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Awaiting judgment, The Good Place glows warm before turning white hot

D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, Kristen Bell, Jameela Jamil
Photo: Colleen Hayes (NBC)
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“Just thinking about that makes me want to barf up a beautiful quasar.”

“You won.”—Judge Gen

They won. Team Cockroach, comprised of a reformed torture-demon, a Janet, two dirtbags, a philosophy professor with a tummy ache, and the most self-involved person in the world showed the all-knowing, all-wise judge of all realities that the universe genuinely wasn’t fair. Gathered in the Judge’s celestial-yet-sensible courtroom, they all (except for the still-frozen and insensate Chidi) have about ten seconds to celebrate what death, 800-plus afterlives, multiple impossible escape missions, and so, so much clam chowder ultimately led them to—the empirical, unquestioned judgement that the moral game is rigged, and that they and untold millions of others since 1497 were never given a fair shake to prove that they were not, as Bad Place bossman Shawn succinctly puts it, “just mobile turd-factories.”

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That’s when the Judge, and The Good Place, drops the hammer. Since the universe is broken, Earth is [fart noise, coupled with throat-slash gesture] cancelled.

Fork.

“The Funeral To End All Funerals” is a lot of things. A stellar hangout episode, with Janet, Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason throwing each other their dream funerals in anticipation of whatever the final outcome is going to be. A genuinely thrilling and thought-provoking courtroom drama. A fiendishly constructed plot twist carnival ride. (Bad Janet to the mother-forkin’ rescue?!) But, ultimately, this episode is a restatement of the principles that Michael Schur and his heavenly team (episode credited to Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan, directed by Kristen Bell!) have carried, with effortless slyness, through the Jeremy Bearimy-shaped course of the show.

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Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC

When, sitting poolside after Jason’s funeral celebration (he’s in a super-natty Jags suit, naturally), Janet extols Eleanor’s capacity for hope in the most hopeless of situations, it’s a transcendently lovely moment in an episode filled with them. The three (conscious) humans and Janet have no idea how Gen’s ruling will go—Matt’s not spilling, and they’re not allowed to see the points—so they decide to celebrate who they’ve become, and what they’ve given to each other. It could be soppy, if not for the battle-weary preparedness all of them have about their more-than-likely failure, and how the actors—all—imbue their expressions of love and gratitude for their friends with a knowing sincerity and wisdom that essentially glows. Yes, even Jason, who, as is his way, finds the dumbest way to say the truest things. (He’s still bowled over by how well Tahani’s done despite her speech impediment, which I can only assume means her British accent.)

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Marc Evan Jackson as Shawn
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC

And they’re going to need all that foolhardy optimism and hard-won wisdom since, in the end, The Good Place is all about caring about goodness when goodness is, at best, impractical in the grand, impersonal scheme of things. Having already jumped us dizzyingly to the end of the final, year-long test last episode, “The Funeral To End All Funerals” wastes not a second rushing us (and humanity) toward the final big reveal. All the marbles. The whole enchilada (or burrito, in deference to Gen). And, sure, we have the gods’-eye view of TV schedules to tell us that this final season of The Good Place isn’t going to end with episode eight of 14 to guide our expectations, but Schur’s plan has always been scrupulous in letting swerves stay swerved. This is the end. The good guys won. The good guys lost.

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From the very first time Arizona trashbag Eleanor Shellstrop revealed that she was the tequila-soaked fly in paradise’s soup, The Good Place has examined the concept of “me vs. the world” resentment, and what it can do to people. Eleanor splashed down into supposed heaven still clinging to every learned instinct that she was the underdog, the victim, the wronged. It had made her hard, and tough, and bristling with defenses so sharp that she was destined to die alone. Except that dying alone doesn’t mean staying alone, at least here. As Janet, once more, puts it in eulogizing Tahani tonight, “[She] taught me that you can make a family, even if you never really had one.” Eleanor found her family, brought together by insane demonic circumstance, sure, but ultimately bound by the collectively earned wisdom that, even though the universe is even more unfair and cold than they could have possibly imagined, being good actually matters. In fact, it matters even more.

