Content warning: This article contains spoilers.
I was just five minutes into the series finale of “The Good Place” when I started crying.
When the penultimate episode of the show closed with the characters getting their long-sought-after happy ending in the show’s titular paradise realm, I knew that whatever came next was going to hurt. The second-to-last chapter solved the final problem of how to give eternity meaning: by giving people who have had their fill of forever in the Good Place an option to cross through a doorway and peacefully conclude their own existence in the universe. The finale, ominously titled “Whenever You’re Ready,” was clearly going to involve the door and at least one person choosing to cross through.
Set in multiple time skips spanning the next bit of forever, the finale chronicles the far-flung future moments in time when each of the four main humans finally reach a state of complete peace and decide it’s their time to cross through the doorway. It’s as emotional as you would expect, but the episode manages to produce a beautifully layered commentary on why endings are necessary.
The finale deftly plays with the theme of fatigue. Chidi’s ever-so-slightly weary dialogue as he goes out to dinner with Eleanor and his friends for the millionth time. The frog-obsessed Doorman slowly growing disinterested in all the frog-related gifts as they continue to pile up on his desk. It tries to show that yes, all good things must come to end, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t mean anything anymore.
It’s a thoughtful meditation on the existence of the series itself. If “The Good Place” were to go on forever, it would inevitably start repeating itself. The originality and creativity would start to dissipate. The writers of the show, who chose to end the show on their own terms four brief seasons in, have accomplished everything that they wanted to. They know it’s their time to end.
Of course, just because goodbyes are necessary, it doesn’t make them any less emotional. Each of the farewell sequences for the characters are difficult to watch in their own right, but there’s something about Jason’s final story beats that are particularly gut-wrenching. To see the lovably dimwitted source of comic relief quietly realize he’s done everything he ever wanted to and is finally ready to cease his own existence hits extremely hard.
Thankfully, “The Good Place” doesn’t shed its comedic roots in its final hour, with entertaining character interactions and snappy dialogue to add some levity between each fit of tears. In its final moments, it provides one last perfect blend of comedy and emotion, as Eleanor’s dispersed essence returns to Earth, inspiring a random man to deliver a piece of misplaced mail to the now-human Michael, setting him up with the perfect moment to deliver his long-desired one-liner: “Take it sleazy.”
Endings are hard, even if they are justified. To see “The Good Place” reach its own stopping point makes me sad, but there’s a standout piece of dialogue in the form of one last nugget of philosophical wisdom from Chidi to Eleanor that comforts me. He tells her to picture a wave. For a time it’s real, but eventually, it crashes and vanishes. “The wave was just a different way for the water to be for a little while,” he explains. “The wave returns to the ocean, where it came from, where it’s supposed to be.”
Even if the show is over, it’ll live on in the future creative endeavors of the creators, writers and cast. New projects will inevitably impact and entertain audiences in ways they might have never thought possible. It’s an exciting thought and it makes dealing with the end of such a strong TV show a little bit easier. “The Good Place” is over, but it’s never completely gone. Its essence lives on.
The last bow of “The Good Place” stands as one of the most well-done series finales I’ve ever seen. It’s an effective microcosm of the show, full of clever jokes, deep philosophical discussions and an endless supply of heart. With one final poignant message, the wave returns to the ocean. What an amazing wave it was.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, print edition. Email Ethan Zack at [email protected]