The Good Place follows the ever-evolving story of four humans in the afterlife. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason never encountered one another during their earthly lives, but they are bound together in the afterlife by being assigned to the same neighborhood architect — Michael.
As Micheal explained in the first episode, they don’t use the terms heaven or hell — there is simply a good place and a bad place. All actions on Earth have point values attached. Your actions on earth dictate where you end up in the afterlife.
The first season followed their misadventures in the good place as Eleanor tried to cover-up the fact that she did not belong there. As things in the good place spiralled out-of-control, Eleanor deduced the truth in the first season finale: the good place was the bad place all along!
Each of the four humans had a different personality or character trait on Earth that sent them to the bad place. None were violent criminals or otherwise blatantly bad, but each affected the lives around them in negative ways. Because they brought little-to-no good to the lives of those around them, they ended up in the bad place.
The second season found the humans learning to navigate their new world, with the knowledge that Michael was actually a demon assigned to torture them for eternity. Michael placed the four of them together, knowing that their different personalities would create a specific form of psychological torment. Basically, he let them torture each other.
An ongoing plot point through both seasons revolved around Chidi teaching the others about ethics. He studied ethics and morality in his human life. I don’t claim to know about, or understand, all the different schools of thought on ethics and morality, but watching these characters strive to learn to be better people is fascinating. It entertains and subtly educates.
Michael has perhaps the most interesting journey of the second season. Fascinated by watching them become better people, he befriended the humans he was originally assigned to torture. Not only did he warm to them them – he joined their study group. His friendship with Eleanor in particular slowly caused him to think and behave more like a human. He suffered a particularly hilarious existential crisis as he developed humanity.
By the end of the season, Michael risked his existence to try to save the humans. He devised a plan to help his friends reach a judge who could grant them entrance to the real good place. When the group is almost caught before reaching the judge, Michael sacrificed himself to make sure Eleanor got to the judge safely.
The judge agreed to administer simulation tests for each of the humans to see if they had actually changed. Each was given a test specific to their worst trait. Everyone failed their tests miserably except Eleanor. Eleanor passed, but elected to align her fate with the rest of the humans, not even letting them know of her sacrifice.
Just before the humans were banished to the bad place, Michael and (not a girl, not a robot) Janet arrived for one last plea before the judge. Michael explained that he witnessed our heroes be generous and kind and actually become better people in the afterlife — which isn’t supposed to be possible.
He argued that this proves the system by which they determine whether humans are good or bad is seriously flawed. If the system is flawed, countless people have been wrongly condemned to eternal torture.
The judge was unconvinced that any of the humans would make the choice to do good things without the promise of “moral dessert.” Meaning they were only making good choices now because they knew it could mean the difference between getting into the good place or suffering eternal torture. Michael felt they would make good choices, if only given a push in the right direction.
The season finale followed Eleanor as she got a second chance on Earth to change her life. We saw her literally pushed out of the way of the event that we know killed her. She then made several decisions to change her life and became a good and admirable person. Unfortunately, as soon as life got too challenging, she fell back into her bad habits and leaned heavily into her apathy for others.
Michael and Janet, who were following the progress of all four humans (although we did not witness the others on their quests) realized that what was missing was their interaction with each other. They made each other better. Micheal snuck out of the monitoring room and popped up in Eleanor’s world as a bartender to give her a subtle push towards finding Chidi on her own.
Drunken Eleanor recounted her past year to the bartender (whom she did not recognize). She had spent six months as a do-gooder, but gave up when she realized that nobody cares if you do good things. So, why bother? Bartender Michael countered with: “what do we owe to each other?”
The phrase stuck with Eleanor so much that she ran an internet search the next day which led her to a video of Chidi’s lecture on the topic. The final moments of the episode found Eleanor watching the video before abruptly flying to Australia and showing up at Chidi’s office — to Michael’s delight as he continued to monitor.
I have read a few different reactions to this final episode and there is one thing I see up for debate. Was Eleanor actually back on Earth and given a second chance at life OR was this another simulation test created by the judge?
I believe it was a simulation. To send her back to Earth would disrupt and rewrite the lives of all those she encountered. It would also call into question the concept of resurrecting of a human being. And, if they decide she fails, would they cause her death? Her original death was an accident, but intentionally causing her death to send her to the bad place is a step I doubt a show built around ethics and morality would take. Then again, they have continually surprised me.
The much simpler reason I’m pretty certain Eleanor is in a simulation is the fact that Chidi spoke English — both in the lecture videos and when she found him in Australia. It was established in the very early episodes of the series that Chidi actually spoke French, but Eleanor could understand him because in the afterlife speech was automatically translated so whomever was listening could understand.
The brilliant writers of this show consistently change the story and plot in ways I do not expect. Trying to predict the direction of season three is like trying to spontaneously develop the power of flight — it’s impossible and I wouldn’t know where to start. However, there are a few things I hope to see.
- I hope to see how Chidi, Tahani, and Jason each fared in their second chance simulations. I know Eleanor is the main hero of the story, but it’ll feel like a bit of a cheat if we don’t see how or if any of them made different choices before being pushed back together.
- I hope to see how Chidi, Tahani, Jason, and Michael all react to the news that Eleanor passed her original test from the judge and sacrificed herself. We know that bombshell is going to drop. The question is how soon.
- While I love the quips from Janet about what she is – not a girl, not a robot, not a human, etc. – I hope to learn a little bit more about her and how she was able to pull off masquerading as bad Janet in the second to last episode. She said she learned to do a lot of bad things quickly – I’d like to know how. Last we saw her, she was incapable of lying.
- I hope to get a real view of the bad place. They describe such comically disturbing torture scenarios that occur in the real bad place, yet so far our view of the bad place has been extremely limited.
- I hope that new humans get thrown into the mix – maybe because this new experiment proves that some were wrongly sentenced to eternal torture. It would be interesting to see how the group dynamic changes with some new blood mixed in.
Looking forward to finding out if any of my hopes are answered in season three or if the writers take us on another entirely unexpected journey instead.
Image Credits: Colleen Hayes/NBC. 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC.