For those who don’t know anything about this show (first off, why are you reading this?), it’s a sit-com following the experiences of four humans in the afterlife. To quote IMDB’s show page, “Four people and their otherworldly frienemy struggle in the afterlife to define what it means to be good.” The show wasn’t just comedy for the sake of comedy, it also served as a vehicle for examining the nature of humanity, of good and evil, and of moral philosophy. It was deeply engaging and left you rooting for self-improvement and moral maturity.
According to the Wikipedia entry on the show, The Good Place had 53 episodes over its four-season run, which started September 19, 2016, and ended January 30, 2020.
Over the course of the first two seasons, we see the core cast grow – not only as individuals but also as a unit. They genuinely care for one another and for the fate of humanity in general. This gives us the foundation needed for the successful selling of season three’s arc, where it is precisely that bond and the purity of that care which ultimately allows them to believably persuade The Judge to allow them to overhaul the entire afterlife system rather than destroy all of creation and start over again; thus, they successfully save humanity as we know it.
In season four we see the successful fruits of that renovation labor: The system has been fixed, and our core cast enters that world’s version of Paradice. There is one more small hitch for the cast to overcome in season four, but by introducing the fix for that problem, they also present the mechanism that allows for the gracious and elegant conclusion to the entire show.
Make no mistake, the final episode had me in tears from the moment Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) got that distant-but-calm look on his face – If you were paying attention at all throughout season four, you knew exactly what that look meant and what it ultimately meant for the rest of the cast.
Despite the emotional tears I had at the time, the more I reflected on this ending, the less I actually liked it. Here’s why:
Firstly, while I appreciated the use of their X Jeremy Bearimy later hand-wave to convey the passage of enormous chunks of decades, I felt like core cast members were abandoning the group. After so much emphasis had been placed on the unbreakable cohesion of the group over other such “X Jeremy Bearimy” of time (with the very fate of creation hanging in the balance at points), it was jarring to see people peace out with, what felt like, an uncharacteristic and misplaced casualness. They may have done all they needed/wanted to do, but they still had their friends – is the ultimate fulfillment of their friend’s not also worthy of needing/wanting to help accomplish? Characters who we’ve seen go on personal journies of growth and moral awareness suddenly turned into selfish creatures only concerned with self-fulfillment.
The exception to this, and serving as a proxy for the viewer throughout the show, was Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell). She was the only one who ultimately acknowledged her own selfishness in the process – though not the way I would have liked: she wanted Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) to not move on because she wasn’t ready to move on and felt like she couldn’t do that without him. I believe this moment of self-awareness was misplaced and should have been had by Chidi and the selfishness of his, “Well, I’m done so I’m leaving now… who cares if you are ready or not.”
Secondly, the ultimate “moving on” as… well… a death allegory? Really? In a show about what happens when you die, they suddenly have an existential moment of, “What do you think happens when you walk through the door?” – essentially, a death at the end of death where the only difference is this second death is one you specifically opt-in to “whenever you’re ready.” It felt… Lazy. It’s very obvious, particularly in retrospect, that this was the ending they had in mind for a long time, so it wasn’t due to anything like, “crap, we just got canceled… Let’s wrap this up as quickly as we can.” But that’s pretty much how it felt to me.
Anyway… there you go. I loved the show, and, as I watched it, I found the ending very emotional. I guess I just had greater expectations for such a wonderful show – This ending didn’t feel like it was good enough for The Good Place.