‘The Good Place’ has been a welcome presence every time that it’s returned. And while it’s had peaks and troughs like any long-running show, I always have time for something as positive and well-meaning as ‘The Good Place’. The show has consistently combined its noble intent to teach philosophy and make us all better people, with its instantly engaging characters and storylines that make you want to watch ‘one more episode’. It has in many ways redefined what a sitcom can do, thriving on long-form storytelling in a plot that has deepened and widened in the most unexpected ways over its four seasons.
It’s just a shame that it betrayed itself at the very end. I’ve enjoyed this latest run of episodes, but there reached a point when the show should have ended, but instead continued for that bit longer to its own detriment. Crucially, it undermined the two things that made it so enjoyable the rest of the time: it’s engaging plot and its philosophical objectives.
For all the times I’ve been desperate to see more of the show, the last two ‘cliff-hangers’ left me desperate for the exact opposite. I was willing the show to end. The finale was the most tedious of all. It was longer than every prior episode, and it felt it. Having been with these characters for so long, amidst many transformations and resets and moments of closure, it was always going to be a difficult task to create a final end for them which felt satisfying. So perhaps it’s no surprise that their endings in this episode felt superficial. Having watched them all grow and change at different rates in the past, there was something a little too contrived about watching each of them one by one finding a moment of closure and choosing to walk through the door.
But, perhaps more damaging than this, I’d very much lost track of what the show was trying to say at this point. The door going out of the afterlife appeared to be a way to parallel the ambiguity of what happens after death on Earth (in the real world), as even Janet admits that she doesn’t know what happens when it’s walked through. And yet we watched that door being created and thus the attempted parallel doesn’t quite ring true when the characters ponder about what’s on the other side like it’s some great mystery.
On the contrary, I believe the show should have created that same sense of ambiguity a couple of episodes earlier and ended with the characters heading off to the Good Place. Instead, we got two episodes attempting to show us what eternity looks like, and falling terribly short.
For a show about the afterlife, ‘The Good Place’ has always been impressively responsible in its attitude to religions (as a show about philosophy should), but this I think was a step too far. The final two episodes tried to show us that an eternal afterlife isn’t all that great and would be better off having some kind of end. This seems like a very odd final message for this show to go out on. If the afterlife here is actually just a parallel for ‘life’ (with the door as death) then the final episode starts to look dangerously like its advocating people choosing when they want to die and taking their own lives (and abandoning loved ones in the process). If, rather, this is a genuine comment on eternity, then it feels ridiculously short-sighted. ‘The Good Place’s’ depiction of eternity just looks a lot like life on Earth, but with magic… forever!
As such, it isn’t a fair parallel for religious notions of afterlife and eternity. What would have been more in keeping with the show’s commitment to open-minded philosophy, would have been to steer clear of this altogether, and leave viewers with a more genuine sense of ambiguity.
It’s a shame to feel let-down at the end by a show that I’ve otherwise thoroughly enjoyed. But it seems that, while the finale depicted the characters waiting for the right moment to end their existence, the show itself failed to notice when its own moment should have been.