“You brought me here, you knew what was gonna happen.”
In the end, The Good Place isn’t a love story.
The Good Place is, in this new and improved iteration—formed from the combined ingenuity of a demon, a not-robot, two dirtbags, a dilettante, and the most indecisive man in the world—filled with love. Days and nights there overflow with unimaginable delights made glowingly real: warm reunion dinners with old friends; long-awaited and seemingly impossible reconciliations; perfect dance team routines; happily polite panda bear waiters. Endless good books and endless conversations about those, and then endless garbage books when you’ve read all the great ones and want to have some disreputable fun. Everything is forgiven, nothing is forgotten.
Everything is fine.
Even when it’s time to go.
Jason goes first. It’s finally completing the perfect game of Madden (Jacksonville infinity-Tennessee negative infinity) that does it, and that might be a cheap joke, except that Jason Mendoza’s dreams are his own. The Good Place respects that. Waking up every day for essentially infinity in the arms of his impossible not-girlfriend Janet in the always open Stupid Nick’s Wing Dump, practicing with the reunited Dance Dance Resolution, doing blissfully stupid things with father Donkey Doug (Jason calls him “Dad,” tellingly), and best friend Pillboi. That final, flawless proof of the everlasting superiority of the Jacksonville Jaguars. When Jason kicks off the wrenching but simultaneously replenishing finale of this remarkable four-year journey by telling Janet (over a dinner of startlingly inedible—even for Jason—spaghetti) that he’s ready to walk through the door she’s built into—and out of—the Good Place, forever, it’s shocking. And then it isn’t.
Over many drinks at his all-EDM farewell party, Jason explains to Chidi how he knows that it’s time to leave with the earthy clarity Jason’s known to let slip when nobody’s looking. “I suddenly had this calm feeling like the air inside my lungs was the same as the air outside my body,” says Jason, plainly, “It was peaceful.” Walked to the door (a lovely, unassuming arch of branches in a green and, yes, peaceful forest) by the not-woman he loves, Jason allows himself one final regret (well, two, since he immediately lost the “J+J” necklace he made for Janet). Free from jealously (since Jason Mendoza imagines only someone awesome like Jason Momoa or Lara Croft would ever be Janet’s rebound romance), Jason simply worries that Janet will forget him. She won’t. Partly because, as she says, she never forgets anything, ever. But she also notes that, for Janets, time doesn’t move the same as it does for everyone else. “I kind of live all times at once,” she reassures Jason, adding, “Remembering moments with you is the same as living in them.” She then leaves Jason on the homely bench provided for those contemplating the walk the door.
It’s the first goodbye of the two-episode-plus finale “Whenever You’re Ready,” and perhaps the fact that it’s Jason first is meant to cushion the blow. After all, the universe isn’t much of a mystery to Jason Mendoza, and leaving it isn’t, either. For the eternal Florida Man, life is as puzzling every second as the last, but all the more entertaining for it, his equanimity in the face of eternal nothingness as much an adventure (and its importance as quickly forgotten) as the prospect of eternal torture, or eternal happiness. And Janet, being a Janet, can’t be sad, not really. After all, for her, Jason won’t really be gone.
Tahani is next, and her exit, coming after an afterlife spent mastering all the useful, silly, or disreputable things (“Burp the alphabet” is seen on her to-do list) her original life of striving, appearance-obsessed social climbing were simply too gauche to contemplate, goes down relatively easily, too. Tahani, unlike Jason, never had a real love story—her greatest pain came from the love she never received from her status-mongering parents and over-achieving sister. When Janet arrives one day (many Bearimys after Jason’s departure), to tell her friend gently, “That thing happened,” we know what it means. Tahani and Kamilah (the reunited sisters having already had their own afterlife rapprochement) embrace in breath-holding anticipation of the arrival of their parents—who, themselves finally having passed through the tests devised in part by Tahani, tell their children in unison, “We’ll just be endlessly sorry, forever and ever.” “Holy crap,” Tahani says to her sister as their formerly cold and disapproving parents smother them with hugs, a surprise that quickly fades (well, over uncounted centuries of Good Place time) into a surfeit of cuddly family movie nights and literally millions of apology teddy bears.
So Tahani decides it’s her time to go, especially since (in easily the most satisfying cameo of the finale, if not the series), Nick Offerman himself, marveling at the wooden chair Tahani’s crafted under his tutelage, tells her there’s nothing more he can teach her. (He’s got Offerman’s beard rather than Ron Swanson’s glorious mustache, but such praise from either estimable fellow would be enough.) Tahani throws a party, naturally (beef wellingtons, figs, risotto, those panda waiters), but only for her remaining friends, and ending with her crossing one last goal off her list. (“Problematically objectify Eleanor” earns Tahani Eleanor Shellstrop’s literally eternal respect.) Eleanor makes a halfhearted attempt to get her best friend to stay, but it’s Michael who accidentally inspires the delay, as Tahani decides she wants to become a Good Place architect. Sure, she’s human and that’s impossible, but Michael introduces her around (Hi, Glenn!), presents her with a peacock-feather bow tie, and leaves her to happily start at the very bottom. Plus, as she reminds everyone one last time, Frank Gehry was her godfather, so Tahani Al-Jamil’s goodbye is tempered by the certainty that she’ll, once more, do the hard work to do something worthwhile.
