Quotable- Joss Whedon, The Good Place and Cosmic Machinery

Good Morning and Happy Monday!

"The Mechanical "Blue Marble"" (Image (c) V.L.Welch)

It is often said that Joss Whedon is the writer who made television studies a proper, academically worthwhile discipline; that he is respected and adored by media studies professors almost as much as by his fans. This is said to be because the dialogue and structure of his work is so clever and multi-layered that it allows the kind of analysis and literary study that is more often the preserve of other creative disciplines. In other words, you can take apart an episode of "Buffy the Vampire slayer" and study it much as you might a poem or a high-end novel; there are complex ideas underlying many episodes and there are historic, cultural and literary allusions burried amongst the engaging plotlines and witty repartee. I do not know enough about the field to comment on how Joss Whedon's work compares with those who went before him. I do not know whether the perceptions related above are true, but I do know enough about his work to admire its quality. It may not be a coincidence that Mr Whedon is a big fan of Shakespeare and a keen reader of "the bard", either, but that is a topic for another day.

The reason I mention all of this is that I have recently been thinking a lot about two television shows that have a similarly clever, multi-layered kind of writing to them and thought-provoking plotlines that stay with you long after the credits have rolled. The first is "Lucifer", which raises all sorts of supernatural, good/evil themes in its story arcs, alongside the weekly "whodunit?" crime stories around which each episode is centred.

The second show is "The Good Place", which is also a programme about supernatural good/evil/redemption themes, albeit one with major imput from a philosphy major/buff.

By far the most impressive writing in a generally excellent series, though, comes at the end of Season 3, Episode 12- "Pandemonium" and it is so good and profound that I think this tract of dialogue more than qualifies as quote of the week...

[Note: I am quoting this under the FAIR USE EXEMPTION CLAUSE TO COPYRIGHT LAW, which permits me to quote short sections (of anything , actually), in order to discuss, analyse or satirise them. I am legally fully entitled to do this and the circumstances here where I am discussing the content are EXACTLY the type of situation for which the copyright law exemptions were written. Consequently there are NO GROUNDS WHATSOEVER for anyone to presume to issue a take-down notice on this content.]

Essentially, the section of interest begins with human-turned super-natural being Eleanor Shelstrop has just lost the love of her life (at least for a time) and is trying to make sense of existence. This is her conversation with an all-knowing being named "Janet": the following is a slightly condensed extract-

Eleanor Shelstrop) "What is the point of love if it is just going to disappear?And how is it worse to not love anybody? There has to be meaning to existence , otherwise the universe is just made of pain and I don't like the thought of that"

Janet) I know how you feel. Back on Earth I had to watch [my own love, Jason] have no recognition of me...the more human I become, the less things make sense. But that's part of the fun, right?"

Eleanor Shelstrop)"What do you mean?"
Janet) "If there were an answer to I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn't be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big dumb food processor, But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it is euphoria. In all this randomness, in this pandemonium, you and [your lover] Chidi found each other and you had a life together. Isn't that remarkable?"

E.S) "Pandemonium is from "Paradise Lost"- Milton called the centre of hell "Pandemonium", meaning "place of all demons". Chidi tricked me into reading Paradise Lost...I guess all I can do is embrace the pandemonium. Find happiness in the unique insanity of being here, now...."

"The Mechanistic Universe" -composite picture by V.L.Welch of a Newtonian "Big Dumb Food-Processor" World-View.

The idea of the "big dumb food-processor" reminds me of two things- the first is Newtonian mechanics and the second is a glorious set of steampunk-type tv and print advertisements run a few years back by Bombay Saphire Gin under the slogan "imagination, distilled".
I am not convinced that not knowing the answer to something or the reason for something makes that thing inherently more meaningful, although it undoubtedly alters your perception of the experience. For example, you can find a shoal of fish beautiful whether or not you are aware of the mathematical patterns in their movement and the hydrodynamics of their swimming motions.

That said, the extract above is clever on many levels because it asks both very emotional ideas- it asks about love and meaning- but at its very core, it also asks some very scientific questions about what makes the universe tick. The line about "food processors" reminds me of Einstein's claim that "God" does not "play dice" and the response to that sentiment by Max Planck and others concerned with events and randomness at a quantum scale. It even ties in with ideas of whether there is such a thing as free will and to what extent the universe is mechanistic. I really wish I understood quantum theory better than I do because there are (literally and figuratively) entire worlds of meaning , wheels within wheels within it and bound up by its implications. All of which is very profound for first thing on a Monday morning. It is lovely that The Good Place was able to evoke all of that. In my view, some of those ideas above were almost certainly not held in mind by the programme's writers when drafting the episode, but that is another great facet of excellent writing- it can function as a springboard to other worlds and other sets of knowledge, beyond that it touches explicitly. Much like quantum entanglement, perhaps...

You can find "The Good Place" on Netflix. I recommend it.
Next scheduled post on this blog will be on Friday's nature pictures.
Best Wishes,


  1. I love The Good Place! Never thought about it as deeply as you do though, it's more of a light brain snack for me.

  2. Beautiful pictures on this post, Victoria. The Good Place is awesome- so glad to hear youre a fan.

  3. Great post. Interesting read.

  4. Nice post. I was hoping you'd have a Joss Whedon quote though- headline is misleading without it.


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