Ted Danson, Marc Evan Jackson
Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC
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That’s clearer than ever when the Judge, blithely rooting through her overstuffed purse to find the humanity rebooter button, disregards their shocked protestations that eliminating all of creation in order to try it all again isn’t forking fair. Nothing can move her, or even slow her down as she—with the superficially sympathetic disinterest that’s marked her from the beginning, Maya Rudolph’s endearing quirks aside—prepares to wink everyone and everything that’s ever existed into nothingness, not even a single memory to memorialize what once was. As the episode progresses once our Janet and the reformed (but still crappy) Bad Janet hide the gizmo in the voids of a recruited army of Janets, Judge Gen doesn’t so much turn villainous as reveal the inherent villainousness of any system where hope, growth, redemption, and optimism are trumped by bloodless bureaucracy in the name of a greater good. Pitching hard to overturn Matt’s ostentatious game show presentation of how the four new humans progressed (or didn’t—thanks, Brent) in this rebooted Good Place, Michael restates the show’s central thesis about as baldly as anyone’s every done.

Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC
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Pointing to the four people whose interactions with Team Cockroach back on Earth after the team’s do-over (Eleanor’s mother and stepsister, Kamilah, and Pillboi, whose name, we find out, is actually Steven Peleaz), Michel shows how their own point totals have improved thanks to getting just the slightest nudge in the right direction. “People improve when they get external love and support. How can we hold it against them when they don’t?,” is Michael’s first pitch. Countered by Shawn with the example of Brent, who, he rightly says, got worse every second he was in a paradisiacal afterlife where every conceivable hardship was removed and desire met, Michael has to think on his feet. Showing Brent’s point chart that revealed him soaring to almost baseline decency (at -1 percent, but still) in his final 10 seconds of enlightenment before the experiment ended, Michael pleads our case one final time, Ted Danson making Michael’s naked hope more affecting than ever.

Brent spent a year being an absolute diaper-load of human being, and the points total tells you that. But what that number can’t tell you is who he could have become tomorrow.

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It’s easy to write people off. All people, ever, in the case of the Judge. And, as Eleanor found out when her newfound earthly mission to be a good person saw her roundly screwed over by lots and lots of people, there’s plenty of reasonable temptation to look at our collective track record and scrawl “Exterminate the brutes!” in the margins of our otherwise scholarly manifestos. And Gen isn’t even doing that, her decision to literally start over with the amoebas based on the solid and irrefutable logic that the moral system upon which the universe was based was flawed from the start, and that doing it right is worth erasing every scrap of humanity from creation. “What did you think was gonna happen?” she asks the group, not unreasonably. The very foundations of the system were laid incorrectly and the whole shebang is crumbling under the shifting moral weight. (We can get into the once-more stated idea that life has become “too complicated” for the points system as time’s gone on, which I’m still not sure about.) The only sensible course is to level it and start over.

But if there’s one thing that Team Cockroach—as humanity’s best if most unlikely champions—has proven time and again, it’s that hope, optimism, and irrational goodness in the face of the implacable is—barely and perhaps temporarily—stronger. That Janet has the effrontery to snatch the button from the Judge’s hands is nonsense, as is Bad Janet’s revelation that she’s hopped sides to help hide it. (She did read Michael and Janet’s manifesto on humanity’s potential, but she did it on the toilet, and used a lot of it as toilet paper.) They’re “sexy Alexas,” as Eleanor put it once. Gizmos themselves. But, like the rest of the team, they were given extraordinary opportunities to improve, and evolve. So now they—and the small army of Janets (including Disco Janet!) who manage to invade the Judge’s chambers before she locks the portals down—have decided that they, too, are up for a Hail Mary.

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Gen is furious, and, yeah, her rage is tempered with Rudolph-ian awesomeness, but it’s still chilling how quickly she resolves to root through every single Janet before marble-izing them one-by-one until she gets what she wants. As quirky, goofy, and outwardly kind as she can seem, the Judge is the avatar of a system predicated on individuals’ insignificance in the face of the bigger picture. And, as Eleanor and Michael demonstrate in the final huge shocker of an episode full of them, putting all of our fates in the hands of one individual is the only chance to topple the entire moral framework of the universe.

