“The Good Place” Reaches its Own TV Afterlife

The finale of “The Good Place” reaches an emotionally fulfilling resolution for its characters, plot and show as a whole, as it serves as a larger metaphor for TV and life through Creator Michael Schur’s own meta style

February 26, 2020

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Title card of NBC’s sitcom “The Good Place” (Photo Courtesy of NBC)

NBC’s “The Good Place” kicked off like any other American sitcom with light comedy and lovable characters. But, from the start, the show’s creator, Michael Schur, included twists and turns from the classic sitcom structure. The show, first released in 2016, follows four deceased characters who end up in the Heaven-esque Good Place who soon realize it is actually all just a ploy set up by demon Architect Michael to torture the four humans. Schur weaves in philosophical lessons through his character Chidi Anagonye, a former professor of moral philosophy. 

 

“The Good Place” also offers larger life lessons to its audience. Schur’s characters contemplate what it means to be a truly good person, what to do with themselves in paradise and what they owe to each other (which is, coincidentally, the name of a recurring book on morality by T. M. Scanlon woven throughout the four seasons). And these lessons don’t ring hollow or feel forced like those of other sitcoms. The characters ‒ from the morally questionable protagonist, Eleanor Shellstrop, and her afterlife boyfriend Chidi to the clueless but lovable Jason Mendoza and the graceful, otherworldly Tahani Al-Jamil ‒ navigate both life and the afterlife, offering insight to the lives of the audience as they trip, fall and triumph in their own. 

 

The show’s finale, aptly titled “Whenever You’re Ready,” sees the four characters in the new, reinvented Good Place and must grapple with one last problem: whether to go through the Final Door. The Final Door, in a sense, is a final death for the already-dead characters, offering an eternal escape from life and the afterlife. One by one well-known historical figures walk through the door (even William Shakespeare who is finally unable to produce more afterlife-changing literature!). 

 

Jason Mendoza is the first of the four main characters to leave. The revelation comes quickly, easily, to the Florida native. He scores his perfect Madden game, feels a great peace (one in which he describes the air inside his lungs feeling the same as the air outside his body) and bids his afterlife significant other, the all-knowing super-robot-human Janet, goodbye. 

 

Tahani Al-Jamil is the next to leave after she masters every task on her seemingly endless to-do list. As a former status-obsessed socialite eternally vying for the love of her parents, Tahani reaches one final revelation in the Good Place: she wants to do real good. So she turns away from the Final Door and, instead, decides to become an Architect ‒ a being that creates neighborhoods in the Good Place. 

 

Kristen Bell, who plays “The Good Place” protagonist, Eleanor Shellstrop, discusses the show at San Diego’s Comic Con in July, 2019 (Photo Courtesy of aitchisons)

Eleanor senses that her boyfriend, Chidi, is itching to leave before he tells her, and she spends her last moments with him conjuring up images of the world, traveling to Athens and Paris in an attempt to convince him to stay with her. But what she realizes ‒ and what Schur teaches the audience ‒ is that her desire to keep Chidi to herself is a never-ending, selfish longing without any real moral justification. Eleanor quotes the final line from Scanlon’s “What We Owe to Each Other” on the rules that moral philosophers search for that other people can’t reasonably reject: “The search for how to find those rules will go on forever.” 

 

So the search ‒ and life, be it on earth or in the afterlife ‒ is truly endless. Chidi walks through the Final Door, and Eleanor is the only one of the four left in the Good Place. She struggles to find what makes her “complete” or feel the same sense of peace and wholeness the others had described to her. And the search is endless. Only until Eleanor recognizes the perpetuity of everything does she finally feel at peace. 

 

“The Good Place” season finale leaves a warm tearfulness in the viewer’s chest. And, like the message of the finale, the show does not drag on long after it reaches its peak unlike many other contemporaries. Schur recognizes that the show has run its path and allows it to finish, carrying “The Good Place” through its own Final Door as all of the characters reach personal and interpersonal resolutions. 

 

So where does NBC’s “The Good Place” belong in the TV show afterlife?

 

Definitely not in the Bad Place.

 

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