Why Jason Mendoza Is My Favorite Character in “The Good Place”
I also should apologize ahead-of-time for the inordinate amount of fangirling.
Growing up, I never understood why humans were always so special compared to their non-human counterparts. Humans are fragile. Anything could kill us; anything has killed us. Even biblically, we’re made of dust and shall return to dust and yet in nearly every genre across every media, humans are the greatest heroes and worst enemies.
The extremes at which humans are portrayed is biased. Of course we’re gonna think we’re better than any alien we run into. We have to. We as survivors have to share these survival stories to figure out how to survive and why we should keep surviving even after death, apparently.
The conclusion of The Good Place’s first season, we learn that the Good Place is actually the Bad Place. Eleanor is the first to realize:
‘ It took me a while to figure it out, but just now as we were all fighting and yelling at each other and each one of us demanding we should go to the Bad Place, I thought to myself, “Man, this is torture.” And then it hit me.
They’re never gonna call a train to take us to the Bad Place. They can’t. Because we’re already here. This is the Bad Place.S1, E13
And after Eleanor verbalizes this revelation, carefully explaining how each of them is torturing each other, Jason has one of his own, “Oh, dip! Eleanor, I told you that first night that we were in a prank show.” (S1, E13)
Jason Mendoza is supposed to be the village idiot, and in many ways, he is. He is easily distracted by shiny things. He has the interior decoration skills of a twelve-year-old boy meets thirteen-year-old boy. He solves the majority of his problems with a Molotov cocktail and “boom, right away [he has] a different problem.” (S2, E10)
Jason Mendoza is who we’d all be without restraint yet it’s his lack of restraint that deepens his emotional intelligence. Authentic, forthright, and simple, he’s all heart and little mind. It was his character that showed me why humans are pretty awesome compared to other non-alien species. It’s not even that Jason is an epic hero or villain. He just kinda is.
Chidi Anagonye, Tahani Al-Jamil, and yes, Eleanor Shellstrop all have problems, sure. Chidi is the most obvious, his desire to create peace in every situation leads to his indecisiveness:“Should I pick a girl as a gesture towards women’s equality, or or is that pandering? Or do I think it’s pandering because of my limited male point of view? I’m vexed, Uzo, vexed.” (S1, E10)
Chidi, honey, breathe.
Tahani, in the season finale, realizes that it’s her corrupt motivations:“I didn’t care about helping the people I raised the money for. I just wanted to prove my parents wrong, stick it to my sister, get fame and attention.” (S1, E13) We learn later on that she was kinda justified, I mean, damn, her parents shamed her for only raising two million pounds for a charity event.
Girl, if that’s chump change, hand it over.
Then Eleanor, even in all her selfish pride, has to be proud because no one else supported her. She has to look out for number one because her parents sure weren’t:
“And since you both forgot [my birthday], again, which means you definitely didn’t get me a present, again, I got myself something. I just need you to sign [the emancipation papers]. It means I’ll be on my own. All my life, I’ve been taking care of myself and you guys. I work two after-school jobs because you blew half my college fund bailing your boyfriend out of jail. And you blew the other half trying to frame her boyfriend.
I’ve been on my own for a while now anyway, and after you sign these papers, it’ll be official. I won’t owe you anything; you won’t owe me anything.S1, E12
But then there’s Jason and his problem is inauthenticity.
If Jason had had his way, he would’ve revealed his true identity sooner (“I’m sick of pretending to be Jianyu, the tofu man” S1, E4). As soon as Eleanor drunkenly reveals to him that she doesn’t belong in the Good Place he seeks out her help. (I mean, first, he sends her vaguely threatening notes…) “I’m not supposed to be here, either. I don’t know how I got here, I have no idea what’s going on, and I am freakin’ out, homey! You got to help me. I’m scared!” (S1, E3)
Jason Mendoza is not Jianyu the silent monk. He’s not Taiwanese, he’s Filipino—how dare heaven be so racist. He’s an amateur EDM DJ, hip-hop dancer- he just wants to be himself. He’s proud of who he is and having to hide, again, who he is, is debilitating. In the Good Place, as it was on Earth, authenticity is dangerous and fruitless.
Jason, just pretend to be Acidcat for a week! No one will know the difference. Does it really matter if their cheers “hit [your] ears like boxing gloves of sadness”? (S1, E4) It’s still cheers! It’s almost your dream. Almost has been good enough before; I’ll just be grateful.
Eleanor insists Jason must continue the charade if he doesn’t want to go to the Bad Place. “Dude, be quiet. You are not Jason. You are a monk named Jianyu.” (S1, E4) because that’s what it’ll take to look out for number one. But he insists in return, “I miss being myself. Myself was the best.” (S1, E4) This isn’t to say that Myself is constantly in its brightest, best form. Myself can be jealous, resentful and selfish, arrogant and petty; sarcastic and condescending. Humans are at their worst fearful, indolent creatures, using Molotov cocktails to solve all their problems.
The problem for Jason isn’t that he wants authenticity, it’s that a lot of what makes him authentic sucks. I mean, he attended Lynyrd Skynyrd High School. He wasn’t raised to be a good person, let alone a person who would survive past age thirty. He was one of the forgotten ones. For all his ignorance, if he, just like Chidi, Tahani, and Eleanor, were just given the right spaces for mentorship and security, he would have been a good person.
