The Good Place has a problem. Not the TV show, but the place. The heaven, per se, of the show’s universe isn’t actually making people very happy. They are for a little bit, but eventually, the Good Place creates pleasure bots, or people who’ve experienced nothing but joy until joy means nothing at all. Our protagonists meet one more time as heroes to solve the Good Place, and then we learn what we’ve always known: All good things must come to an end.
The spirit of The Good Place lies in becoming. Even in its finale, it never allows the characters to stay static. They each carried a true human essence and defining features making them who they were, revealed as they reached new heights in the final episode; they crescendoed, so to speak. They grew — from episode to episode, season to season, Bearimy to Bearimy. That’s what The Good Place gave us: a show about people trying to become a little bit better every day. And in that becoming, though, we learned that none of us can grow alone. We need one another in this life and maybe even the next.
The room holds the heroes who’ve saved humanity from eternal suffering, building a system that accounts for flaws and failures balanced by growth and redemption. Eleanor’s solution is not a new idea. It’s from season one when Michael went through a mid-life crisis (or whatever the equivalent is for a fire squid demon). Eleanor asks Michael to recollect what she taught him about being human during that crisis, to which Michael says, “Every human is a little bit sad all the time because you know you’re gonna die, but that knowledge is what gives life meaning.” I recount that scene because it’s one of the essential themes of the show. It’s baked into the length of the series itself — lasting only four seasons — despite vast popularity and acclaim. It knew, like its characters, that for something to have meaning, it must know when to end.
But what does the afterlife look like? The Good Place answers this final question without really answering it. In season one, we wrestle with the Bad Place that bets on emotional torture weighing more heavily on humanity than physical torture. Season two really centers around the relationship between Michael and the gang as he grows more, well, human, and the gang tries to find their way out of the bad place after living (or…not living) hundreds of afterlives. Season three gives us the soul squad. Seemingly doomed to eternal damnation, our heroes take to helping as many people as they can so maybe they can make it to the mythological Good Place. It ends, however, with the characters discovering the system is broken, the afterlife corrupt, the Bad Place filled, and the Good Place empty. The world has simply become too complicated. How can anyone be good enough for the Good Place in a world as complex as ours?
Thus, the show’s fourth season features a redesign. The new system is less rigid and punitive. It accounts for one of the most human tendencies: growth. In the new Bad Place and Good Place, demons and angels work in tandem, as the demons punish humans when they arrive, testing them repeatedly until they grow into versions of themselves capable of living in the Good Place. Once they become “good” enough, they arrive and can enjoy eternity in paradise. But even paradise isn’t forever.
The Good Place handles that impermanence with humility. There’s no grand ending; our four heroes don’t walk through the gate to eternity hand-in-hand, teary-eyed. They each find their own ending, making peace with eternity in ways that suit each character personally. For Jason, he needs the perfect game of Madden and one final love letter, in his unique way, to Janet. Jason reminds us that memory is sometimes all we need. He wants nothing more than for Janet to never forget him.
Tahani never leaves. She makes peace with her parents, learns skill after skill but on eternity’s doorstep realizes there’s one challenge left: becoming an architect herself and stepping into Michael’s shoes (and his bowtie).
Chidi’s goodbye is the hardest and perhaps the least predictable. He leaves before Eleanor. At first, she convinces him to stay but then, one last time, shows just how much she’s grown throughout the show. “Working out the terms of moral justification is an unending task,” she says, quoting the philosopher Thomas Scanlon. Eleanor comes to realize that she can’t justify keeping Chidi in the Good Place any longer, letting him become a numb fossil of himself in the name of her own comfort and joy. As they prepare for Chidi’s departure, he delivers the most stirring piece of wisdom the show offers on death:
“Picture a wave. In the ocean. You can see it, measure it, its height, the way the sunlight refracts when it passes through. And it’s there. And you can see it, you know what it is. It’s a wave. And then it crashes in the shore and it’s gone. But the water is still there. The wave was just a different way for the water to be, for a little while. You know it’s one conception of death for Buddhists: The wave returns to the ocean, where it came from and where it’s supposed to be.”
They go to sleep. Chidi leaves before Eleanor wakes.
Everything is fine, right?
We’re left with Eleanor, Janet, and Michael. We’re left with one more eternity, but we get one more mortality as well. Michael, in a twist, gets his wish to become a real boy. Eleanor lays out all the dangers for him, warning that you can’t ever truly know your fate.
“That’s the best part,” Michael says.
In her final moments on the show, Eleanor tells us how Michael is doing on Earth. We see him. He touches something hot too soon and drops it. He has a dog (named Jason). He does right, he does wrong; he grows, and he learns. As Eleanor says, “He’s learning some things all by himself, and, hopefully, learning to ask for some help when he needs it…he’s getting things wrong and trying to make them right again.” God, aren’t we all?
What The Good Place gets perfect isn’t the place itself. I remember seeing commercials for the series before it came out — before it became a phenomenon, before I binge-watched the first two-and-a-half seasons within the first few days of one Thanksgiving break, and before I saw doormats that read, “Welcome! Everything is fine!” I remember thinking, “What a boring concept.” Because who’d want to watch a show about living in heaven, the promised land where there can be no problems?
Of course, that’s not what it was about at all. Rather, The Good Place became the most moving show about what it means to be human that I’ve ever seen. We fall in love, and we fall out of love. We build relationships, sometimes they fall apart, and hopefully, we try to rebuild them. We get angry, we hurt each other, but at our best, we work to be better every day. Everything we say and do (and don’t do) feels consequential because it could be the final thing we do.
One of the most compelling dimensions of The Good Place was the relationships among the six main characters, who were the reason I kept coming back — not to find out what the Good Place looked like. There were ever-changing storylines, shifting stakes, and reshuffling decks for our heroes. Even the side characters, including Mindy St. Clair, Derek, Sean, and the Judge, all brought something extra to the show by giving our characters not only nemeses but also different paths.
In this show, our heroes were never really heroes. One was a loser. One was a narcissist. One was painfully indecisive. One was selfish. One was a literal demon. One was a robot (among many other things).
Our heroes were doing their best, and sometimes, they stopped doing their best and had to try again. But they tried anyway. Constantly, they approached their rock and rolled it up the mountain, even if they knew it was likely to roll back down, only for them to walk down to roll it back up. This life is only futile if we decide it is; in the face of an increasingly complex world and sometimes unbearable meaninglessness, we can choose to foster meaning in the relationships around us. So, next time the world seems too big or its problems too overwhelming, find your soul squad. Play a game of Madden and just have fun (and beat the Titans). Plan a party, and gossip a little. Drink a margarita. Get lost in a book — really lost, like can’t decide your favorite part or what it means or what you want to do next. But afterward, try to do just a little bit better. Try to build something meaningful with those people around you. Embrace what’s hard and what hurts together. Because one day, this will all end. And everything is fine.