As I’ve already written about many times before The Good Place is an incredible TV show. Parks and Recreation creator/showrunner Michael Schur’s follow-up NBC sitcom blends the very best of Prestige TV and traditional network sitcom, resulting in a hilarious, surprising, and consistently compassionate work of art. The show is heavily serialized for a half-hour comedy, but Schur and his writing team have consistently presented “twists” that recontextualize the series in ways that opens up even more exciting possibilities.
Season 1 followed a quartet of characters who thought they had been wrongfully brought to “The Good Place” instead of “The Bad Place”, only to discover in the Season 1 finale that they were in The Bad Place after all—it was all an experiment designed by Ted Danson’s demon. Season 2 then found the show navigating this Bad Place experiment in exciting ways, as the series became about a quartet of “bad people” trying to teach a demon how to be good while also looking for a way into The Good Place.
Last night’s Season 2 finale blew up the show’s premise yet again, but not in the same way as before. While Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) had made their cases for why they deserved to be in The Good Place in front of The Judge (Maya Rudolph), Michael (Ted Danson) also argued that if these “bad” people showed the capacity for good while in The Bad Place, perhaps the entire system that sorts who goes where is flawed.
After some arguments and hemming and hawing, Michael and The Judge made a decision to settle this once and for all—we smash cut back to Earth, where Eleanor didn’t die in the accident that sent her to The Bad Place in the first place. Instead, in what appears to be a simulation, we watched to see if Eleanor could show the capacity to change into a good person without the certainty of an afterlife, if confronted with a near-death experience.
Most of the episode followed Eleanor’s path while briefly cutting to Michael and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) reading stock-tickers that showed the progress of Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason (presumably in the same simulations, although Tahani and Jason never reappear). While Eleanor does change for about six months, she gives up and becomes a “bad” person again, claiming that being good got her no rewards and only made her life harder.
But in the episode’s final moments, a Cheers nod found Michael tending bar in front of Eleanor and giving her one last push that leads her to—Chidi! Yes indeed, the episode ends with Eleanor and Chidi meeting “for the first time” in this simulation, as Eleanor is drawn to Chidi—now a professor in Australia—after watching one of his three-hour philosophy talks on YouTube. And that’s where we end.
This doesn’t provide as shocking a cliffhanger as the Season 1 finale did, but with The Good Place Season 3 already ordered, we know this is setting up another recontextualization of the series when it returns. But how, exactly? And where is this all going?
Ultimately I have complete trust in Schur and his writers, as they capitalized on that Season 1 twist in an incredible way. This is not a show that takes the easy or obvious route, which is why Season 2 only spent a couple of episodes with Michael trying his experiment again and again, only to change things up when he realizes the only way out of this snafu is for him to team up with the humans and figure out a way into The Good Place—which would necessitate him becoming an actually good person.
That’s what’s so brilliant about this show. The storytelling is incredibly compelling and funny and inventive, but it’s always rooted in something deeper. If Season 1 was about whether bad people have the capacity to change, Season 2 was partly about whether really bad people have the capacity to change. Season 3 will no doubt continue this theme in an interesting way, as we see how the scenario plays out without moral dessert. Of course this group works so well as a team we’ll likely get to see them all “meeting” for the first time, and we’ll presumably see the characters in this Earth simulation trying to become better people without knowing for sure that it’s going to lead to them getting into heaven.