It’s been a good run, right guys? It’s not every day you get a comedy as consistently well-written as The Good Place – and it’s even less common for such a great comedy to find such a big audience that’s filled with love for the show. But that’s exactly what happened with this weird little show. And tonight, it’s come to an end after four short years and 53 episodes. While this moment is bittersweet, it is still something to celebrate. It’s always a good thing when a show gets to end on its own terms, without being canceled or having its premise drawn out too long and watered down into something utterly disappointing. So, I’m happy The Good Place chose now to bow out – it feels like the right time, more or less. And, on the whole, this finale is a good capper to a very solid season of television – though, one that felt a bit rushed at times. (This review will primarily focus on the fourth, and final, season as a whole, but will touch on how the final episode wraps everything up. So, be aware of spoilers!)
Season 4, Episodes 13 and 14 – Whenever You’re Ready (written and directed by Michael Schur)
Various conversations occur, between various groups of people.
First things first: let’s talk about that finale. In short, it’s literally an example of the very best The Good Place has ever been. I’d liken it to the Parks and Recreation finale, actually; it’s immensely satisfying and extremely emotional. Every single beat feels dramatically earned and you spend the entire time alternating between laughter and intense tears. It’s simultaneously everything I wanted and so many things I didn’t know I wanted but adored getting. As I suspected would be the case after the way last week’s episode ended, the structure of tonight’s finale was following each of the four humans as they reach the moment in which they’ll walk through the door and into the great unknown. But, God, there was really no preparing for how utterly heartbreaking it would be to sit through that.
Now, I don’t mean that as a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing. It can be hard for a show to pull out such true, genuine, powerful emotions the way The Good Place‘s finale did. But, man, it’s truly something to behold. All four of our humans get moments to shine, and through each of those moments, we really get to see how they’ve grown over the course of this series. It’s remarkable seeing Jason (Manny Jacinto) reunite with his father and perform with his dance crew; it’s beautiful seeing Tahani (Jameela Jamil) finally have the relationship with her family she’s always deserved and also her eventual shift into the role of a Good Place architect – a role I figured would be Eleanor’s to fill; Michael’s (Ted Danson) ongoing quest to find his own purpose and his own humanity remains a surprisingly poignant part of the show; Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and Eleanor’s (Kristen Bell) relationship remains the heart of the whole thing. While some of these plotlines could have just a little bit more setup from the proceeding episodes, all of them are executed beautifully throughout the finale and it all builds up to such a beautiful ending that I’d dare anyone with half a heart not to shed a tear.
It’s not just our core six characters who get a chance to shine, though. This series finale pretty much drops in on every character who’s had any kind of a noticeable impact on the show. And, man, some of those cameos were fun. Seeing the Doorman (Mike O’Brien) was a joy; seeing young Doug Forcett for the first time was amazing; checking in on Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe) and Derek (Jason Mantzoukas), and the resolution to Mindy’s arc, was a joy; seeing Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) and the Judge (Maya Rudolph) continue to iron out the kinks of the afterlife was lots of fun. Honestly, every character you’d want to visit one last time gets a moment in this episode to shine, and that was truly something special to witness. Somehow, Michael Schur managed to thread the needle between over-indulgent fan service and an emotionally satisfying conclusion to a story and I am so impressed with how well he pulled it off. I rarely say something’s perfect, but I truly believe this finale is perfect. I laughed, I cried, the cast gave some of their best performances, the show looked the best it’s ever looked, and the writing was truly on point. If there was a perfect way to end The Good Place, this was it.
Now, about the season as a whole. I know that I said that season four felt like the perfect time for the show to end – and I stand by that. Having now seen the entirety of the season, it’s clear they didn’t have enough story to stretch the show out another season. However, it also seems clear they had too much story to cram into fourteen episodes. It feels like the writers had enough story for eighteen episodes – or three halves of a regular season. But, for whatever reasons, they’ve crammed that story into fourteen episodes – mostly at the expense of the more character-driven beats audiences have come to expect from the show. In fact, I feel like there was a general lack of really good character moments in most of the episode – especially for Tahani, who frequently disappeared into the background of the show, so much so that her arc in the series finale didn’t land quite as well as it should have because it never felt like we’d been introduced to the idea that she was really trying to devote her afterlife to learning all the things she could (that said, I still loved her arc in the finale). I frequently found myself wishing the show could just slow down a touch so I could have the chance to really check in with these characters I’d grown to love.
