This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 3 Episode 12
“Time means nothing. Jeremy Bearimy, baby. We’re gonna get through this and then you and I can just chill out on the dot of the I forever.”
One of my earliest TV watching memories (yes, you have these when you’re a TV nerd turned TV critic) is asking my mom why the couples on all the sitcoms I watched were constantly breaking up. I don’t know what show I was referring to necessarily but bear in mind that I was around 7 or 8 years old during the peak Ross and Rachel Friends era.
My mom calmly explained to me that the writers on these shows needed conflict to tell a story. And there was no conflict to be found in the story of a happy couple. Instead of taking this lesson to heart, abandoning the artifice of television, and I don’t know, learning math or some shit, I continued to watch these sitcoms and reveled in all that tried to buck this “will they or won’t they” trend.
Scrubs was probably the first show I remember succeeding. J.D. and Elliot had a will they or won’t they energy for three full seasons before they decided the answer was “won’t they.” Of course they got together in the show’s final season but it still deserves credit for featuring five full seasons in full-on “won’t they” mode. And Turk met his actual soul mate in the show’s pilot and would stay with her forever.
Now on the modern television landscape, shows aren’t afraid to get couples together and keep them together. Shows like You’re the Worst, Catastrophe, and even This Is Us realize that while “will they or won’t they” is easy drama, “how will we continue on together forever?” is the real drama. It’s harder to articulate and pull off but it’s more worthwhile. It’s more real.
There is value to be had in breaking the shackles of sitcom writing. Having said that, there is also value to be had in succumbing to them for the right reasons.
The Good Place creator Michael Schur is a keen student of TV history. Ted Danson is on this show for a reason. The Good Place Season 2 finale put Danson back behind the bar for heaven’s sakes! Schur, like my dear ol’ mum, knows that the sitcom is a science as much of an art. Press button; create pathos. Here he and his writers have dusted off the “separate a couple mid-series” gambit. They’re no different from the sitcom writers of yesteryears. They need conflict to tell a story. This time around, however, the conflict they’ve chosen is the eternal damnation of the entire human race.
“Pandemonium” continues The Good Place’s tradition of absolutely killer season finales. Each season closer has come along with a certain twist, paradigm shift, or revelation. This one, however, is the most straightforward, or as “straightforward” as this show can get.
As expected, Eleanor has taken over Michael’s job as architect and one-woman Good Place introduction committee to the new arrivals in the experiment. Also as expected: she’s an absolute natural. “It’s like I became such a good person I forgot that I’m a world-class liar,” Eleanor tells Chidi after welcoming John into the neighborhood. She’s not wrong. If I can’t be welcomed into heaven by Ted Danson then Kristen Bell is absolutely my second choice.
All in all, the humans feel pretty good about how the experiment is coming along. The neighborhood looks great as always. This week’s Megan Amram (who wrote this finale alongside Jen Statsky) food pun is the beer stand “Foot Lager.” John seems to be getting settled in well and not noticing that his peers are all Janet babies. He even learns that Drake and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the most random celebrity couple on Earth.
Then the other shoe…or “foot lager” drops because it always must. Another thing that mama taught this lad about television is that as long as the episode guide doesn’t say “Series Finale,” there is no room for a happy ending. Tahani uncovers that John is an asshole. This isn’t a surprise because the Bad Place was allowed to accept humans for this experiment. The problem is that John is a very specific kind of asshole.
John wrote for a blog called “The Gossip Toilet” – a site known for pioneering the countdown clock to the Olsen twins 18th birthday and for making life living hell for Tahani. While Tahani is known for bouts of extreme solipsism, this time her paranoia is correct: The Bad Place didn’t select the worst people, they selected the people that would be worst for Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason. Tahani’s fears are confirmed when the next human arrives and it’s….CHIDI’S EX-GIRLFRIEND SIMONE!
This is Pandemonium’s “this is the Bad Place” twist moment. It doesn’t have the universe up-ending implications of the show’s previous twists but my stomach literally dropped all the same. Simone was such a great character and Kirby Howell-Baptiste such a perfect fit for the show that it always felt strange that we just had to leave her back on Earth as Team Cockroach went on to bigger, more celestial adventures. Still, I never imagined the show would bring her back and certainly not in this fashion.
The Judge rules that The Bad Place’s gambit falls within the rules but Michael will be allowed to wipe Simone’s memory. Chidi, however, knows that that’s not a solution. Chidi is a very awkward individual and he knows it. It’s not a crime to be awkward and in fact it’s probably one of the things that attracted Eleanor to him. In this situation, however, that awkwardness could have brutal implications.
“If I’m awkward around my ex, everyone gets tortured forever,” Chidi tells Michael and Eleanor. There is only one solution here, only one way to preserve the integrity of the experiment and save humanity’s collective soul. Michael has to erase Chidi’s memory. He must erase everything from Australia onward. He has to erase Eleanor.
In practice Chidi and Eleanor’s relationship hasn’t always been the most compelling onscreen part of The Good Place. Bell and William Jackson Harper have good chemistry but we’ve just seen them interact mostly on a friend level save for their time in Reboot 119 and the last few episodes. Plus, the other onscreen romance in the show is between a break-dancing Jacksonville doofus and an omniscient being of the universe – so that will take presence.
Chidi and Eleanor’s relationship has always been important for what it represents though. They represent the insatiable human need for love, itself. Remember, Eleanor and Chidi have spent over 800 timelines not in love and just two in love. That just makes it feel all the more special though.
The Good Place is about finding the answer to the long sought after question: what makes a good person? What even is “good?” But just like all the other great works of art, The Good Place already knows what the real answer is. It’s love, stupid. Chidi and Eleanor’s relationship symbolizes that even if you experience love only two out of 800-plus lifetimes, those two times make this whole “existence” thing a success.
That’s why it’s so powerful for The Good Place Season 3 finale to go back to this relationship-severing sitcom trope. It’s using one of television’s laziest tropes for a profound examination of what really matters.
After a lovely video presentation from Michael, Chidi’s memory is erased and Eleanor in her new role as architect is struggling get composed for what comes next. She summons Janet.
“Hello Janet. Can you just like tell me the answer? The answer to everything,” she commands.
There is no answer obviously, and Janet says as much. The point of the universe isn’t to find the answer but to merely experience it. In all this Pandemonium, Eleanor found Chidi, which is simply impossible. It’s impossible in the grand scale of the universe, this Milton-ian pit of hell, to find anything worthwhile. But Eleanor did it. Then she did it again. And if I know anything about television, she’ll do it once more.
Once the characters break up in sitcoms, they eventually get back together in the end. When its series wrap time and there are loose ends to be tied, you tie them. Perfect little student of TV history that it is, The Good Place will find a way to get Chidi and Eleanor back together. When they do it, however, it won’t be because the show has to, it’s because Eleanor and Chidi have to. That’s what people do – they charge through the pandemonium to find that which seems impossible to find…over and over again.