The Good Place
Humans are, by nature, a storytelling sort, with records of oral and written folklore stretching back thousands of years. Many of these stories attempt to explain life itself, by describing or speculating about what we see in this world, what we feel as we move through it, and even what happens to us when we die. It’s funny: As much we obsess over how stories end, when it comes to our own story, we often demand an epilogue.
The Good Place series finale, “Whenever You’re Ready,” is both an ending and an epilogue. Last week’s chapter essentially completed the story this series has been telling since its premiere back in September of 2016. In the first episode, four humans were informed — wrongly and cruelly — that they’d died and gone to heaven. Last week, these same four finally got to walk into the real “Good Place.” Then they discovered that paradise kinda sucked, so they fixed it, by adding an exit door to the unknown. They’re helping people enjoy their afterlife more by letting them know even eternal bliss can end.
The parallels to life on Earth in the here and now are made absolutely clear in that episode. We appreciate what we have — from the people we love the most to the rewards cards we forget to use —when we understand that nothing lasts forever. That said, I’m sure many fans of The Good Place shuddered when that door was introduced, with the finale still to come. Would the show’s last chapter just be an hour-plus of character after character obliterating themselves?
The answer? Yeah. But it was really beautiful to watch.
“Whenever You’re Ready” doesn’t exactly move in a straight line as it sends our heroes through that door. There’s a bit of “Jeremy Bearimy” to the way the goodbyes go. In the end, of the four humans and the two afterlife employees we’ve spent the most time with over the past four years, three decide to venture into the beyond, two stay behind in the Good Place, and one … Well, one continues his long history of innovation in the art of “How to Be.”
First up, we bid a hearty “Bortles!” to Jason, who realizes he’s exhausted everything the universe has to offer after he plays the perfect game of Madden NFL, alongside his dad, inside TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. Realizing it’s time to go, Jason cooks Janet an inedible plate of brick-hard spaghetti in the Stupid Nick’s Wing Dump kitchen. (“I put out the forks and knives the way kings and queens did it, close to the plates,” he tells her.) Then he DJs his own farewell party, with a special appearance by Dance Dance Resolution.
His friends are sad to see him go. (According to Jason, they have the same looks on their faces that his teachers did whenever he raised his hand in class.) But Jason being Jason, he doesn’t actually leave immediately. He forgets to give Janet his parting gift, so he hangs around outside the exit door for a few more lifetimes until Janet comes back. During that time, he learns to appreciate nature and stillness … becoming Jianyu, basically.
Next up is Tahani, who’s apparently been spending her time in the Good Place realizing the dream she shared with Eleanor earlier this season: to spend eternity learning how to do something more useful than just planning perfect parties. (Examples: “Solve the Poincaré Conjecture” and “Fix the Jesus Fresco That Lady Messed Up.”) When her parents finally pass their afterlife test and join Tahani and Kamilah in the Good Place — and immediately tell both sisters they love them and are sorry for how they treated them on Earth — she thinks that’s the closure she needs to take the next step through the door. But then Tahani remembers a big part of her personal growth was learning not to be obsessed with whether other people like her. She ends up staying in the Good Place, training to become an afterlife architect alongside Glenn and Shawn (the latter of whom still can’t help but sound evil, even when he’s trying to say encouraging things).
Instead, the next human to leave is Chidi, in the most tear-jerking sequence in the entire finale. (Putting Arvo Pärt’s gorgeous composition “Spiegel im Spiegel” under Chidi’s exit makes it all the more devastating.) Chidi tries to stay enthusiastic for Eleanor’s sake, but after he’s read all the books — even The Da Vinci Code — and has had multiple special moments with his family and friends, he finds he has a harder and harder time maintaining the sense of joy and wonder and curiosity that have made him so lovable. Having learned about “what we owe to each other” from the greats, Eleanor announces to him that the “Chidis shouldn’t be allowed to leave because it would make Eleanors sad” rule is selfish. She lets him go … and tries to take solace in the hunk-of-the-Bearimy calendar he leaves her.
And then there were three … or really two, since Janet can’t leave. Eleanor intends to be the next to go, but first she tries to rehabilitate Mindy St. Claire, getting her Medium Place friend to make an effort to get the Good Place. (“Caring seems like a lot of work,” Mindy shrugs … before deciding to leave her Galaxy Brain Derek behind and give “the process” a try.) But when Michael tries to run through the end-of-everything door before Eleanor, she realizes she has one more soul to save.
The final ten minutes or so of the final The Good Place really brings home one big thing this show has been about: how important it is to understand and appreciate each other’s stories, while trying to be a positive influence on how they go. In Eleanor’s case, she persuades Gen to let Michael become a real human, and to live the last couple of decades of a mortal life as an actual handsome older man, on Earth (with, according to Janet, “enough money so you don’t starve but not so much that you become an entitled jerk”). Then and only then can Eleanor walk through the door, becoming a blob of warm light who moves through the souls of the living and tries to make them do the right thing.
Before Chidi becomes, as the Buddhists say, “a wave returning to the ocean,” he admits that he knew he’d seen all he needed to see after one small moment in the Good Place, when his Mom kissed Eleanor on the cheek and Eleanor’s mom rubbed the lipstick off. That’s such a small thing. It’s almost as small as the joy Michael takes in saying, “Take it sleazy.” But these small things are so very human, because they’re so fleeting, and so lovely. Like a certain TV show we’ll miss, we have to enjoy them while we can.
The end times
• I was glad to see old The Good Place favorites like Jeff the Doorman and Doug Forcett make a return appearance, though — Nick Offerman as himself aside — I’m glad there were no significant new characters introduced in this episode, so I don’t have to update this list.
• I could linger here a while, toting up the great throwaway gags in this episode: like Michael’s very post-middle-age dude desire to learn how to play guitar (and his eventual success with an Earthly teacher, played by Ted Danson’s real-life wife, Mary Steenburgen), or the revelation that both Roberto Clemente and Clara “Where’s the Beef” Peller have finally passed the afterlife test, or Gen the Judge’s East Dillon Lions T-shirt, or how Jeff the Doorman gets a little bored of frogs after a while, or the final appearance of Brent Norwalk (overheard asking one of the afterlife testers, “But what if she’d legitimately be prettier if she smiled?”). But it’s time to let go and move on. I’ve enjoyed spending time with you all, talking about this wonderful sitcom. See you in another life, brothers and sisters … and Janets.