I’m still not ready to talk about this episode or The Good Place in its entirety as a series. I might never be ready, but that’s the point isn’t it—to take the leaps even when we aren’t fully there? The Good Place is an incredibly special show. It’s remarkably unique and its series finale singlehandedly takes the crown in nuanced comedy.
My immediate thoughts with tears streaming down my face went as followed: “I’ve loved and appreciated a lot of endings, but there’s something about the timing of this one that’s so perfectly fitting for the world right now. The performances, the organically meta storytelling, and the ode to “Pandemonium,” one of my all time favorite TV episodes ever. There are always going to be good days and bad days, slow days and quiet days, heartbreaks and healings. But there’s magic in the uncertainty and I believe that with a fervency so deep, I can’t imagine who I’d be if I didn’t. What a beautiful way to go while effortlessly leaving such a tremendous mark on television. I hope this inspires future writers to see that the world isn’t tired of touching stories that reflect on humanity, our complexities, and the friendships we find along the way. “Whenever You’re Ready.” What a hearty, perfect title. As much as I understand the idea that there are things we’ll never be ready for and we’ve got to take risks in life, sometimes you have to wait. It’s comforting to be left with the clarification that it’s okay to wait.”
January 13, 2020 seems like a lifetime ago—we might have been ready for a great number of things back then, but a full-fledged global pandemic wasn’t one of them. (And one we’re still dealing with. P.S. firmly believe that wearing a mask will land you points into the good place. Get on it.) Kristen Bell’s characters have been busy spreading some of my favorite messages this year, technically last year with Frozen’s Anna, but between “Do the Next Right Thing” and “Whenever You’re Ready” serving as glimpses of hope in this darkness, I’m grateful.
There’s a plethora to unpack with The Good Place’s sensational series finale—a cathartic joy ride from the beginning, which proved TV can be, pun intended, a damn good place. Quite frankly, I’m tired of dark, ambiguous series finales. We’ve subverted expectations too many times and the appreciation for heartwarming has dwindled tremendously. And that’s perhaps one of the reasons why The Good Place is so special, series creator, episode writer, and director, Mike Schur found the exquisite balance between heartbreaking and utterly hopeful in a way that TV hasn’t achieved for a long time. When comedies end, they’re generally hopeful, which don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t want to bawl my eyes out. I want to feel great. But The Good Place isn’t just a comedy, it’s otherworldly. It’s a series that tackled something no human can understand on this earth and it did so by effortlessly showcasing the beauty of the unknown. The Good Place never shoved emotions down our throat, but somehow, it made us feel every ounce of the pain, uncertainty, and unbridled joy. It didn’t tell us how to feel but instead it broke down feelings so beautifully, noted Philosophers wish they’d accomplish it this well.
If you know anything about me, you know that “Pandemonium” is one of my all-time favorite episodes of TV to exist. “Pandemonium” was an epiphany, a whirlwind of emotions wrapped neatly with a chaotic, perfectly gorgeous bow that mattered profoundly. But “Whenever You’re Ready” was something else, an indescribable force that took viewers through a journey that’d leave us completely shattered but somehow, utterly whole.
Life is and can be a lot at times. The world is an uncertain, often chaotic place. The decisions we make aren’t always the right ones, but understanding that our purpose is dependent on the decision to try our best is everything. And that’s what this episode showcases beautifully, it allows us to understand a kind of peace that people can only define in their own terms–their own versions of solace. Such as Jason’s Jalapeño popper analogy, which good lord, if you’d told me I’d cry about something like this, I’d be like uh, but there I was. A wreck. Because I get it—that perfect Jalapeño popper is unmatched in bringing serenity. As is the first sip of the perfect morning coffee, just hot enough not to burn your tongue, exquisitely balanced taste, just right. We all know the feeling. We’ve all lived through it without realizing it. And someday, when we get it right, when we’ve done all that we can, the wave will return to the ocean. We’re here to be the best versions of ourselves we can be, and we’re here to do our best. We’re here to make the world a little better. It’s the little things and it’s the biggest things.
But I’ve covered the episode’s beauty, the purpose of this article is gratitude. Gratitude for a series that not only knew when its time had to come, but a series that carried on its starting message to the end–choosing to honor its characters.
The Good Place is a plot driven series, but it never once sidelined its characters or put them through things solely for shock value. Every journey, every breakup, every makeup, every bizarre decision made sense. It’s an undeniable glimmer of hope when TV writers care about their characters, their stories, and inadvertently, the audience. It then makes for the kind of community that media generates, which can easily spark joy whenever, wherever. It’s then no longer merely a TV show, it’s a celebration of humanity. If this finale had only aired a few months later. But even still, Mike Schur knew what he was doing, and it’s worthy of immense respect.
The Good Place series finale and the never-ending buzz around it tells me that people want to feel joy. They want a series that’s utterly ridiculous, thoughtful, and unapologetically good. People want to watch things that will carry them through life’s darkness. They want an escape. And the escape comes from world building that caters to both realism and fantasy with an attentive balance and focus on its characters.
In the end, people don’t want to see their favorite characters die, and even on a series like The Good Place where that’s the inevitable, it was still done in a way that evoked serenity as opposed to distress and emptiness. It was sad, wholeheartedly, and that’s okay, but it wasn’t jarring or uncalled for. Life is already dark and horrifying, the world today is proof of that, when it comes to TV we should celebrate and highlight hope.
These characters lived the best afterlives they could, they achieved the goals they wanted to accomplish, and they went out in the unknown understanding that the true joy is in the mystery. They went out in the unknown knowing what it’s like to love and be loved in return, and that’s all any human being, even the most vile of them want deep down. Isn’t it? Series like this can and are exquisite. They are worthy of accolades and great praise. The nitty gritty is always classified as compelling writing, but somehow, happy endings are too easy–they’re cliches.
This a series finale that’ll be treasured for as long as there are humans to watch it. We don’t know what the world will look like, we don’t even know what follows the end, but while we’re on this earth, the little things like a beautifully executed series finale can mean everything. It’s harder to write something that’s thoroughly evocative and joyful than it is to write something that’s sad. It’s hard to evoke hope in darkness and this type of writing should be treasured, not sidelined. And in times of darkness such as the current events we’re living through, these are the type of series people are turning to. These are the stories the world is desperate for.
There are a number of articles that can be written about the series. You could take each character and do endless character studies on the exponential growth they went through from the very first episode to the last. You could take a single quote, like Chidi’s wave analogy and write an entire dissertation on its meaning. You could take themes, directing choices, acting choices, and analyze everything for years to come because it’s mastered a level of hopeful ambiguity that’s rare in every way.
But for me, it’s all about gratitude—never ending, unabashed gratitude for a series that chose to end with hope. A series that I and many others, will turn to for years to come in order to relive that feeling of hope so few series have achieved. The belief and understanding that everything will be fine.