I reviewed the surprising and delightful season finale of The Good Place last night, and the morning after, I’m still thinking about it. Spoilers coming up just as soon as we look at this ethnically…
So, as a refresher, Eleanor and her friends are all actually in the Bad Place, as part of a psychological torture scheme cooked up by Bad Place architect Michael, and the season ends with the four humans and Janet having their memories wiped so Michael can begin the experiment again in the hopes of letting the fun last much longer.
Ordinarily, I’d have done my usual season post-mortem with creator Mike Schur, but Schur decided to go silent on this one and let us speculate on exactly what all this means for the show going forward. And I think that was the right call, as it really is more fun to talk amongst ourselves about this for once, rather than having it all explained from a neckbearded man on the mountaintop. But if Schur had done interviews, these are among the things I would have asked:
1. What is and isn’t true about the actual Good Place?
Everything we know about the Good Place comes from an unreliable narrator in Michael. We can assume certain parts of what he initially told Eleanor are real, given his comments in the finale about how Chidi came the closest of the four (albeit not really close at all) to making it into the Good Place. And the fact that Tahani got condemned to the Bad Place despite all her charitable works because her motives were so suspect would suggest that the real Good Place’s standards are, in fact, incredibly high. But does everyone really get a soulmate, or are some people perfectly happy flying solo through eternity? Since health is no longer a concern, does the real Good Place serve ice cream instead of fro-yo? Because Eleanor and the others have never been to the actual Good Place, while everyone else is in on the con, Michael would in theory have license to make his fake neighborhood into anything he wanted, so it’s possible that if we ever see the genuine article, it’ll be quite different.
2. How much control does Michael have over Janet?
As Michael says, this Janet is one he swiped from the Good Place, and there are Janets all over the afterlife. And they wipe her memory along with Eleanor and the others when it’s time for a do-over on the con. So is she just operating according to her original program, only under the mistaken belief that she’s in a Good Place neighborhood, or can Michael reprogram her to ignore inconsistencies or outright mislead the humans? If the only thing they can do is to wipe her memory, then that suggests the fake neighborhood has to follow the real rules in order to trick Janet (and also answers our next question), but if Michael can do more to her than that, then there’s nothing we can entirely trust as real.
3. Is the Medium Place real, or part of the con?
Again, if Janet is otherwise functioning as designed, then Mindy St. Claire and the Medium Place are real, which gives Eleanor an escape option if she’s able to recover her memory, or at least if she goes down a similar path to the one she traveled this year. If Michael had been the Good Place rep in Mindy’s orientation video, that would have been a dead giveaway that the whole thing was fake, but it’s unclear right now.
4. Is there any kind of authority above Shawn who could put a stop to Michael’s gambit?
Does the Bad Place have unlimited resources to put this much effort and people and material into punking four random humans out of the millions and millions who die every day? Or is Michael at risk of getting yelled at by a superior for going way over budget on this dumb idea? For that matter, do the Good Place Powers That Be have the ability (or interest) to step in if they find out what Michael is doing, or does he have blanket authority to torture humans however he wants, even if it involves copying the Good Place in some form? Is there an entity who has power over both places? And is everyone who works in the Bad Place — Trevor in particular — in on this gag, or just Michael’s specific team?
5. What was Michael’s plan if Eleanor hadn’t figured things out?
Admittedly, Michael had been scrambling ever since Eleanor publicly confessed her secret, so he may not have had a good approach no matter what the group decided. And we got a hint of a way out when Bambadjan showed up claiming he’d found an obscure precedent that would allow everyone to stay. But this particular game seemed to be running out of steam whether or not Eleanor got wise to where she really was.
6. Shouldn’t everyone be unhappier with this set-up?
This is, again, something you can view as either a flaw of the show or a flaw of Michael’s plan. Of the four, Chidi is really the only one who is anxious and miserable for almost his entire time in the fake neighborhood. Jason mainly has a grand old time hanging in his bud hole and romancing Janet, Tahani mostly gets to enjoy being queen bee (even if she’s frustrated about how things are going with “Jianyu”), and while Eleanor’s certainly scrambling a lot to keep her true identity secret, she also enjoys a lot of what she experiences (including her realization in the finale that she might be attracted to Tahani). Maybe the idea was that everyone would become progressively unhappier over the 1000-odd years that Michael expected the experiment to run, but except for maybe Chidi, these six months barely qualified as an annoyance.
7. When did Ted Danson know? When did the other actors?
The 24 writers famously never give actors early warning if their character is a mole (in part because the writers themselves don’t know), but there have been other instances of actors who know about their characters’ secrets long before the audience gets to find out. Because Michael’s lies are meant to be convincing to Eleanor and the others, I think it works if Danson wasn’t told until it was finale time, but it would be interesting to learn that he knew this was the plan when he took the job. And speaking of which…
8. Are there clues in previous episodes beyond the ones referred to in the finale?
Peak TV means I really don’t have time to go back and rewatch a season of a show that just finished, even one I liked as much as this. And yet I kind of want to spend every free viewing minute of the next week poring over earlier installments to see if there are more hints in retrospect to Michael’s plan. (Putting this post together, for instance, I had the pilot extended cut playing in the background, and when Eleanor and Chidi meet Tahani and Jason for the first time, Michael says that the thought of the four of them spending eternity together fills him with joy.)
9. Might this be the first reboot among many?
I have to assume Eleanor will figure out the truth again at some point next season (assuming, as I do, there will be a next eason), because it will be frustrating if she and the others remain oblivious to their surroundings for too long. So where does the show go from there? Do they all get transferred to a more traditional part of the Bad Place? Do they get to experience a real Good Place neighborhood? Or is this a Westworld situation where they’ll keep having their memories erased to go through the same torture again and again, with variations from season to season?
I probably would have had a few more questions for Schur, but those are the big ones. The morning after, how is everyone feeling about the twist? And what else would you want to ask Schur whenever he emerges from his cone of silence?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org