Last week, NBC announced that The Good Place will end January 30, 2020, with a 90-minute good-bye: an extended final episode, plus a Seth Meyers–hosted after-show special. Presuming the finale’s a two-parter, this means that after tonight’s episode, only six “chapters” remain in the series. But didn’t this episode already feel like the beginning of the end? Just about any sitcom nearing its finish would love to air an episode as emotionally resonant and surprising — and funny — as “The Funeral to End All Funerals.”
The title conceit alone is a winner. With Michael off fighting for humanity’s future in Gen’s courtroom — and Jason worried that he’s about to die for, like, the 16th time — Janet has the bright idea to kill time by showing all the humans their original funerals on Earth. But she only gets as far as telling Tahani, “Moby spoke first …,” before the gang shuts her down. Instead, because Eleanor is concerned they’ll never see each other again, she suggests they take turns holding pretend funerals, with sincere eulogies.
These mock memorials are pitched perfectly between comic absurdity and poignant farewell. Each is packed with great throwaway gags — right down to their locations, which are all personally meaningful to the “deceased.” Tahani is laid to rest where she felt most comfortable: the cabin of a Gulfstream G650 private jet. Jason has his funeral where was born: the deep end of a pool, right after his mom did a cannonball. And Eleanor ends her life where spent most of her time: a bar in a house she was not invited to. (She also wears a “Dead AF” tank, under a banner that reads, “Ya Dead.”)
The testimonial speeches are broken up by frequent cuts to the person being eulogized, in quick shots of their little shrugs and smiles. Those flashes of adorableness round out scenes that are equal parts hilarious and touching. Some of the human’s comments about each other are just amusing, like Eleanor saying that Tahini taught her that “bras shouldn’t be painful” and “you don’t buy bras at Home Depot”; and Eleanor saying she and Jason bonded over their mutual love of wrestling, semilegal drugs, and Jason Statham. (“Statham forever. Amen.”)
But our heroes get real, too. Jason astutely observes that Tahani is at heart a nice person and that she “deserved for people to be nicer to her than they were.” Janet focuses on Jason’s lovable optimism, describing him as “a big colorful rainbow blob stuffed inside a hot life-sized action figure.” Tahani mentions all the times Eleanor insulted and ogled her, and says she’d “never felt quite so seen.” All of these scenes, cumulatively, play like what fans would expect from a series finale — not an episode from the midpoint of the final season.
That sense of finality also applies to the way Eleanor tries — and at first fails — to give Chidi a proper send-off. Although Chidi’s been frozen, under order from Gen until after her verdict, his friends hold a service for him anyway. The best Eleanor can come up with is to go “full Yosemite Sam,” calling the love of her life “a rootin’ tootin’ rackin’ frackin’ varmint.” Later though, when a dire emergency convinces Eleanor that only Chidi can save the Earth, she gives the speech she should’ve given all along, praising his compassion and his intellectual rigor.
Why is reawakening Chidi so critical? That brings us to the non-funeral half of “The Funeral to End All Funerals,” in which Michael anxiously awaits the results of the new Neighborhood experiment. Once again, these scenes balance humor and drama — although, instead of the sentimental warmth of the funerals, the courtroom sequences mix punch lines with suspense.
Phase One of the hearing reveals the findings of the accountant, Matt, who presents his data in the form of a game show called Who Got Better? — complete with a The Price Is Right fail sound when he reveals that Brent actually got one percent worse during his time in the fake Good Place. In Phase Two, Michael and Shawn drill down into the numbers, making cases for and against the existing Good/Bad points system. Michael asks the judge to consider that Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason got better too, and that their profiles, added to Simone, John, and Chidi’s, equal six positive examples. (“That’s the number of friends in Friends! Are you going to sit there and say that every single Friend belongs in Hell?”)
As for the Brent problem, Gen resolves last week’s cliffhanger by pointing out that his numbers were spiking right as the experiment ended, meaning he really was about to apologize to Chidi. Michael seizes on this and says that if Brent — “an absolute diaper-load of a human being” — could improve in that moment, then who’s to say what might’ve become of him with more time and care? This gets to the crux of what this show’s always been about: the proposition that we can all become better, just by treating others better.
All the above fills up the first two-thirds of this episode, culminating in Michael winning his case. But this, it turns out, isn’t good news, because now, according to Gen, “Obviously, Earth is canceled.” The judge immediately starts digging through her purse, looking for the “wiper-outer thingy” that will erase all humanity from the universe — afterlife included. She eventually finds it underneath “the thing that ends all wars” and a DVD set of Justified season two.
Then, in a shocking twist, Janet zaps the ultimate nullifier into her void. And it’s not even our Janet; it’s Bad Janet, who has read Michael’s manifesto and changed her mind about humans. She shared the book with all the Janets — even the fabled Disco Janet! — and now they’re standing strong against an enraged Gen, who pledges to search all their voids and then “marble-ize” them, one by one.
So that’s where we are when this episode ends, with Eleanor wanting to wake Chidi up, so he can propose a solution that might mollify Gen. It’s a thrilling conclusion to the season’s best episode so far. At times, this past year of The Good Place has felt a little aimless, repetitive, and under-realized. But entering the homestretch, it’s finally following Michael’s vague suggestion: “Step one, get a plan. Step two, do the plan.” And yeah, it’s working.
In the Neighborhood
• Even though Janet doesn’t get to show the humans their actual funerals, she does tell Jason that his friends “graffitied a Red Lobster about you,” which in Jacksonville is the first stage of grief. (Eleanor gets that, because in Arizona you’re allowed to donate your corpse to a shooting range for a $200 state tax credit.)
• At the fake funerals, an unconscious Chidi is posed in the background, Weekend at Bernie’s–style. (At Eleanor’s funeral, he wears his “hot postman” outfit.)
• Shawn would like to enter other humans into evidence for his case. He proposes Elizabeth Holmes, Henry Kissinger, and PewDiePie.
• Shawn, though, does briefly lose his snarling, Oscar the Grouch–like “I hate everything” persona as he corrects Gen’s pronunciation of “Zendaya.”
• Ted Danson is a comic wonder in the courtroom scenes — especially when Michael’s failing to use “I’m rubber and you’re glue” correctly. But the comedy MVP this week is, once again, Manny Jacinto. The episode’s funniest and also oddly sweetest moment comes when Jason says he lost his mother to “the big C,” which he insists was a nickname for a crocodile that lived by his house … before he smiles and says, “Aww, I’m just playin’. It was cancer!”