howell-Baptiste to the cast.

Simone Garnett is a neuroscientist, offering the perfect counterpoint to Chidi’s philosophy mindset, and giving viewers a fresh perspective: in The Good Place season 3, we’re not just learning about why we need to be good people, but how our brains help and/or hinder that process.

The Good Place has always liked to subtly make its viewers smarter and more conscientious (shh, I won’t tell if you won’t) and now, through Simone, we get actual lessons in neuroscience. Don’t say TV never taught you anything.

Through Simone, we also get a much-needed ‘human connection,’ as it were — not just for Chidi, but for Eleanor. Simone is a completely neutral party in this game of souls; a good person, sure, but ultimately just a person.

She is the control, in a way, to this whole experiment of making these people better, outside of their insular little four-way soulmate bond. Simone is someone for both Chidi and Eleanor (and maybe later Tahani and Jason) to bounce off of, and prove their improvements to.

But this is not what makes Simone great. What makes Simone great is that, aside from her obvious plot function, she is also her own person.

Funny, awkward, charming, clever as hell and genuinely falling for Chidi, Simone is an active participant in her own story — which is, arguably, something The Good Place has never had before.

The biggest worry I had after learning that the Good Place was really the Bad Place wasn’t that it would fundamentally alter the premise of the show (that part was awesome), but that nobody but the four humans were really ‘real.’

Because with the revelation that the fake Good Place was a simulation came the realization that every single supporting character’s life and actions were directly and exclusively in service of the main characters. Even after our heroes learned the truth, the characters they interacted with continued to exist solely for them.

(This is of course how almost every show’s universe is constructed, but in The Good Place, the single-minded plot-specific focus of side characters is literally incorporated into the world’s design.)

Even Michael and Janet, ostensibly as real and active in guiding the plot as the four humans, have made Team Cockroach (now the Brainy Bunch, I guess) the sole focus of their own existence, meaning they don’t really ‘exist’ outside of the main story. Mindy St. Clair is the closest we’ve come to an independent agent so far, but she is so cartoonish by design, it’s hard to imagine her having an arc of her own.

The end of The Good Place season 1 essentially revealed the fake Good Place to be an afterlife version of The Truman Show, but the story didn’t end with the leads walking back into the real world. It left them stuck in their shallow pop-up picture book, which could only be fun and interesting for so long — hence why the show continued to follow the Truman Show model and sent its characters back into the real world in the season 2 finale.

And that shake-up was the breath of fresh air I didn’t realize this story needed until Simone arrived on screen, a fully formed person with quirks and likes and interests independent of the main plot line. Earth isn’t a simulation; for once, the world doesn’t fold in around our POV characters, but feels wide open. Simone is the living, breathing proof.

Simone is the first and only character on The Good Place whose raison d’etre is not to help or hinder Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani’s quest to get to the Good Place. Sure, her research project is all about them. But it’s her project. Her life. Her arc. She is, for all intents and purposes, real.

Now obviously Simone’s connection to Chidi is particularly special, and similarly refreshing in how normal it is. Yes, I’m a Chidi/Eleanor shipper for life (and afterlife), but Simone and Chidi are good together. She’s not only good for him, but he is good for her — and he makes her life more interesting.

The connection they have is sweet and uncomplicated, their chemistry is excellent, and the sheer likability of Kirby Howell-Baptiste makes it impossible not to root for them.

And Simone’s connection to Eleanor is almost as special, and definitely as important. When Eleanor lashes out at the group in “The Snowplow,” it’s Simone who can give her some perspective, and be objective enough about Eleanor’s character to identify why Eleanor lashes out.

Significantly, that moment is allowed to be about Simone and her experience, too, even though Eleanor is our main POV character. She speaks from a place that feels true to her, as opposed to being simply a convenient reflection of what Eleanor needs to hear.

Of course we have no idea how long Kirby Howell-Baptiste is sticking around for, as Simone is unfortunately only a recurring character. “The Snowplow” is the last episode she’s credited for on IMDb, though I can’t imagine she’d disappear from the story without warning.

But now that the gang has discovered Michael and Janet, their memories might begin coming back to them, making their tether to the real world a bit more tenuous. Unless they decide to resume the brain study, Simone’s departure might come sooner rather than later.

But I hope not. I for one have immensely enjoyed having Simone on the show, and wouldn’t be mad if Howell-Baptiste somehow became a regular (I’m not saying I want Simone to die, but I realize that’s kind of what I’m saying).

Would she go to the Good Place? Or is her desire to help these people born out of a selfish need to study their weird brains? I just want to know everything about her.

Here’s to Simone, the best part of The Good Place season 3.

‘The Good Place’ season 3 airs Thursday nights on NBC

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