I’ve watched a lot of people die.
This is a morbid place to start this particular blog entry, but I recently realized that not everyone is as involved in the deaths of their loved ones as I have been blessed to be. I have felt, watching my great-grandmothers and my grandparents and and the S.O.’s grandparents pass on, the fundamental lack of interest in dying. This is not to say that no one ever feels like dying, because I recognize that a lot of people do. But despite this idea of a peaceful death of old age that many of us have in our heads, a lot of people never want to die. No matter how miserable they are, they cling to life in the face of the unknown.
Enter Season 4 of The Good Place, where dying is impossible. Spoilers, if you haven’t finished yet.
The Good Place is a delightful television comedy exploring life’s most fundamental questions, in a manner that is relatively nondenominational. Eleanor, the main character along with Chidi, Jason, and Tahani, is our guide through the afterlife, which she experiences in much the same way that she experienced life, with some small changes. She can be harmed, but not killed. She can eat but doesn’t feel hunger. She has all of her memories intact — her ego, the things that make her Eleanor, are preserved (though, as with all good stories, her character changes over the four seasons that we follow her on her journey). This is an afterlife that presumes a certain amount of continuity from life, and that is evidenced by the fact that what you did in life directly influences where you end up. In Season 4, discoveries made in Seasons 1-3 finally culminate in the redesigning of that afterlife and a seeming final peace for the main characters.
But there is a catch. When the four friends arrive in The Good Place at last, they find that heaven isn’t all its cracked up to be. There are no conflicts. You can have anything you want with a thought. There is nothing to strive for, and you can never leave.
The people in The Good Place are miserable.
In life, we cannot choose to live forever. In death, the people in The Good Place cannot choose to die. The lack of choice is the core of suffering, which Eleanor and company figure out upon their arrival. They make a new system. People in The Good Place may leave whenever they want. It’s their choice when they go. But when they go, it’s final. They walk through a final door, and they end.
The show could have stopped there. It could have left us wondering about Eleanor and Chidi and Tahani and Jason’s eternity together. But it chose not to. Over the last episode, each character leaves The Good Place. I sobbed through the whole thing. This was a final ending. There was no way to imagine a better place or a stranger future for our friends. Eleanor and her companions are gone forever. But they chose it. Unlike most of us, who will be pushed into death by our fragile bodies, Eleanor could have stuck around forever. Literally, she could have existed until the clock of the universe wound down, if it ever managed. Instead, she found her peace. She walked through the door.
There is something very wonderful about making this decision. It requires great resolve, to send your characters to their final rest. Whatever else can be said about The Good Place, the creative team which scripted this show was brave. They wrote hilarious, tight plots which then rendered me to tears. Any show that makes me pause to laugh hysterically and sob uncontrollably is a show worth watching. But I think there is a lesson here, about endings. About letting things end in their time.