This piece was originally published on January 24, 2017. We’re re-running it ahead of The Good Place’s season-two premiere tonight.
If you had your mind forkin’ blown by the season finale of The Good Place, you might be wondering if the show had been secretly showing its hand all along. The answer is yes — but very subtly.
Although there were no Easter-egg lava monsters capering in the background or semi-hidden background signs reading, “THIS IS ACTUALLY THE BAD PLACE,” the show’s writers sprinkled in some delicate clues about the true nature of Michael and the neighborhood he designed to torture Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason. After rewatching the season to spot every sneaky reference to their actual Bad Place plight, here’s what we found.
Eleanor almost guessed the truth right away.
As she tells Michael in the pilot: “My parents were divorced when I was a kid. They were both crummy people, so they’re probably in the Bad Place. Maybe they’re being used to torture each other. It would work!” It sure would!
Jason almost guessed it, too.
When Jason first confesses to Eleanor that he’s not a Buddhist priest named Jianyu, he says, “When I say I’m meditating, I’m just trying to figure out what the fork is happening. I think we might be in an alien zoo, or on a prank show.” After Eleanor figures it out in the finale, he reminds her, “I told you we were on a prank show!” and she high-fives him.
Tahani and Chidi ignored the warning signs.
When Tahani is sobbing on the couch in the third episode, here’s her explanation: “Eleanor, you don’t know what it’s like to be in paradise and feel like there’s something that’s just not quite right.”
Meanwhile, Chidi’s guilt almost always comes with a side of crippling stomachaches, but he never quite figures out that might actually be a clue. As he complains to Eleanor in the pilot, “I’m in a perfect utopia and I’m getting a stomachache!”
The hidden clues in their earthbound lives.
When Chidi is talking to his Aussie professor friend (with the terrible boots) in episode seven, the chalkboard behind them is filled with notes and reading assignments about eschatology, a branch of theology that deals with death, judgment, and the final destiny of mankind.
Janet always tells the truth.
As Michael explains in the finale, Janet was stolen from the Good Place. That means she can’t technically lie — and she doesn’t. In the pilot episode, the Bad Place is the one topic she can’t tell Eleanor and Chidi about, aside from that one recording of nightmarish screaming, which presumably comes from another neighborhood.
After the giant shrimp attack, Michael tells the group, “There’s obviously something wrong with this neighborhood. We don’t know where it came from, how long it will last, or what caused it. Janet, what do we know?” Janet’s response is meant to be obtuse, but it’s also accurate: “We do know where it happened: here.”
Similarly, when Michael and Janet examine the sinkhole in episode six, he asks her, “Janet, could you see what’s wrong?” Janet’s response: “Everything.”
In the finale, when Jason thinks he has to go to the Bad Place, he tells Janet, “I’ll miss you so much babe, promise you’ll visit?” Janet responds, “I will not, it is literally impossible for me to do that.” That’s because she’s already there.
Chores wouldn’t exist in the Good Place.
Eleanor and Chidi frequently fight about doing the dishes and laundry — not exactly the stuff of paradise. Also, when Eleanor spends cleans up the neighborhood’s trash in episode two, her bag splits open. “Shouldn’t these be magical trash bags?” she asks. Not in the Bad Place they’re not.
Heaven would have ice cream, not fro-yo.
In episode six, Michael’s explanation as to why he chose frozen yogurt also nicely sums up his philosophy of torture: “There’s something so human about taking something great, and ruining it a little, so you can have more of it.”
In the finale, Judge Shawn has other ideas, telling Michael that the fro-yo flavors need reexamining. When Eleanor wakes up in the rebooted neighborhood, all of the frozen-yogurt spots have been replaced with pizza places — a much better cover story for “heaven.”
No one in the “Good Place” cares about the Bad Place.
For a group of supposed humanitarians, there’s a real lack of concern from the neighbors about the fact that Mozart, Picasso, Elvis, every U.S. president except Lincoln, Walt Disney, Florence Nightingale, Shakespeare, Columbus (“because of all the raping, slave trading, and genocide”), all the deceased members of the Portland Trail Blazers, and presumably some members of their own families (if they, you know, weren’t agents of the devil and actually had families) are suffering in the Bad Place.