It’s the next one that should kill us.
Only it doesn’t. And that’s where The Good Place earns its own everlasting legacy. After a delightful, wine-happy dinner with old friends who’ve made the long, hard trip to enlightenment (Simone, Uzo, and, after no doubt much longer in the testing grounds, Eleanor’s old roommates, the Dress Bitch and the other one), Eleanor senses that Chidi’s feeling the urge to move on, and she’s right. Being Eleanor Shellstrop, she hatches one last scheme to distract Chidi into staying, involving Six Flags, the Acropolis, Paris, and an edible valedictorian robe, even though Janet tells her patiently that, if Chidi’s ready to go, then it’s his time, and his right. Over the course of their Janet-aided whirlwind getaway, Chidi never says a thing, but his forehead kisses and desire for a walk past the garret apartment he lived in as a student in Paris tell Eleanor everything she needs to know about the man she’s been in love with/hot for for untold Jeremy Bearimys.
Again, she’s Eleanor, so she doesn’t go without a fight, telling Chidi desperately that “I was alone my whole life and I told myself that I like it that way, but I don’t. I like being with you.” (In a career filled with great moments, this might be Kristen Bell’s best.) So Chidi postpones the decision he reveals he’s been holding off for a long, long time. And then Eleanor lets him go.
Citing the pivotal philosophical work of their legendarily strange relationship (Tim Scanlon’s What We Owe To Each Other), Eleanor admits that Chidi’s taught her too well for her to make him stay. “Working out the terms of moral justification is an unending task,” quotes Eleanor before using applied knowledge (Chidi the teacher must be beaming), admitting that no reason she could come up with to keep Chidi there would fit in the moral universe they’ve helped create, and that they both understand so well. “I’d still never find the justification for getting you to stay, because it’d be a selfish rule,” is Eleanor Shellstrop’s realization, finally, and, after one last night watching the sunset from their sofa, and one last favor—that Chidi leave before she wakes—Chidi takes the peaceful walk with Janet to that door in the woods. (He does leave her a sexy Chidi calendar, complete with mailman Chidi and wrestling champion Chidi, because he knows his girl.)
There’s no final rug-pull, no final twist. The closest we get is Jason’s sudden reappearance after Janet watches Chidi walk unceremoniously through the doorway, but that’s just because Jason’s spent a thousand years wandering through the woods looking for that necklace (it was in his pocket) and waiting for Janet to come back so he could finally give it to her. Janet is delighted, but her prodding that Jason’s millennia spent thinking “about you and the infinity of the universe” is exactly the sort of thing monk Jianyu would have done gets only a happy blank stare before Jason, shouting a gleefully clueless “Chidi, wait up!” after his departed friend, finally goes through the door, too. I cried my one cry then, maybe because Jason Mendoza’s foolish grace feels as close to sainthood as it gets, improbably.
I expected to cry all through this finale as soon as I saw its title was, “Whenever You’re Ready.” I sensed, rightly as it turns out, that this would be an extra-long series of goodbyes to and from some of the most endearing, heroic, hilarious, and beautifully realized characters I’d ever seen on TV, and, well, I’m a crier. But Michael Schur and his architects have always, it turns out, understood exactly what they were doing here in this dippy, deep, soulful, and eternally surprising series. And, sure, maybe there was always the lingering possibility that Eleanor’s long-ago offhand speculation that this all could be just the lower level of a greater test of the giant tarantula squids would turn out to have some legs (so to speak). But Schur’s not playing games for the sake of them, and he’s not jerking tears for the same reason. Eleanor and Chidi had their heartbreaker of a goodbye already. Their love isn’t brushed aside as insignificant, but placed, in truly impressive restraint and perspective by Schur, in its proper place in a story that’s less about romantic love than about humanity’s search for truth and justice. Here, finally, they know that goodbyes are right, and natural, as Chidi puts it in his metaphor about the waves and the ocean, change and eternity. “Not bad, Buddhists,” jokes Eleanor tearfully, as Chidi, contemplating joining back into the sea of creation, holds her for the last time. Indeed, as Michael said, every religion got things about five percent right.
This isn’t Six Feet Under, although the extended parade of farewells recalls that definitive gut punch elegy of a series-capper. The Good Place isn’t just the setting for shenanigans and romance and heartbreak, it’s—thanks to the hard work of six very different and very silly beings—as right and just a place as can be imagined. The Good Place has always been about how the individual is worth more than the systems designed to judge it, corral it, or punish it, as inconvenient as that is. It never feels like simple feel-goodery that all these characters get into the Good Place. (In addition to the above, we see John, and Doug Forcette got in, finally, and even Brent hasn’t been tossed away, as we see him still doggedly trying to understand sexism on a monitor in the architect’s area.) Thinking about it as I watched and rewatched this series over the past four years, it struck me how much Michael Schur’s shows all examine this conflict between organizations and individuals, how individuals are perpetually and inevitably screwed by those systems, and how justice involves flipping the priorities between expedience and humanism. Everybody deserves a chance to— as Eleanor puts it when speculating on how Michael is doing once he finally gets his greatest wish—fuck up, learn, change, fuck up again, and keep on trying. Maybe there are those individuals too broken to ever earn the right to a peaceful, complete, and satisfying ending, but even the Judge concedes that her position as the benignly dispassionate dispenser of mandatory minimums (eternity-scale) is obsolete.
