Heads up: this piece gets into some light information regarding upcoming episodes of The Good Place so if you don’t want that, steer clear. I’m not some Bad Place demon here to trick you.
The Good Place is one of the smartest shows on TV, and I know I’m never fully understanding it. It’s one of the only shows I watch at this point where I spend time after each episode debating with my wife whether or not the show is breaking its own rules. I mean, overwhelmingly it kinda is, but a few episodes later you’ll figure out why it wasn’t that bad—or it was that bad but you’ll be treated to an excellent explanation as to why.
The third season of The Good Place seems fixated on breaking as many rules as it can, and then cobbling them back together in a new configuration. Which, to be as decisive as Chidi, is either the most ethical or least ethical version of ethics imaginable. At best, it is a literal living Hell. It’s also an opportunity those of us living in this real life Bad Place would love to have.
At the end of season two, the four main characters from The Good Place Experiment are granted an opportunity to return to life on Earth, in an attempt to prove that their souls have been forever altered, if not their minds. Humans are, predictably, not as inherently good as one would hope. Goodness requires a lot of work and it is not our natural state. So season three kicks off with Michael dabbling in the lives of his subjects, despite strict instructions not to do so. He’s hedging bets, and he’s not alone—a certain demon from The Bad Place interjects to also do a bit of hand forcing.
While this all builds towards a rebellion against God, in practice there’s enough blurring of lines here to wonder if this serves the thesis of The Good Place. From the start, this has been a show about sincerely exploring world philosophies in contest with each other. Obviously, the show has to build and go somewhere. We can’t just be standing around lecturing about Søren Kierkegaard in the third season of a network TV show that I’m still stunned is on network TV. But the rules of the show, disconnected from the twists in the narrative, have been based in a genuine experiment.
Are we still engaging in that experiment? No. No, I don’t think so. But I’m already invested in the new experiment.
There’s already been enough dabbling in both directions from celestial beings to forever damage the final results of whatever is happening on Earth now. But also the show makes it clear that our actual non-show world is now the same place as the reset timeline for this experiment. On account of, you know, the Jacksonville Jaguars and all that. Which seems like it’s setting a show rule that there won’t be any more resets on any plane of existence. Which is good. Let’s deal with one reality at a time.
This third season boils down to being the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of ethics, where the principles don’t know they’re being monitored, but that monitoring is affecting the outcome. So what experiment do you do with that? What’s the goal here?
At this point it would make sense for the main cast to form their own ethical system, forged in the fire of their journey to this point and what they’ve learned about the afterlife, but also influenced by the deeply bizarre internal systems and motivations of Michael and Janet. After two seasons spent teaching an audience the building blocks that morality can be broken down into, 2018 seems like the perfect time to build a completely new system. Our weird timeline right now shows no resemblance to the entirety of human history, so why wouldn’t we need a new way to measure good versus evil and all the shades of grey in between? And if you can form a new system of ethics, maybe you can free yourself from all responsibility to even be a part of a universe that can assign you to an afterlife?
The Good Place started this season by breaking rules left and right. Here’s hoping the rest of the episodes find a way to break every rule left, and then some more. If there’s a way of life that leaves us all only beholden to each other, and the four misfits from this show can pull it off, then certainly the rest of humanity could thrive in that world too.
Michael Schur, I hope I’m not setting the bar too high, but I’m depending on this one season of your television program to save the world. I hope that’s fair.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.