The flying was a ruse.
Although Michael presented the tantalizing option of flying, none of the Bad Place Four actually get to do it. Eleanor comes the closest, but starts a trash storm when she’s hovering three feet off the ground.
After that, Michael tells the group that flying is too dangerous, and that it’s been canceled for 1,000 years — which happens to be the exact amount of time he tells his Bad Place colleagues that Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason will be able to torture each other.
Michael didn’t really hide his true colors.
Aside from the fact that he literally kicked a dog into the sun (and then told its owner that things were fine because “it feels no pain, or joy, or love”), Michael makes a few comments that indicate he’s actually pretty devious.
- In episode four: “Jianyu is talking again? That’s wonderful, I’ll do everything in my power to encourage him. I could give him a second mouth … better not risk it.”
- In episode six, while examining rocks, he manages to vent a little about his torture subjects: “Do any of them look like they’re taunting you, always one step ahead? Devious little monsters.”
- In episode 11, addressing a group at a party: “Who really knows which of you are who you say you are? No way to know unless I pull your skeletons out, right?”
- At the end of episode 11, when Eleanor shows him that her “Good Person” Fitbit is still in the red: “The nightmare continues. [smiles slightly] The nightmare continues.”
Also, Michael likes “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
In episode nine, the one moment of bonding Michael achieves with Trevor’s Bad Place crew comes after they blast “Who Let the Dogs Out,” which gets everybody dancing, save for the one non-devil in the group: Tahani. Only agents of Satan would be into that song.
In episode six, Michael won a minion doll in the claw machine.
Rather appropriate for a minion of the devil. He likes it, of course, telling Eleanor that “this ugly yellow toddler is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”
Michael has a complete map of the neighborhood.
At the beginning of episode six, Michael is seen poring over a heavily annotated map of the neighborhood in his office, complete with tons of sticky notes that say things like Very Loud Bird, Sinister Rock, Weird People, Flying Shrimp. It’s supposed to be a map of neighborhood “issues,” but more likely, it’s his battle plan.
The philosophy jokes.
In episode 11, Michael locks Jason in his office, to which Jason responds, “You’re putting me in jail?” Michael: “This is the Good Place, we don’t put people in jail. It’s just a room, where you have been put, as a form of punishment, and from which there is no exit.” That’s the concept and exact title of the Jean-Paul Sartre play that’s clearly one of the show’s biggest inspirations. (You probably know its most famous line: “Hell is other people.”)
In the finale, Eleanor thanks Chidi by telling him, “It’s like I was dropped in a cave, and you were my flashlight.” That’s a reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which certainly has some relevance to the quartet’s situation.
“We have to go back.”
Michael Schur conceived The Good Place with a bit of help from Lost’s Damon Lindelof, and as a thank you, he told Vulture that he slipped a reference to Lindelof’s HBO show The Leftovers into the pilot. “I won’t say what it is,” he added, “But if you find it, kudos to you.” (No one has officially identified the reference, but it’s probably the shrimp that Eleanor stuffs in her bra. You know, like actual leftovers.)
Schur also thanked Lindelof more overtly by bringing back Lost’s most famous line in episode 12. When Eleanor is on the train, trying to convince Jason to leave the Middle Place, her final words to him are, “We have to go back.”
Eleanor’s fantasies about postmen.
It’s not exactly a tip about the Bad Place per se, but you may be wondering why Eleanor got paired with a hot postman as her soulmate in the neighborhood reset. The clues were there all along.
- In episode two, she asks Janet, “Is this a confidential situation, like when you’re stalking a hot mailman from your work computer?”
- In episode six, she replaces one of the clown posters with a poster of a hot mailman that reads, “Is this the package you ordered?” (When she thinks she’s about to get caught at episode’s end, she tells Chidi to leave it up in her memory.)
- When Shawn is examining Eleanor’s record of bad behavior in episode 12, one of the items listed is “Started fire in mailbox to get mailman to take off shirt.”
Changing signs, changing times.
When Eleanor first wakes up in the pilot, the sign in Michael’s office reads, “Welcome! Everything is fine.” After Michael hits the reset button in the finale, it says, “Welcome! Everything is great.” The only problem? It’s a little crooked.