The Good Place season 3 reveals that our heroes have (allegedly) lost their chance at reaching the Good Place. But maybe they can make their own right here.
In last week’s season 3 episode, “Jeremy Bearimy,” The Good Place finally revealed its raison d’etre — or, rather, spelled it out for those viewers still in doubt: it’s here to make the world a better place.
And, boy, does it have impeccable timing. We could use some good right about now.
In the strongest episode of the season (so far), Michael had no choice but to reveal to the four humans that he had sent them back to Earth in a ploy to make them better people.
They believed him straight away
for some reason, but unfortunately, Michael opting for honesty also ruined the experiment, meaning that they blew their shot at getting into the Good Place. (Allegedly.)
Naturally, being told that they’re destined for the Bad Place gives all four humans a major crisis of faith. Why try to improve yourself when there is no ‘reason’ to do so? What is the point of anything, if you already know that your soul is earmarked for an eternity of torment? Honestly, Chidi (William Jackson Harper)’s reaction pretty much covers it.
Except somehow, for some reason, all that time spent on moral improvement — in this life, and perhaps, a soul-imprint of all their past lives in the great Jeremy Bearimy of time — made its mark on Eleanor (Kristen Bell), who surprised herself by doing something genuinely selfless, and finding fulfillment in that action.
Faced with the choice of keeping a wallet full of cash or returning it to a stranger, at great encumbrance, Eleanor chose to do the right thing. It wasn’t about checks and balances. It wasn’t for any personal gain. It was just good.
As Chidi himself has said, the only way to truly be good is if you are so without selfish motive. So, in ye olde Good Place ironic fashion, it is only by (allegedly) taking the Good Place off the table that Eleanor can finally reach peak goodness, and start being truly ‘worthy’ of the Good Place.
Unwitting or not, Michael (Ted Danson)’s fake Good Place torture experiment has evolved into a very complicated multi-step programme to turn these four humans genuinely good; to send them on the path of goodness for goodness’ sake, and to show them that to be kind and good and just in life is its own reward, moment to moment.
(It is also, incidentally, a way of turning an evil demon into a being perhaps deserving of the Good Place himself: Michael devised this plan to torture these humans, but through the literal power of friendship, he is now selflessly trying to save their souls.)
How darn inconvenient that the only way for these four self-obsessed humans to ever truly rake up Good Place points is to be told that they’re absolutely, definitely, unambiguously going to the Bad Place, and then choosing selfless philanthropy anyway! Whatever will the universe do now?!
Anyway, that is a problem for
the penultimate episode of the season some unknowable point in the future.
For now, we’re left with the question: does it even matter in which post-mortem Place the humans end up, if they can make their own Good Place right here on Earth?
The Good Place is what we owe to each other
At the end of “Jeremy Bearimy,” Eleanor rounds up her fellow (allegedly) doomed humans and tells them: “Let’s try.” Just try. Do good where they can, just because it’s good.
So they set out to save their fellow humans’ souls in lieu of their own, launching us into the second act of the season, which begins properly with this week’s episode, “The Ballad of Donkey Doug.”
But forget the rest of the season for a second. Because with that all-important word — try — The Good Place has already cut to the core of what it’s all about, which is not to get any fictional character to any Place or another.
Sure, Eleanor and co. might well earn their Good/Medium/Melrose Place spots yet (if there even is a real Good Place), and sure, there is a whole potential cosmic revolution story that might follow after that, but that’s just the plot.
This show, like most shows, is really about its viewers, who have been given two seasons’ worth of philosophy and ethics lessons, just like Eleanor, and are now ready for practical application, just like Eleanor: try to do good, whenever and however you can, in whatever large or small quantity.
Because this show, like most shows, is actually about real life, real people, the real world — and how to make it all a little bit better. Perhaps even how to make it Good.
“You’re supposed to do good things because they’re good, not for moral dessert.” – The Judge
Case in point: learning that their post-mortem selves are pooped, the four humans on Earth are now working together to bring good to others, and in the process, they are finding common spiritual fulfillment in this selfless work. Hopefully inspiring viewers to set out with the same goal.
But in the process, the four humans are also discovering something else: that this is an act of togetherness. That none of them could do this alone. That the thing that makes their lives better is their connection to each other.
While working to bring other people to the actual Good Place, they are finding their own Good Place right here on Earth, in each other.
We know that Michael initially picked Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) because he believed their personalities would clash in torturous fashion, following the logic of Sartre’s ‘Hell is other people.’
