This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 4 Episode 12
Midway through “Patty,” the second-to-last episode of The Good Place ever, I absent-mindedly typed out a note: “What if this all ends with death?”
It was more of an innocuous joke to myself than a sincere prediction as to how this final hour and a half of The Good Place would play out. The episode presents a very Good Place-ian problem. The inhabitants of The Good Place (the real one) have become glassy-eyed mush people in the face of eternity and now it’s up to Michael and the gang to find a solution. This is standard operating procedure for a show that routinely presents problems with eternal implications and then finds utilitarian solutions for them all within 22 minutes. It’s just that this time around there doesn’t seem to be another way out of this particular problem than to remove “eternity” from the equation. What if eternity is the problem? What if this all ends with death?
In “Patty,” Michael Schur and The Good Place writers use the final hours of their sunny, beloved network comedy to advocate for utter cosmic oblivion for the human race. The group invents an exit for the afterlife (fitting given the show’s frequent comparisons to Sartre’s “No Exit.”) If heaven loses its luster for (and it will) there will now be a door out thanks to Eleanor and friends. Where does the door lead? No one knows. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? This is once again incredibly bold and compelling stuff from The Good Place. And it’s worth, one last time, reflecting on just how much of a miracle it is these courageous concepts are available to a wide audience.
Not to belittle The Good Place or NBC (which has been a gracious host to this most unusual sitcom), but at the end of the day, this show with very big ideas still operates within the confines of one of televisions’s least ambitious formats. An episode of Will and Grace will begin moments after Eleanor and Chidi gaze out on the heavenly horizon, secure in the knowledge that they can someday choose to die together. Somehow the same standards and practices department that would throw its body in front of any f-word before 10 p.m. signed off on the concept of heavenly suicide…to be aired between Charmin ads. What a time to be alive! Until we decide not to be, of course.
Despite its jaw-dropping premise, “Patty” is ultimately another imperfect episode of an imperfect final season for The Good Place. In some ways “Patty” suffers from the sins of the season’s past by not being able to devote as much time for a sincere exploration of heaven’s many problems. The gang having to fix heaven in roughly 10 minutes makes the time with the Brent bunch feel even more ill-spent than it already did. The grand idea presented in “Patty” is so creative and so strong, however, that it’s hard to think of this penultimate installment as anything other than a success.
After Michael and friends took off in a hot air balloon last week, veteran viewers of the show had to know that they would eventually be floating into another crisis. “And then everyone went to heaven” is an apt conclusion to a fairy tale – not The Good Place. Still that doesn’t make any of the twee Good Place trappings (like a handsome flying dog wearing a red cape) any less charming.
The Good Place writers room always seems to have the best time when it’s coming up with a grab bag of hilariously excessive examples of “goodness” or “badness” (which often end up sounding the same). This time around they’re able to churn out concepts like the aforementioned flying dog, ring pops that help you fully understand the meaning of Twin Peaks, and smarties that instill the energy you had when you were 12. While the writers have indulged this skill so often that it’s become a crutch in recent episodes, “Patty” is able to tie all the verbal madness to real aspects of its characters to great success.
Simply put, the characters of The Good Place take turns being absolutely on fire in the early goings of this episode – like a runningback absolutely bowling over 64-bit opponents in NFL Blitz. Jason and his unusually smooth brain is first up with his enthusiasm for monkey go-kart racing. He’s also willing to help Michael, lovely boy that he is.
“What if that’s some sort of demon alarm that alerts the cops that I’m here?” Michael says, upon hearing a pleasant chime alarm.
“You want me to hold your weed?” Jason asks earnestly.
Michael of course doesn’t have any weed…until Jason asks and roughly a half ounce drops into his pocket.
Then comes Tahani’s turn to shine. Tahani has a habit of revealing astonishing information about herself in passing but she’s outdone herself with the news that her godfather is somehow London’s Big Ben. Even better is the look of hungry excitement on her face when Eleanor promises that they will make fun of humanity’s best and brightest at their Good Place arrival party together. The arrival party, of course, is designed to appeal to all four of the humans creating a terrifying mishmash of themes. The fact that the party is populated by several mailmen seems to imply that Eleanor’s libido is doing a lot of the work.
Chidi’s finest hour comes just as the group begins to realize something is awry in their new environs. While Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates may be in hell, another one of Chidi’s heroes, Hypatia of Alexandria, is not! The introduction of Hypatia (a.k.a. the titular Patty) is not only a brilliant excuse to bring another exciting guest star into the fold with Lisa Kudrow donning Patty’s self-named Jaguars jersey, it’s also an opportunity to dial up Chidi’s endearing nerdiness to its max. Even though Chidi may now be confident and self-actualized, it’s nice to know that he can still be reduced to a stuttering fanboy in the presence of an intellectual titan.
Unfortunately for us all, however, Patty is no longer an intellectual titan.
“Are you a think book man?” Patty asks Chidi. “Sorry, it’s been so long. You’ve gotta help us. We are so screwed.”
Here on Earth, “heaven” has become a kind of catch all term for unreachable perfection. What does your heaven look like? Everyone has a different answer or no answer at all. We just know that it will be perfect. As the people in charge of heaven, the Good Place architects (led per usual by a vest-wearing Paul Scheer), come to find out: perfection is impossible. Even if it were possible, the concept of eternity will just ruin it all the same.
Time is the enemy of perfection (and the enemy of just about everything else). It’s easier to have a perfect moment than a perfect minute; easier to have a perfect minute than a perfect day; easier to have a perfect day than a perfect year; easier to have a perfect year than a perfect life. Having a perfect eternity? Good luck with that, Dave and your giant mini donuts that aren’t just regular donuts. Humans aren’t built for eternity any more than we’re built for perfection. That’s something that the Paul Scheer bunch can’t possibly figure out, having never been human and all. It’s something that new Good Place architect Michael and his band of human friends can figure out though…and quickly.
There is a certain level of anticlimax to The Good Place solving this all in one episode before the finale, and not dragging out the heavenly conundrum even longer. But it’s also fitting that Eleanor’s sense of urgency is how she’s able to come up with the solution in the first place. That’s the one human trait that binds us all together: urgency. Eleanor once told Michael that within the soul of every human beings lies a little bit of sadness. We know that one day this all must end. But it’s that sense of urgency in the face of an unfairly short lifespan that makes a human human. We’re grand problem-solvers of the universe.
The human inhabitants of The Good Place can never think of an answer to the eternity problem because has robbed them of their sense of urgency. Poor Patty can’t even remember whether 5 is a number or a letter. Eleanor, Tahani, Chidi, and Jason only have moments before their brains are turned to mush by constant access to milkshakes made out of stardust. Eleanor using her brief to come up with an answer (but not “The Answer”) is no different from us using our brief time on Earth to do the same.
The citizens of The Good Place celebrating after being told they now have the option to die is quite the TV-watching experience. Ultimately that’s what makes The Good Place such a beautiful, human show. The experience of being a human being is a surreal one. If nothing else, we deserve a show as equally surreal. There is only one chapter to go on this long, strange journey. What if this all ends with death? Suppose that’s better than never being able to say goodbye at all.