Yes, I know I’m late to the party but I recently watched the final episode of The Good Place. I tend to postpone watching TV shows’ finales as much as I can because I get too emotionally invested in the characters and letting them go hurts. Earlier this month though, I finally pulled myself together, and prepared myself to cry. Big time.
I’ve always been one of those people terrified of death, and what comes next after life. As a child, I used to spend many nights crying, scared to lose the people I love and scared to die myself. I wouldn’t like being part of conversations that consisted of mulling over this terrible inevitable destiny. I preferred living in a constant denial, as most of us do. Deep down I still do, because I’m not saying I don’t get sad when I think about death, but I live with it so much better after watching this episode.
As many of you may know, The Good Place is a show about many things including being human. It’s also about morality, what’s good or bad. It’s about death. About life itself. So… is it a drama? I’m happy to inform that it’s not a drama, but a 20-minute-per-episode comedy that tackles all of these tough subjects without them feeling forced.
Led by the hilarious and exceptional writing of Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation), we immerse ourselves in the world of its 6 leading characters: Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), Jason (Manny Jacinto), Janet (D’arcy Garden) and Michael (Ted Danson).
The show starts when Eleanor dies (yup, you read that right) and wakes up in ‘The Good Place’. Michael, the main architect in ‘The Good Place’ shows her around, including her personalized house with everything she presumably loves and fixing her up with her ‘soulmate’, a philosophy teacher named Chidi. She eventually meets glamorous and vain Tahani, and goofy Jason.
Subsequently, Eleanor notices they’ve confused her for another Eleanor, a hero that had earned her spot for saving lives as a lawyer that defended people on death row. Wanting to stay in this heavenly place, Eleanor decides to learn how to be a better person through philosophy classes taught by Chidi (whom she’ll eventually fall in love with, and get her long-awaited happy ending).
Flash forward to the season finale, we learn that this presumably ‘Good Place’ is actually an elaborate plan to torture the main gang, and that the rest of the citizens are demon actors. Why did he want to torture them, you may ask: they were meant to go to the ‘Bad Place’, and they were being used as guinea pigs for this new type of demonic torture. In the first season finale, as they are pushed once again to an uncomfortable limit where they are required to pick one out of them four to sacrifice, Eleanor has a breakthrough where she realizes that the situation they are in feels like torture. Michael, the mastermind of this plan, disappointed that they’ve figured it out, wipes out their memories. But to his displeasure, after a couple of weeks they figure his plan out again. And again. And again. And AGAIN.
As they all realize the Afterlife is badly designed, Michael, after developing a sort of friendship and becoming enamored by the resilience of the humans, decides to join them and help them change the system. The Afterlife is a system that rewards and punishes humans for their actions during their time on Earth. Most humans go to either The Good Place or The Bad Place, or in some rare cases, The Medium Place. It takes two seasons but they manage to solve it: when a person dies, they’ll be placed in personalized test that determines where they belong.
As a reward, these 6 characters are sent to the actual ‘Good Place’, but when they get there, they find themselves in a new type of hell: everyone gets everything and anything they want, but because of that, you eventually get bored and turn into a monotonous zombie.
In the episode before the series finale, they fix this by re-inventing the idea of ‘The Good Place’: When you get to the good place, you can do whatever you want, have whatever you want and be there anytime you want to, but when you feel you’re done and ready to go, you walk through a threshold in the forest and dissolve into the universe. Forever.
The final episode titled “Whenever you’re ready” – a 55-minute-long one – takes its time to say goodbye to each character individually. We see each of them (through time jumps) as they meet with their loved ones that had been left on Earth, learn how to do everything they’ve wanted to learn, visit every place they’ve wanted to visit and live everything they’ve wanted to live.
The two first to go are Jason and Tahani, with personalized going away parties that reunite the remaining of the gang each time, although Tahani backs out and decides to stay as an architect in the Afterlife. Michael gets his wish of being a human being, not wanting to be stuck as an architect forever and gets to live a ‘normal’ life. But then Chidi’s time to go arrives and it’s time to get the second box of tissues because of course that Eleanor doesn’t want him to go, so she does her best to distract him for a while but eventually decides to let him go, asking him to leave before she wakes up.
Eleanor’s the one that takes the most to leave, wanting to fulfill the need to help someone get the ending they deserve. She ends up helping a woman that had been stuck in the ‘Middle Place’, encouraging and convincing her to do the test that determines where she belongs. Ready to say goodbye, Eleanor calls up Janet, a Siri type of robot that knows all the answers of the universe, and tells her to take her to the threshold.
As they toast goodbye, Janet asks Eleanor “What do you think happens when people walk through the door? It’s the only thing in the universe I don’t know.”
Eleanor answers “I don’t know either. The wave returns to the ocean. What the ocean does with the water after that is anyone’s guess. But as a very wise not-robot once told me: ‘The true joy lies in the mystery.’”
And yes, I cried my eyes out for a while, as I hugged my dogs tightly to my chest. But then I understood. It got into my mind and I was finally able to let go. It’s okay not to know. That’s not what you should be thinking about, it’s not possible to know, stop wasting time suffering about it and live.
The Good Place repeatedly argues, from it’s beginning to its end, that this perpetual uncertainty is part of what makes life and the time we have on Earth so precious and magical. But it can also make it really forking terrifying, you know. Why are we here on such borrowed time? What is the point of it? And what, if anything, comes after?
The path the writers chose, instead of giving the audience a fantasy-like ending with an airtight theory of where we end up they gave us the most human ending it could have had: the uncertainty of the unknown. For a show that I had learn to recognize as one with the answers to all the questions in the universe, I hadn’t expected that at all. As many others, I’ll have a rather bittersweet memory of it all, the closing chapter being considerably less funny than the previous episodes, but I’m not mad about it. Prioritizing such subjects and storylines feels like it was the right call, rather than giving it a hilarious but meaningless closure.
We’re born. We live. We die. These are absolutes, for all of us. We have absolutely no control over the first part, and a wildly varied degree of control over the second. Mostly, the third part is totally up in the air, too, but the most inevitable of them all three.
Such is the ending that gifted us with the gentle acceptance of death. Really, The Good Place’s entire final season has been slowly easing the characters and the audience into the idea that sometimes, death is what gives us meaning and that we have limited time helps us make sense of all of the things we want to do and all of the things we probably never will.
In addition, I was pleased by the show’s ultimate approach to the afterlife, namely its conviction that the afterlife cannot be permanent without inevitably becoming a kind of hell. The penultimate episode titled “Patty” gets into this in more detail, with Hypatia “Patty” of Alexandria (Lisa Kudrow) explaining that an endless afterlife ultimately just leads to boredom, intellectual decline, and a loss of meaning.
The best thing about The Good Place was its realization that nothing lasts forever and that nothing should. And that’s okay.