So, What Exactly Is The Endgame Of ‘The Good Place’?
'The Good Place' managed to outwit its limitations, but the lingering question as it heads into its third season is: where is this crazy train going?
We’re thrillingly close to the highly anticipated third season of The Good Place, the most existential and surprising comedy on TV right now. But ahead of The Good Place Season 3, it’s worth asking the question: what the fork is going on?
When The Good Place premiered, television critics had their crystal ball out. The common prediction was that the show’s premise, which is set in the afterlife where people go to The Good Place (heaven) or The Bad Place (hell), could not be sustained for more than a season.
But the creator of The Good Place, Mike Schur had a plan. The first season is built upon a now famous twist: the characters who think they’re in The Good Place are, in fact, torturing each other in The Bad Place — this show is no basic bench.
The Good Place managed to outwit its limitations, but the lingering question as it heads into its third season is: where is this crazy train going?
In season two, the concept shifted to escaping The Bad Place by exploring if self-improvement is possible in the underworld. Humans, demons and Janets alike discovered that being ‘good’ is tough. Getting proof that we’re all a work in progress — even in death — became vital to getting justice in the afterlife.
In the season two finale, Eleanor Shellstrop got a chance to return to Earth for a second shot at trying to be a better person. Eleanor does an okay job until she begins to act like her old bad self, which leads to the demon, Michael (Ted Danson), staging an intervention as a bartender (Danson behind a bar again is so therapeutic).
Season two closed with Eleanor travelling to Australia — shout out to The Leftovers — to meet Chidi and ask for help. The world is a stage and it’s set for The Good Place Season 3.
A Sneak Leak
Thanks to a snippet of The Good Place Season 3 released online, we know Michael gets approval to create a new timeline and save Eleanor, Tahani, Jason and Chidi from dying. This helps to explain why everyone seems to be alive again in season three … or are they?
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Schur said: “Normally I don’t like to just flatly state what’s going on, but here I don’t see the point of people experiencing ambiguity: the four of them are straight-up back on Earth, in a new timeline where they didn’t die”.
He continues: “It seemed like a natural move to send them back to a time before they made that progress, and use the idea of them nearly dying to test their ability to improve.”
Nothing is ever real in The Good Place.
We’re dealing with a show where eternal beings control the souls of human beings across an infinite universe. Janet is constantly reminding the core group that she’s ‘not a lady’ and ‘not a robot’ despite her human appearance. Old habits of a physical world die hard.
While The Good Place Season 3 is introducing the concept of alternate timelines and being able to reverse death, there’s still a strong chance it could be a simulation. We know Michael loves to test his four playthings (see: The Trolley Problem episode).
In an interview, Kirsten Bell spoke about the stakes of season three: “Metaphorically, this next season is about how you can play chess with people who don’t know you’re playing with them and doing so in a way that doesn’t affect the greater universe. We’re meandering on Earth…all left on Earth separately. And what we learned from the first two seasons is that our strengths come when we’re together.”
The Good Place has always been full of surprises but it’s become a lot harder to hide its tricks as the internet aims a Reddit-sized magnifying glass at everything on the show. As a result, it has to work extra hard to throw people off its scent, while remaining engaging and funny on a week-to-week basis.
A mixture of moral and ethical smarts with sitcom-level silliness is key to its survival. But solving the mystery has never been part of the shows appeal anyways. Schur has cited series like The Leftovers and Lost as a major influence when crafting The Good Place — but both shows, especially the latter, suffered by trying to outsmart fans without an idea of an endpoint.
At this stage, fan theories range from Janet is God to the whole show being Michael’s own form of personal punishment in The Bad Place. There’s one popular theory that they’re already in The Good Place, and the experiment is part of the eternal personal growth that will be revealed at the show’s conclusion.
Season three looks like it will poke fun at the relationship between Earth and the afterlife, and how other beings meddle in the lives (and deaths) of humans. If demons exist, there is a chance angels are floating around. There could be someone responsible for time, an embodiment of gravity or the physical embodiment of physics.
Nothing is off limits.
A Prime Time Existential Crisis
In order to make sense of where The Good Place is (potentially) going, you need to go back to where it started: Michael.
In a flashback we see Michael, a pencil pusher working a desk job in The Bad Place, pitching an idea where humans torture each other; no need to fire up the old penis flattener. Michael has been around since the beginning of time, so it makes sense that he’s feeling a little workplace boredom, which triggers the whole Good Place/Bad Place experiment.
Michael truly believes there are better ways to torture people, he’s an innovator of eternal damnation that is stuck in its old ways. Even the merit-based point system that decides who goes where is flawed because it does not factor in the complexities of human emotions.
But like the creation of Penicillin, a serendipitous accident has occurred with Michael’s experiment on The Good Place. Michael has brought together four people who are meant to torture each other in perfect harmony but they are stronger as a group.
There’s an old-fashioned concept at play here that seems to transcend death: destiny. What if Michael has unwillingly unleashed the one-in-a-trillion-gajillion shot that destiny could bring people together in the afterlife to defy the laws that dictate the passage of a soul in life and death? Destiny could be represented in The Good Place universe as a person — go wild casting who could play destiny, my vote is Jeff Goldblum.
Maybe destiny is considered to be lame because of the strict laws enforced in the afterlife. After all, there are many variables in life that dictate our actions but the one constant is people. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason are meant to be together. Schur could tank this theory in the third season but I am pro #teamcockroach despite whatever happens.
The Good Place is floating the idea that if we work to enrich the lives of others, it should work in a reciprocal way despite our flaws, religious beliefs or what footy team we follow — Bortles!
— The Good Place (@nbcthegoodplace) September 23, 2018
The Good Place is a show that exists in a fantastical realm where anything is possible but the endgame has to be grounded in the human side of the show. We can’t be saints on our own. Like raising children, it takes a village.
If the endgame of The Good Place Season 3 is to teach us to be a little kinder to each other, at our best and at our worst, it will go down as one of the greats.
Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.