It’s Chidi, of course, the—as Michael puts it, doubtfully—“most indecisive man ever born” who they need to turn to to essentially whip up an entire, more just ethical system of cosmic justice in the 45 minutes or so Michael estimates it’ll take Gen to work through every Janet. (She’s already, again shockingly, deactivated one by the time the credits roll.) William Jackson Harper, pretty hilariously, had an easy time all episode, being whisked unconscious through a number of venue and wardrobe changes to the gang’s various funeral celebrations. (Including his sexy mailman garb, one imagines at Eleanor’s request.) But Chidi’s going to have needed the rest. It’s Eleanor who makes the call that—for this latest impossible longshot scheme to succeed—they have to wake up Chidi, explain everything (including the fact that they’ve been lying to him for a year), tell him that the fate of all past, present, and future humanity rests with him and only him, and hope for the best. Michael, once more skeptically but out of options, who asks Eleanor finally, not unkindly, “You think that will go well?”

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Eleanor does. Throughout this season where Eleanor and Chidi have been separated, Kristen Bell’s made Eleanor’s faith in the improbably hunky dork she’s come to love more than anyone in the universe her one unwavering star. And now she’s preparing to put all her (and our) money on Chidi Anagonye’s ability to craft an ethical philosphy that’s not only more just and fair than the one immortal beings came up with, but sound enough to change the mind of the one immortally pissed off being bent on wiping us all out. In an episode where The Good Place’s silly, beautiful heart lives in seemingly every line, it’s Eleanor who, looking at the sleeping Chidi, takes a deep breath and pushes in all the chips.

Designing a better afterlife is the ultimate ethical question. Chidi spent his entire existence pondering the biggest questions. He is brilliant and empathetic. All he cares about is how best to treat other people, and he is willing to sacrifice his own happiness to do it…

I don’t know how it’s going to go, but he’s our only chance, and it is now or literally never. Wake. Him. Up.

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Wake up son. Work to do.

Stray observations

  • Good god, the timing on the final joke where, as soon as Eleanor makes her pitch for the smartest person in the world to save them, Jason solemnly steps into frame to accept the responsibility. Just, hat off.
  • Janet reveals how everyone’s actual funerals went. Moby spoke first at Tahani’s, although, to her credit, she’s not interested in hearing any more. Jason’s friends graffitied a Red Lobster in his honor. (Jacksonville’s first stage of grief.) Eleanor doesn’t want to know, but does reveal that Arizona residents get a $200 tax credit for letting their bodies be used as gun range targets.
  • The Good Place Committee is in attendance at the ruling, and just about as effective as you’d expect. “We’re willing to give up all of our leverage, compromise, and meet you halfway!,” beams Paul Scheer’s leader to Shawn. Pray to whatever you pray to that the current Democratic leadership is finally going to outgrow this line of too on-target satire, impeachment-wise.
  • Eleanor finally reveals why the bookish Chidi is so insanely jacked: When he was 14, someone told him that exercise alleviates anxiety.
  • Jason finally talks about his mother, who he says dies of “the big C,” which he explains was the crocodile that lived by their house. “I’m just playin’—it was cancer!” he reveals happily.
  • Janet sums up her love for Jason, calling him “a multicolored blob of positivity… stuck inside a life-size action figure.”
  • The fact that the Judge has another gizmo that could end all wars in her purse signals just how icy is the big picture she’s looking at.
  • Michael, before hitting upon his more successful arguments, desperately tries to compare the six human subjects to the Friends friends. And, sure, he admits, most of them would wind up in the Bad Place, but Phoebe?
  • Shawn, interpreting Michael’s gambit about Pillboi and company as just picking random good people, proposes countering them with Elizabeth Holmes, Henry Kissinger, and, his face lighting up, PewDiePie.
  • Bad Janet reveals that she read Michael’s book on the can since, while she doesn’t have to poop, she chooses to. Classic.
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About the author

Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.