Thursday, January 30, 2020

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Every Human Decides How to Conclude Their Journey in the Afterlife in 'Whenever You're Ready'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 4.13 "Whenever You're Ready"

Various conversations occur, between various groups of people.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series finale of NBC's The Good Place.

"Whenever You're Ready" was written by Michael Schur and directed by Michael Schur

No one knows what happens after we die. There may be an afterlife for our souls to continue our journey in the universe. There may be nothing beyond what exists currently on Earth. There may be continual cycles of human experiences where one dies and another is reborn with their spirit. No one can offer absolute clarity on the subject. This show set out to depict what the afterlife could be. It presented an argument for why endless torture was bad. It just took so much effort for the central humans and their allies to build up enough support in order to change the system. They were rewarded for saving humanity from eternal damnation. And yet, the narrative very quickly shifted in these final episodes to outline how endless peace may not be a great destination either. At what point is a person's soul truly fulfilled and nourished? Is life simply full of opportunities that humanity can explore until the end of time? Does the end even come? This show presents the argument that people should have control over their own destinies. It is sad and tragic. However, it's peaceful as well. It ensures that the entire system is fundamentally human. On Earth, people may have no control over their lives. They make choices that create a life for them. However, death is the great unknown. It can be a terrifying prospect. This show understood that this season was going to be the end. It was building towards this conclusion. As such, the people involved could be sad along the way knowing that this journey was going to end shortly. The characters themselves knew that they couldn't keep up this fight forever. That wasn't what they were destined for in the afterlife. They deserved better things. It's just so moving to watch as each of the main characters gets exactly what they deserve as their lives come to definitive conclusions here. The opportunity was given to human souls to walk through the door and have their essence evolve into the next stage of human existence. It's a mystery that no one can offer any clarity about. Janet may know everything. She created the door. But at the end of this journey, she may only be the comforting voice that peacefully guides each soul to this destination. It's a decision everyone has to be absolutely certain about. In the Good Place, each human is given the opportunity to explore everything they have ever wanted. They can be with the people they love and have the rich, rewarding lives they deserve. Jason finds his peace first. He sets the template for how the others know when it's time to move on. Sure, it's ultimately surprising when he reveals later on that he has been living as a monk in the forest because he needed to give Janet the necklace to remember him. That is a fantastic punchline that never lessens the decision that he made. In fact, it's moving to watch as everyone finds that clarity on what they want their lives in the afterlife to be. Jason accomplishes his goals and has a calming peace wash over him. Tahani can hear everything she ever wanted from her parents. They can operate as the version of the family they always should have been but never could achieve. She could accomplish so many physical tasks or master every possible skill. However, her ultimate goal was to remain of service to the afterlife. She has these loyal friendships and bonds. But she can truly be the good person designing the perfect neighborhoods for as long as she wants. That means she and Michael essentially trade places at the end of this journey.

Michael is so fascinating throughout this finale as well. He opens and starts the extended episode. At first, it seems like he just needs to master writing a song and playing the guitar. He does that for so long without making any progress. It's just a way for him to remain in the rut that his existence has been in ever since he created the neighborhood to torture Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason. That's what makes it so significant when Judge Gen bends the rules in order to make him human. That's what he wants more than anything else. Sure, it's sad for those left behind knowing that Michael is leaving and will have to go through the system just like anyone else. Janet ensures that he has whatever it takes to get by on Earth without having too much that he becomes jaded in the process. And he eventually gets to experience everything he has always wanted. He is a human who can embrace the trivial nature of the world. It's so silly and simple. But it's transformational as well. This is the perfect ending for him. It's truly him at the start of this new journey. That's where he finds himself at the moment. With the other humans though, they are content knowing that they have made their lasting impact on the world. It's complicated though because Eleanor and Chidi have become a significant couple. They have a beautiful life together. And yet, they remain individuals in the end who have different needs. Chidi finds himself at peace before Eleanor does. They don't walk through the door together. That is sad and tragic. However, Chidi delivers the perfect speech explaining how this change is mysterious but also beautiful. It's just like a wave crashing onto the shore and returning to the water different. He will always remain a part of her. But this is also a profoundly personal journey. He came to make clear and decisive choices. He found this peace no matter how hard Eleanor convinces him to stay. She can take him to the wonders of the world and discuss major philosophical theories with him. At the end of the day though, it's more peaceful and selfless to let a person go when they are ready. It means Eleanor is by herself at the end of this journey not fully knowing what she has to do in order to reach that same moment of clarity as her friends. She helps Mindy St. Clair gain the confidence to enter the new system and be judged. Tahani will design the test for her. That is a moment of trust that works because it's Eleanor once again extending her hand in genuine interest and compassion. She is there for Michael as he enters this new phase of his existence as well. In fact, Eleanor may serve as the continued inspiration for people to do good in the world. That may be the final point the show tries to make. When a person comes to the end of their time in the afterlife, their essence may return to Earth in order to inspire others to take actions that can potentially improve their lives. It may not be enough. But it also serves as a crucial point about putting good out into the world because it is so much more beneficial than all the heinous things that could be done instead. It's a beautiful ending and one that is fitting of every sweet, silly and profound message the show delivered across its four seasons.