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The Good Place: was this the most devastating TV finale ever?

Warning: this article contains major spoilers for the final episode of The Good Place

Fittingly, Jason (Manny Jacinto) was the first to leave. He was, after all, the least complex of the four lost souls at the heart of The Good Place, so the ennui of eternity was bound to creep up on him relatively quickly. But it was still a shock when, after finally achieving his lifelong dream of playing the perfect game of Madden NFL, our boy decided it was time to check out. He did so after throwing a party at which he played particularly heinous EDM all night. “Great. Now I’m bummed about two things”, deadpanned Eleanor (Kristen Bell).

The Good Place has always aimed high. Ambition was the greatest strength of the Netflix/NBC hit – and occasionally its biggest flaw. Attempting to combine a convincing exploration of practical moral philosophy with sitcom wit and narrative drive was always likely to lead to the odd wheelspin. Much of season three felt like wading through treacle. Many viewers seduced by the early seasons of Mike Schur’s warm, inventive metaphysical comedy fell by the wayside. And yet the show’s saving grace was always knowing that an endpoint was in sight. It gave the stories weight and context, and made the journeys matter.

This was the real wonder of the finale. Before our heroes arrived, the Good Place they were searching for was both perfect and wholly flawed, inhabited by bliss-zombies who were unable to do anything but stagger endlessly on forever. But former demon Michael (Ted Danson) and “Busty Alexa” Janet (D’Arcy Carden) had a solution. They devised a terminus through which sated inhabitants of heaven could pass into the great beyond at the moment of their choosing.

This simple device was the key to one of the most poignant, perfectly constructed and occasionally heartbreaking hours of TV you’ll ever see. Jason’s departure was sad but also kind of okay. He was one of the least introspective characters in small-screen history and in love with Janet, an eternal being. But we all knew what was coming next. At the beginning of the series, Chidi (William Jackson Harper) had battled with hesitancy and Eleanor with selfishness. Somehow, Schur contrived a conclusion to their love story that was perfectly symmetrical, gut-wrenching and eventually, just utterly exquisite - a moment of pure clarity, as Chidi acted with absolute decisiveness and Eleanor tearfully understood the true meaning of the philosophy tomes she had absorbed. TM Scanlon’s What We Owe To Each Other is The Good Place’s key text. And this was Eleanor enacting its implications. After various extravagant attempts to make Chidi stay, she understood that she owed him the freedom to leave.

This could easily have toppled over into gushy sentimentality. Yet somehow, it maintained a perfect balance. The fates of these characters mattered. But their journeys towards infinity were also undercut by the relentless comic beats of the show, and humour that was always sharp but never harsh. We met a super-evolved version of Janet’s virtual boyfriend Derek (“the nexus of Derek is without dimension”). We got a glimpse of Tahani’s (Jameela Jamil) magnificently eccentric celestial bucket list, which included everything from breaking longstanding cricketing records to “Fixing the Jesus Fresco that lady messed up”. And, after his apparent departure, we learned that Jason actually spent eons in the woods looking for a trinket he had made for Janet, and meditating. When Janet pointed out that he had effectively returned to his initial incarnation as a monk, he gazed at her uncomprehendingly – he had learned everything and nothing.

It is rare that TV feels nourishing. But at the moment, surrounded by corruption, bad faith, antagonism and winter, it sometimes feels that we might be stuck in our own intractable Bad Place. But things change. The Good Place never forced a moral message but it carried one all the same. We can always do a little better. As Eleanor drained her last margarita and Michael began a new life as a (middle-aged) human, The Good Place felt definitively and satisfyingly complete. It ended with a tiny act of kindness, as Michael’s neighbour delivered a letter that had been left at the wrong address. Because The Good Place is wherever you find it.

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