Television’s most unpredictable, philosophical comedy is over. After four seasons, the NBC series, The Good Place, created by TV comedy titan Michael Schur, had its series finale last night, and it was incredibly satisfying.
From day one we have watched these characters try to figure out their place in the universe. Asking themselves whether they were good people, how they could be better, and how they could help other people be better as well. All this while constantly running from demons and trying to save humanity. In that way, the show could often feel like multiple shows in one, all while still, amazingly, keeping the tone consistent. Some episodes had shocking, premise changing twists (that season 1 finale reveal will go down in history). Others centered around a single philosophical question that the group had to answer. This last episode, “Whenever You’re Ready,” was the latter. It asked, how do you know when you’re done for good, and how do you choose to leave those you love behind?
At this point in the season, all of the major problems with the afterlife have been solved. Team Cockroach showed that humans can improve, they convinced the Judge (Maya Rudolph) not to reboot all of humanity, they created a new system for humans to go through when they die (doing away with torture was a big step), and even fixed the actual Good Place by making a magical door through which a soul can walk through and achieve final rest. Eternity, even an eternity of good things, the show realized, could be exhausting, and time doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have a finite amount of it. So the final question becomes, how do you decide when you’re done and ready to move on?
We get our answer with the first of the group ready to go through the door, Jason (Manny Jacinto), who says that he just feels a happy, satisfying peace, and that’s how he knows he’s done. He also has the comfort of finding out that he’s not really leaving Janet (D’Arcy Carden) alone, because she experiences time differently, so even once he’s gone, she still lives in all of the moments they had together.
Luckily, the episode isn’t just a series of the different characters going through the door, as we discover with Tahani (Jameela Jamil). She realizes that she’s done with the Good Place, but isn’t interested in being done overall. Proving herself, once again, to be an incredible over-achiever, Tahani decides that she wants Michael’s (Ted Danson) old job. She wants to design neighborhoods, and it’s kind of a comforting thought that humans can still find ways to be useful even once they’re in the afterlife.
When we get to Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Chidi (William Jackson Harper), however, we find the problem of, what do you do when you’re ready to move on but your partner is not? And what’s the point of heaven if the people you love are all gone? Eleanor comes up against both of these questions when Chidi tells her that he’s ready to leave. At first she creates elaborate adventures to rekindle his excitement in afterlife living. When that doesn’t work, she begs him to stay, but ultimately realizes that she shouldn’t be selfish, and lets him go.
But, what do you do if you’re a demon and you’re done living? Michael comes up against this problem, and he’s not sure what to do about it. He tries to walk through the door, which of course doesn’t work for him. It’s Eleanor, the person who probably knows Michael best, who comes up with the answer. She convinces the Judge to make Michael into a human, which is Michael’s ultimate dream. It’s the unpredictability of human life that Michael envies most, and he finally gets to experience that.
With Jason, Chidi, and Michael all gone, and Tahani off at her new job, Eleanor faces the problem that she’s still not done yet. It’s not even that she’s not done living, she’s not done helping. She finally convinces Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe), our singular Medium Place resident, to go through the test, and achieves a sense of peace of helping one final person. When she tells Janet that she’s ready to go through the door, we find out that the show isn’t done trying to answer life’s greatest questions. Where do we go when we die?
Previously to Eleanor going through the door, I thought that when you went through, you finally ceased to exist. Chidi put it a different way, as your essence returning to the universe. But when Eleanor goes through, we see her dissolve into these glowing lights. The last scene of the series shows a random man throwing out some mail, and then being brushed by some lights, and choosing to fish the mail out of the trash and deliver it to the proper recipient, which happens to be Michael. It’s implied that those are Eleanor’s lights, and she influenced him to do something good. So Eleanor’s not done helping people. Her essence, and the essence of the others who went through the door, still lingers, and floats around putting a little bit of good back into the universe.
Each of the character’s endings, whether they chose to go through the door or create a new kind of life for themselves, answers another great philosophical question, continuing to teach us something new. It’s not as adventurous and exciting as some of the previous episodes, but it does have some surprises (Jason revealing that he hasn’t actually gone through the door yet because he’s just been waiting around for Janet to come back), and its comedic moments (a blink or you’ll miss it shot of Brent still going through the test thousands of years later). I do think that the show falls short of answering the question of, what do you do with a person who’s far worse than Brent (Benjamin Koldyke)? Like, Hitler for example? But I suppose they go through the test too, and it’s one that’s modified to fit their, extreme, challenges.
The show deserves major credit for following through on life’s major questions all the way through to the end. It could have just ended with the group achieving saving humanity, or getting into the Good Place, or going through the door, and not showing what happens to them afterwards. But it never shies away. It attacks each question, and provides answers that are lovely and satisfying. The show is a wild rollercoaster, and a roaringly good time, but in the end, I think that’s the show’s greatest legacy. It’s sad to have to say goodbye to The Good Place, but if the show has taught us anything with this final episode, we have to let those we love go when it’s their time.