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‘The Good Place’ Sticks Its Landing

The series finale didn’t try to confound audiences with a twist or a new take on morality, but instead focused on the relationships that always made the show special

NBC/Ringer illustration

Throughout its four seasons, The Good Place wove between two extremes, twisting and looping itself into a veritable Jeremy Bearimy. On the one hand, Michael Schur’s NBC sitcom explored towering, abstract concepts: morality; justice; the entire structure of the afterlife. On the other, it asked the audience to invest in just six souls, only four of them human. At times, this mismatch between the intimate and the epic could verge on the absurd. Fortunately, absurdity is where comedy thrives.

While The Good Place proved it could capably balance grand stakes with individual quirks, Thursday’s series finale never had to. The supersized “Whenever You’re Ready”—90 minutes with commercials, not including the Seth Meyers–hosted aftershow—began with the series’ big questions already answered. Over the past several episodes, the central sextet proved the design of the afterlife was fundamentally flawed; crafted a better one from scratch in less than an hour, letting souls improve themselves through custom-made trials until they earned their ascent to what’s essentially heaven; and hot air ballooned past a flying puppy to the Good Place themselves, which then proved in need of another hasty reorganization. All matters of plot, however sweeping or complicated, had been resolved. All that was left was to spend time with the fictional people (and not-people) we’d come to care about.

After Parks and Recreation, The Good Place was only Schur’s second effort as creator and showrunner, making any sweeping statements about a signature style of finale perhaps premature. Still, it’s hard to watch “Whenever You’re Ready” and not think of “One Last Ride,” the Parks conclusion that hopscotched decades into the future to show every ensemble member’s full life and career. “Whenever You’re Ready” replicates this epilogue on a more cosmic scale. Instead of decades, it’s countless millennia; instead of a satisfying, if modest, life, it’s an existence filled with the greatest thrills and pleasures one could imagine. Still, the concept remains the same: follow the yellow brick road to each specific happy ending.

In its penultimate episode, “Patty,” The Good Place solved one last narrative conundrum by proving there could be an ending at all. The trouble with eternal happiness, it turns out, is that it dulls into mindless monotony if it goes on long enough—so our heroes gave everyone the option of a permanent out, giving the Good Place meaning by making infinite contentment a little more finite. (Strangely, no one commented that the ancient philosopher who pointed out the problem with paradise looked an awful lot like Lisa Kudrow, despite a lengthy Friends analogy mere episodes before.) Naturally, “Whenever You’re Ready” then follows every core character to the voluntary, chosen, peaceful end of their existence.

They go in order of importance, because even a show as congenitally nice as The Good Place has to pick favorites. Jason Mendoza plays a perfect game of Madden alongside his dad in an actual football stadium, as his beloved Jacksonville Jaguars; he decides it’s time to go, then casually meditates his way to enlightenment like the monk he once pretended to be while waiting to say goodbye to his not-a-girlfriend Janet. Tahani Al-Jamil learns woodworking from Parks alum Nick Offerman, enjoys a healthy relationship with her once-withholding, bitterly competitive family, and decides to put her planning skills to eternal good use as an architect. Chidi Anagonye takes one last stroll through Athens and Paris before his girlfriend, reformed “trash bag from Arizona” Eleanor Shellstrop, decides to let him go, showing she’s truly left her selfishness behind.

Eleanor and Michael, the demon who once impersonated a Good Place architect before he became one for real, earn the most protracted and heartfelt goodbyes of all. Michael at last gets to experience human existence, the strange, contradictory thing that’s long fascinated him, and delivers The Good Place’s last-ever line of dialogue: “Keep it sleazy.” (An immortal being made flesh delighting in life’s many idiosyncrasies is a not-unconvincing origin story for Ted Danson.) Eleanor only calls it quits after she’s secured a path forward for Mindy St. Claire, the sole Medium Place denizen who Eleanor calls “a version of me if I never met my friends.” Eleanor’s final act on Earth was to drop some margarita mix and get run over by a truck with an erection pill advertisement on its side. Her final act in the universe is to help someone else.

The Good Place enjoyed acclaim from the start, but earned its reputation with a jaw-dropping twist at the end of its first season: the Good Place Michael once guided us through, and Eleanor thought she’d mistakenly ended up in, was in fact a version of the Bad Place where humans’ tormentors weren’t lava monsters or butthole spiders, but each other. This revelation, inevitably if slowly, widened the show’s focus, from the fate of Eleanor and her friends to the fate of all of humanity under a fundamentally unfair system filled with needless suffering. The Good Place’s finale had no final twist to balance out the series’ arc, but it did return the show to where it started, before the larger considerations began to outweigh the small. Schur may have gotten his audience to consider questions like the title of T.M. Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other, but he did so only by building distinct, flawed characters to project ourselves onto. “Whenever You’re Ready” thanks them for their service.

Endings are, for better or for worse, when shows reveal their true priorities. In the past year, we’ve gotten a whole lot of them—some better received than others, all indicative of what their series had become. Game of Thrones was a slapdash race to the finish line; Orange Is the New Black was an unwieldy yet earnest bait-and-switch; Catastrophe was all the more romantic for how fucked up its central romance was. The Good Place tied up the macro so it could spend its final minutes in the micro, where it’s always belonged. The show was hardly disingenuous in its exploration of ethics, moral philosophy, and the guiding principles of a just society. It just understood that these broader concepts are an aggregate of a far more granular one: That people can be narcissistic, indecisive, arrogant, or impulsive, but they can also learn and grow when given the chance. I’ll raise one last margarita to that.