You know how you spend all that time when you’re little hoping to become a grown up overnight, and then you do become a grown up and think hmmm this isn’t as fun as I hoped. That’s a lot what The Good Place feels like: an ideal that gets tripped up on its own idealism. That’s not a typo, nor is it a dig on the show. The Good Place is actually building up to a perfect endgame, but as long as it took the NBC comedy to get to the titular “Good Place,” it exited at a record pace because as it turns out, it might not be so good after all.
The big message from The Good Place has always been a big philosophical hodgepodge. But after spending time in the Bad Place, the Real Bad Place, Earth, The Medium Place, and now
The Good Place, the mailroom of The Good Place, it seems no one in the universe has any idea what the fork is going on. And if that’s the message The Good Place has been building up to all along, it might be it’s biggest and best twist yet.
After bringing the Soul Squad to the Good Place, Michael (Ted Danson) and the crew immediately run into a painfully sweet, if not delusional, mail sorter played by Nailed It! host, Nicole Byer. Michael’s plan is to get in touch with the Good Place’s committee to bring up an inherent flaw in the points system that gets you into the Good Place. In doing so, Michael has stumbled onto consequentialism—the idea that ethical behavior is only as good or valuable as the consequence that it yields. It’s a system that throws all ethics into a tailspin because ethical consequentialism requires omnipotence, and no one has that (except Maya Rudolph, who has everything except the EMMY SHE DESERVES).
Consequentialism has always been a driving force behind The Good Place: think about the trolley problem or Michael seemingly sacrificing himself for Eleanor in the Bad Place. Meanwhile, the flip side to consequentialism, as Chidi puts it, is best summed up by a “very wise, very attractive, sometimes sweaty philosopher,” named Eleanor: you gotta try. It’s a point Michael comes to after speaking to the committee (led by Paul Scheer!). Unfortunately The Good Place committee will take hundreds of years to address the problem with the points system thanks to all their crippling bureaucracy and rule-following. But, while they’re assessing the future, bad is happening now—perhaps even in the Good Place. Because Michael Schur knows no bounds, it’s actually a line from Jason, of all characters, that makes that point the best. Upon arriving into the Good Place (Mail Room), Jason says, “Yeah, man. We’re refugees. What kind of messed up place would turn away refugees?”
It’s a not-so-subtle reference to what’s on the news every day. One side is playing the fear mongering side of consequentialism by suggesting that people crossing the border might do something to hurt American citizens. The other side is arguing that the real crisis is the way those refugees are being treated. It’s the real-life, high-emotion push and pull that The Good Place manages to break down in a way other series have failed to.
Listen, I’m not saying that The Good Place is our key to a peaceful future. But no other series is so seamlessly having discussions about good and bad in the same way that The Good Place is. The big endgame ahead seems to be this: there’s less merit in figuring out what is good and more in simply doing good. Now the big hurdle is convincing other people of it, too. After all this traveling through the universe, the Good Place isn’t so good after all. And that might be the best good lesson The Good Place could teach us.