Overall, Jason is acutely aware that pretending to be someone else sucks but his inability to articulate it reasonably makes others doubt that acute awareness. His lack of vocabulary and, frankly, long-term memory distract from his most authentic self: the inner (albeit very immature) child. We all love shiny things but we just don’t show it either because we practice restraint or we mistake that restraint for shame.
No matter what he does, his bursts of profundity will always catch everyone off-guard because he’s still a thirteen-year-old boy in the body of a thirty-year-old man. Yet we all love a precocious child—we over-admire and over-sell their talents. These are the child geniuses, leads of several movies and TV shows; books and songs, but the moment their talent matches their age, they’re just regular adults.
As far as I’m aware, Jason never had the privilege of prodigy and but he certainly had the hopes of one, seeking support in his found family, his dance crew. But whatever his lack and despite his ditzy, ignorant, childish behavior, Jason is consistently forthright. If you want to know how it really is, just ask him. Really, it’s not Jason’s profundity that should surprise you but rather his timing.
When Judge Gen (short for Hydrogen) asks Michael and the four humans why she should listen to their pleas of an alternative points-system, Jason steps up much to everyone’s chagrin:“I want to tell you about a guy from my dance crew in Jacksonville called Big Noodle,” says Jason.
Immediately, Eleanor is resigned: “Well, we gave it our best shot, guys. It was nice knowing you.” Thankfully, Jason is undeterred:
“I used to yell at Big Noodle ’cause he always showed up late to rehearsal. Then one day, the swamp under my house flooded. I needed a place to crash, so I slept at Big Noodle’s house. Turns out that he had to juggle three jobs to take care of four grandparents who all lived in the same bed just like in Willy Wonka. I never yelled at Big Noodle for being late after that ’cause I knew how hard it was for him to be there. And he definitely didn’t have time to research what tomatoes to buy. Even if he wanted to, possession of a non-fried vegetable is a felony in Jacksonville.
The point is, you can’t judge humans ’cause you don’t know what we go through.S3, E11
Jason, like most children, is shameless. He’s just living his life. Bahala na and for most of the afterlife, his impulses in one way or the other were funny and his friends could reel him in. It wasn’t until they founded their own neighborhood—all of humanity’s fate suddenly in their hands—that Jason had to take on more self-accountability.
Michael says to Jason, “You think every problem can be solved with a Molotov cocktail or slashing somebody’s tires or plunging Derek. So being a monk was torture for you. The only way for you to repair your relationship with Janet is to give her some space. Show her that you can control your impulses.” And when Jason wishes someone had taught him this on earth, Michael continues, “People tried. Mostly judges.” (S4, E1)
So he steps back, gives Janet space, and when he does approach her it’s not with any elaborate schemes. “Look, I know this is a weird time, but if you ever want to talk, just know that I’m here for you, girl.” (S4, E4) But when Janet doesn’t say, “Not-a-girl” in reply, he doesn’t call her out right then. He goes with it, collecting further evidence (I might be giving him too much credit, but that doesn’t lessen his impeccable timing.) He waits for the perfect opportunity for revelation, which is just before Michael is about to turn himself into goo.
“Michael said there’s nothing he could say that would make you realize he’s really him, but Janet does have a thing she can say that does make me realize she is really not her. I called Janet ‘girl,’ but she didn’t say, ‘Not a girl.’ The real Janet always says,
Not a girl.all the seasons
He’s learned to act intentionally now and with every passing Jeremy Bearimy, Jason steps closer to the monk he initially had to pretend to be.
He knew immediately when he was ready to go through that door: “Okay, homies, you’re sad. I can tell cause you have the same looks on your faces that my teachers did whenever I raised my hand in class. But let’s be happy. I’m gonna DJ! We’ll play EDM all night.” (S4, E13)
And Chidi (who canonically has asked Jason three times for advice) asks Jason for one last piece, “Can I ask you something, buddy? How did you know?” (S4, E13) Chidi, our designated overthinker, can appreciate and trust Jason’s simplicity because despite having the lowest IQ of the four, he also has the simplest needs.
“It wasn’t like I heard a bell ring or anything. I just suddenly had this calm feeling, like the air inside my lungs was the same as the air outside my body. It was peaceful. You know the feeling when you think a jalapeño popper is gonna be too hot, but you bite into it anyway and it’s actually the perfect temperature? That feeling rules.” (S4, E13)
In fact, when we find out he stayed behind (after we watch Chidi walk through the door), Jason has a simple reason for why he stayed:
“Oh, dip! You’re back. Remember how I made you something and I thought I lost it because it wasn’t in my pocket? Turns out it was in my other pocket! By the time I found it, you were gone. I was just gonna leave it for you, but I was worried it would get eaten by that magic squirrel. So, I decided to wait for you to come back. Every so often, a different Janet came, but I knew it wasn’t you.
…I wanted to see you again. It was actually pretty easy to wait. I sort of just sat quietly and let my mind drift away. Thought about you and the infinity of the universe.”-Jason Mendoza
“Kind of like a monk.”
“What do you mean?” (S4, E13)
He could have gone back in town, found Janet and give her the necklace but his final wish was just to wait for his not-a-girl to come back. He knew she would. Less impulsive and no Molotov cocktails, his childishness has evolved into childlikeness. He knows what makes him happy and that’s it. He can wait.
I know Jason is now dissolved into the universe but his story is proof as to why humans (space orcs on tumblr) are unique. We are fragile; anything could kill us; anything has killed us, but we are still made of the same dust as the stars. Maybe we didn’t evolve to have bulletproof skin (yet, who knows) but we’ll always have opportunities to progress. Just give us a chance.