NBC’s The Good Place ended with one last bout of wrestling with philosophical and spiritual issues in its Thursday series finale, striking an uncommonly elegiac — though still jokey — tone for a network sitcom, as it has managed to do throughout its four-season run.
Over the course of the hourlong-plus episode, titled “Whenever You’re Ready” and written and directed by creator Michael Schur, each main character — humans Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) — determines they are ready to “walk through the door.” That means they are ready to leave the titular place of eternal existence (though it’s been revealed to be a different kind of end than it seemed when the show premiered in the fall of 2016).
Despite being eligible to go on forever, the characters have all grown bored and empty in their souls. They all calmly insist that the sensation manifests itself with a pervasive feeling of “quietude” that signals to them that they are ready to feel more human again. That setup creates a framework of the episode, which will see characters say goodbye one by one, in a bucolic forest clearing where the “door” is located — though, of course, there are a few twists along the way.
One of the biggest surprises is that Michael, the deific “architect” played by Ted Danson, decides he is also through with endless design thinking and blue-sky days. He decides to walk through the door. In one of the big reveals of the night, Eleanor, herself looking for a purpose, convinces the Judge (Maya Rudolph) to let Michael become a human — yes, the evil demon is granted his ultimate wish — to be a regular dude. He’s shown living in a regular apartment and thrilling to a series of decidedly human experiences. He hangs out on the sofa with his dog (a great Dane named Jason), burns his fingers cooking a microwave dinner, and takes guitar lessons.
The guitar provides one of the episode’s most deft touches, as Michael is shown throughout the episode stumbling through his attempts to write a song and play it on the guitar. He rejects an offer from Janet, the Siri-like, all-knowing human assistant played by D’Arcy Carden, to just instantly gain the ability to play the guitar perfectly. Back on Earth, he rips a small tab from a neighborhood flyer advertising guitar lessons and gets tips on the axe from … Mary Steenburgen, aka Danson’s wife in real life. “Everybody needs a teacher,” she explains reassuringly.
Of course, the finale didn’t just wax purely existential and name-drop Kant and Locke and other pet obsessions of Schur and his team. It also managed some of the wryly comic touches that marked the show from the beginning.
Rudolph, the Judge who is content to remain in the administrative realm of the Good Place, cites her latest pastime before putting in her earbuds: “Podcasts! There are a billion of them, and they just keep coming,” she tells Michael. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an episode of Radiolab about how clams learn.”
Bell’s character, Eleanor, for all intents and purposes the central figure in the series’ quest for goodness, gets one last romantic jaunt with Chidi. Emulating Before Midnight (minus the epic fight in the hotel), they stroll around the ruins of ancient Greece and contemporary Paris thanks to the power of eternity. But he knows his exit is drawing near, noting it happens to the best of the Good Place denizens. “Shakespeare walked through the door,” he tells Eleanor. “Everybody’s talking about it.” She replies that it was just as well — “His last 4,000 plays weren’t nearly as good.”
Tahani also decides to walk through the door after crossing every item off her to-do list, even one once-unthinkable quest: a genuinely emotional day with her parents. At the last minute, she gets an even better idea: the ultimate party planner gets to become an architect to build worlds of her own for the influx of humans newly sent to heaven under the revised rules our heroes began formulating around the middle of Season 1.
Along the way to its eternal rest, the show managed to get off some winning lines. The Judge, a connoisseur of American TV, remarks that she finally watched HBO series The Leftovers. “When I found out that Carrie Coon was never nominated,” she said, “I almost erased 2% of humanity.”
It was actually near the beginning of the episode, when Jason, who decides to go through the door first, takes a moment at his goodbye party (in a dance club, natch) to appreciate his friends with a sentiment that pretty well sums up the essence of The Good Place.
“I’ll never forget this night,” he says, “until I walk through the door and disappear into the multiverse.”