[Warning: This article features spoilers for the series finale of “The Good Place”]
“The way to restore meaning to the people in the Good Place … is to let them leave.” Our time together acquires meaning through the knowledge that there is an end. And so, four seasons and 52 episodes later, it is time to let Michael Schur’s tv show “The Good Place” and its lovely lot of zany gags leave.
The premise of “The Good Place” is centered on humans’ potential for goodness when they give help to and accept help from others. For its first two seasons, the series dared to challenge the workplace sitcom format of other Schur productions (“Brooklyn 99” and “Parks and Recreation”) with its open-armed embrace of moral philosophy. The season one finale remains one of the most shocking TV twists of the 2010s. Season three and the first half of season four felt like the show’s one earring, red convertible mid-life crisis, with moments of weakness as it endeavored to set up all the obstacles necessary to arrive at its final hour of serenity. But, even through meandering arcs, the show excelled because of its ineffable humor, stellar comedic acting and genuine love for its characters. In accordance with the faith it puts in its characters, the show seems to operate on the belief that network television can inspire people to be better.
Through the course of four seasons and several Jeremy Bearimy’s, Team Cockroach — composed of shrimp-loving dirtbag Eleanor (Kristen Bell), neurotic moral philosopher Chidi (William Jackson Harper), name-dropper Tahini (Jameela Jamil), Blake Bortles fan Jason (Manny Jacinto), renegade demon architect Michael (Ted Danson) and corporeal Alexa but decidedly Not-a-Girl Janet (D’Arcy Carden) — saves all of humanity. They design a new afterlife system that treats life on Earth as a trial run and advocate for kindness in individuals that can emerge outside of a world of institutional setbacks.
In the penultimate episode of the series, Team Cockroach finally makes their hot-air-ballooned way to the Good Place. Yet it is filled with brain-mushed do-gooders whose unlimited access to their greatest desires devolved their post-existence terrain into a ‘Cosmic Coachella’ purgatory. So, they save the universe once again and put in an exit door. Abiding by the new Good Place rules, eternity only needs last until you are ready to walk through an archway in a redwood forest and bring your post-existence to a close.
The series finale, titled “Whenever You’re Ready,” feels earned and refrains from being overly sentimental. There was a period during season four when I was wary that Schur was placing greater stress on the love story between Eleanor and Chidi than appropriate for the ensemble-styled narrative. Throughout its run, “The Good Place” periodically relied on the soulmate connection between Eleanor and Chidi to bring its core group of characters together in the face of all odds. In episode nine of season four, Chidi says “there is no ‘answer’ [to the meaning of life], but Eleanor is the answer.” I was worried the finale would feature the two walking through the Door To End All Doors together–in full Death Cab for Cutie “I Will Follow You into the Dark” style. Instead, the finale finds each character walking through the archway alone after reaching their own peace, on their own time. First Jason, then Tahini (who in true Tahini fashion paves her own path and becomes an architect), then Chidi and finally Eleanor. By not allowing Eleanor and Chidi’s happily ever after to interfere with their individual resolutions, Schur places romance within, not above, his greater story about morality and mortality.
It is this greater storytelling that propels the enduring relevance of “The Good Place” beyond pop culture. Schur’s series acts like a love letter to philosophy, and I was delighted when an episode from the show made its way onto my philosophy class syllabus this semester. Philosophy professor Julie Walsh notes, “For me, perhaps the most beautiful message of the show is the change that philosophy can make in someone’s life. The relationship between Chidi and Eleanor as teacher and student, and the progress that Eleanor makes as a result of that relationship, is so profound. As educators, we always hope that exposing students to philosophy can change the way that they think about the world; The Good Place displays the benefits of learning in a way that I find deeply moving.”
I have been to the Good Place — in the literal sense, since many scenes were filmed at The Huntington Gardens in my hometown — and the show has been a steadfast companion since my junior year of high school. It is bittersweet to say goodbye, but with all the joy in my heart and all the wisdom imparted by Team Cockroach and Team Schur, it has been a forking fun run.