Spoilers for Season 1 of The Good Place. If you have not seen The Good Place yet, I recommend it, and despite my usual lack of care around spoilers, I do not recommend you read this. There is a surprise, and the fact that it’s a surprise is the topic of this post.
One of the great tricks of The Good Place is how much the demons manage to torture the protagonists while looking well meaning. My friend points out that in episode 2, Michael, an ostensible architect of heaven, literally kicks a dog. The fact that it’s kicked into the sun is kind of besides the point. Kicking the dog is the way to establish someone as a villain. Yet I, and most other people, went on thinking of him as a good guy for another 10 episodes. The dog-kicking incident didn’t even make my list of things I was confused by (top of the list: if frozen yogurt is canonically worse than ice cream, why is Heaven full of frozen yogurt?).
How did we miss this?
Some of it is that the show is very well written and acted. But I think some of it is that media has acclimated us to informed attributes. We don’t actually expect a TV character’s actions and description to line up. This seems like bad habit that could have consequences when applied to the real world.