That’s not to say the season has been remotely bad; in fact, I’d say it’s stronger than the third season, which took half its run to find its footing in the new paradigm it had created. Season four, on the other hand, hit the ground running and never looked back. And that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. There is something to say about just getting to the point; TV shows have a habit of drawing things out to a degree that it feels like the plot will never reach a climax and it’ll go on forever. So, it’s nice that The Good Place never fell into the trap, moving briskly through its plot during the first three seasons at a pace that felt very natural. On the flip side, however, there is a danger to speeding through things too quickly as it can lead to inconsistent character arcs and dropped/unfinished plotlines as the writers try to juggle too many things in too short a period.
And that’s what I would argue happened with season four of The Good Place. The show tried to cram so much story into these fourteen episodes that it seemed to have some trouble balancing the overarching plotlines with the character arcs and, as a result, some things slipped through the cracks. As I said, the season generally seemed to lack some of the character moments the show had become known for, but this quickfire pace also impacted the plot, itself, most notably in the back half of the season at it sped from plot point to plot point. Both episodes 11 and 12 felt like they could have been multiple episodes and the problems introduced in both were never given the air to truly breathe and feel like they were truly problems as the characters solved them almost as quickly as they appeared – especially when it came to solving the problem of the Good Place residents feeling lethargic after spending an eternity there, a problem which should have had more weight but was solved way too quickly for it to feel all that problematic. I don’t want to call any of these things plotholes because they’re not. A plothole is a hole in the logic of the story or a major contradiction that requires the viewers to take a ridiculous leap in order to understand what’s happening. And that’s not the case here, the plot is still perfectly understandable. What The Good Place has done is merely drop plotlines before fully ending them, which is different, though no less frustrating.
However, in the vast scheme of things, they’re not even that big of a deal. And, honestly, the finale does a great deal to fix some of the problems I had with the season as a whole. It does loop back around to some of the dropped plot points (like what happened to Simone/Brett/John after the experiment ended) and it was so nice getting to see familiar faces from past seasons again (like the Doorman!). The finale was a perfect ending to an imperfect season, but it was full of those character moments I found were lacking throughout the previous twelve episodes. There’s not a thing I would change about the finale, though I would say it could probably have used two or three more episodes building up to it. Still, we’re nitpicking what was a very good season of TV here. I can’t say that my heart isn’t full and that I don’t feel satisfied enough now that the finale has aired.
All in all, The Good Place has been an incredible show. It’s the kind of show that just makes you feel happy when you watch it. You identify with these characters and you see yourself in them and you route for them. It’s been an absolute joy getting to watch all six of them grow over the past four seasons. There is a joy to seeing it come to such a beautiful and satisfying ending. There is also a deep sadness, too, in saying goodbye to a show you’ve loved. But that’s life. There’s always a moment where it’s time to go, and this is that moment for The Good Place. And they can’t have picked a better way to go out. The finale was a beautiful capsule of all that people loved about The Good Place. It had an inspiring message, incredibly moving character moments, and some truly superb performances from the actors. It’s an incredible piece of television and it’s a finale that will be remembered for a long time. Just as the show, itself, will be remembered long after tonight. Perhaps the most important thing the show has done is open a dialogue about the things we owe to ourselves and to each other. The writers have always talked about how they think these big ideas are the most important aspect of the show, and I believe these themes will end up being its greatest legacy, even more so than these amazing characters. The show serves as a reminder of the power that comes with simply trying to be a better person for yourself and for those who surround you. We’re all gonna fail at it from time to time, but that’s life. We still gotta try. We owe it to ourselves and to each other. If these immensely broken characters can do it, then so can we.
Whenever You’re Ready: 5 out of 5 wands.
Season Four: 4 out of 5 wands.