The Good Place has never devolved into a big-picture philosophy lesson, so I won’t either. “Whenever You’re Ready,” like The Good Place as a whole, lives in the jokes and the performances, and this episode is a constant, 90-minute (minus ads) delight. There’s Marc Evan Jackson making Shawn’s defiant promise that he’ll never, ever concede that Michael did good stretch out for the absolute perfect number of “ever”s, and Michael’s warmly knowing, “I know, buddy, I know.” There’s Eleanor and Chidi’s agreement that it’s probably okay that Shakespeare finally took his own walk through the door. (Tempest 2: Here We Blow Again just wasn’t up to his earthly standard.) Maya Rudolph’s retired Judge Gen sports an East Dillon Lions workout T-shirt, because Kyle Chandler plus underdogs. We get to see Derek again, having reached real Maximum Derek upon being rebooted by Mindy St. Clair some 151 million times. (He’s a disembodied, rotating head surrounded by martini glasses. Mindy, bored, reboots him again.) There’s the return of Jeff the doorman, whose frog collection has grown to numbing proportions, at least until Janet and Michael gift him his first ever actual frog, who Jeff names Mr. Jumpy-legs, of course. There’s the last great cameo when Michael—Eleanor having convinced the Judge to make him human—takes earthly guitar lessons from real-life wife Mary Steenburgen, while we see the silver fox human Michael (and his dog named Jason) living the very human life he’d always envied.
Eleanor’s the last to go, naturally. For one thing, Eleanor Shellstrop loves fun, and the Good Place offers all the shrimp and rollercoasters you can handle. For another, after saying goodbye to Chidi, she needs to find out why she, unlike her friends, hasn’t discovered the one thing she needs to accomplish to make her feel like she can walk through that door. Restlessly, she seeks out Mindy and, confiding that Mindy’s “cocaine and self-pleasure” medium existence is what Eleanor would likely have been stuck with if she’d never met her friends, convinces her to enroll finally in the long, hard road to possible entry to the Good Place. (The nearly qualified architect Tahani promises to design the perfect neighborhood testing ground for her.) She notes that her mom made it in, but that their reconciliation wasn’t the key to competing her journey, either. It’s only when she figures out that Michael—immortally disqualified from moving on in the normal way—is who she ultimately needs to help that she can sit with Janet on that bench, share a last margarita, and look back on a lifetime (a forking long lifetime) and understand that this, finally, is the right time. As she told Michael and tells Janet, it’s okay that nobody knows what happens on the other side of that door. “The true joy is in the mystery,” she concludes, quoting Janet—and walks through.
For the first time, we see what happens. Light, then scattered smaller lights, like fireflies, descending on the earth, where an ordinary guy (Kurt Braunohler) checks his mail. One light flutters around him and he scoops up a letter he’d thrown in the trash and delivers it instead—to Michael. It’s junk mail (of the utterly inessential sort Michael longed for long ago), but Michael’s overjoyed at this tiny, hopeful, insignificant act of human kindness, telling the bemused fellow, “With all the joy in my heart, and all the wisdom in the universe—take it sleazy.”
Others who’ve made it thanks to the team’s revamped testing: Roberto Clemente, St. Thomas Aquinas, Zora Neale Hurston, and, to Michael’s furrowed brow, Clara Peller.
The fact that Carrie Coon didn’t get any Emmy love almost caused the Judge to wipe out 2 percent of humanity, just on general principles.
In Michael’s office, Doug Forcett’s picture has been replaced by ones of Chidi, Jason, Tahani, and Eleanor.
In the end, only Janet is left, a fate that D’Arcy Carden makes subtly crushing. Janet has evolved the ability to truly love and be loved. (She tells Jason that she turned off her ability to always know what time it is when they’re together, only to admit that she turned it back on because not knowing stuff makes her crazy.) And while she sees each of her friends off in turn with the knowing wisdom and warmth of the truly immortal, the fact that she’ll be the one of them who’ll forever be left to remember what they won’t is sadder the more I think about it.
They should make koulouri on the next season of The Great British Baking Show.
And that’s The Good Place. There’s more to say, but I’ve said enough, and there’s plenty more of my rambling to read if you want it. Thank you for reading and watching along with me. More than any show I’ve ever reviewed for The A.V. Club, it’s been an honor to take this one all the way from beginning to this glowing, fitting, uniquely satisfying ending. And, with all the love in my heart and all the wisdom in the universe—take it sleazy.