But, as Michael and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) figured out last season, these four humans actually make each other better, not worse. They also, evidently, make each other happier.
After all, it was Eleanor who helped Chidi out of his existential funk, just as Chidi has helped her so many times in the past. Elsewhere, Jason and Tahani once again supported and cheered each other up. Michael and Janet have obviously been isolated from the rest, but we know that their relationships with the group run equally deep.
And, following that logic, it would seem that for these characters, ‘Heaven’ is in fact other people. Their Good Place is wherever the others are, more than it is any particular place. Certainly, none of them would be able to feel wholly content in a Good Place that didn’t have the rest of the soul squad in it, right?
Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason (and Michael and Janet) might just turn out to be actual (if circumstantial) collective soulmates, being the parts that make each other whole.
Right now, that means their Good Place is a place on Earth (aka Australia), because that is where they are together, and where they make each other better. But really, it could be anywhere.
Because it doesn’t matter whether they’re on Earth, in the Bad Place, the Good Place, or somewhere else. As long as they’re there together, it’s the best place they could be. And, as we’re discovering this season, they are the ones with the power to make that place better.
And that is perhaps the lesson we are to take away from this season, before the heroes are whisked off to somewhere new: your actions, and the people you surround yourself with, define your experience. For better or worse.
The afterlife comes when it comes, but for now, we have the power to make our own Good Place — or Bad Place — right here. We are the architects of this neighborhood.
The writing has been on the wall for this show to secretly be a make-your-own-Good-Place inspo package since the beginning: in the afterlife, there are neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are filled up with people, who make up each other’s Good Place. Michael designed a fake Good Place, but it was only ‘fake’ because it was made up of fake people. The Bad Place is only bad because it is actively curated to be so.
And based on the limited information we have on the actual Good Place, it sounds like that, too, is defined by the people deemed worthy of going there. (It sounds, frankly, a little elitist and dull.)
So it stands to reason that Earth, too, is whatever we make it, just as it will be for Eleanor and her friends. Our neighborhoods are our own collective design, and we decide whether they are Good or Bad or somewhere in between.
Whatever Places we may or may not go in the afterlife is irrelevant — we are here, in this place, now, and it is our responsibility to make it as good a place as it can be, for ourselves and for other people.
Whatever happens to these four humans post-post-mortem, Eleanor’s words to her friends — “let’s try” — have already revealed this series’ ideological endgame: to inspire its viewers to try to do good for no other reason than because it’s good. To do good simply because it is what we owe to each other: to create our own Good Place right here.
The fact that The Good Place’s ambition is to make the world a better (if not a Good) place isn’t exactly a secret. The Mike Schur comedy is pretty squarely built around the concept of self-improvement, the initial ‘fake it till you make it’ premise quickly turning into something genuine for the protagonists, the audience lured in with puns and pastels and being tricked into self-reflection.
The show is teaching its characters to do good simply for the sake of goodness — what we owe to each other — and the audience is learning right alongside them. About Kant, and Aristotle, and the Trolley Problem. About ethics and moral philosophy and utilitarianism (and how to spell utilitarianism).
The Good Place is very aware of its place in Trump-era entertainment media. It has abandoned all pretense of being ‘simply’ a comedy, leaning into the secondary function of the American sitcom: to morally educate its viewers.
The Good Place is, in many ways, treading the same familiar paths as traditional sitcoms like Full House and Fresh Prince, which balanced comedic punchlines with heavy beats of morality; modern comedies like The Good Place and One Day at a Time aren’t reinventing the wheel so much as rolling with the contemporary social need for kindness and rightness and justice.
But it nonetheless represents a welcome break from the nihilistic, dark comedy trends that have dominated the genre in recent years. In the time we live in, we need more works of entertainment to take a stand for earnestness.
The Good Place, like its heroine, may have initially pretended to be in it for the hell of it, but now the series, like its heroine, is unabashed in its quest to do good and inspire goodness in others. That’s good. And necessary.
And with the Good Place back on Earth in season 3, the show is openly extending a challenge to its viewers in this age of navel-gazing selfishness: to just try to make the world a little bit better while we’re here. Forget about the next life for a beat, and worry about this one.
If the Bad Place is other people, the Good Place is, perhaps, unity and togetherness. Like the kind of togetherness you achieve when you gather around the TV screen and watch a sitcom together, which inspires you to go do something good.