[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for “The Good Place,” Season 2, Episode 13, “Somewhere Else.”]
Perhaps a hopeful, smiling “OK. Here we go…” isn’t as earth shattering as The Evil Cackle Heard ‘Round the World. But what a difference a year makes for “The Good Place,” which ended a marvelous, whirlwind Season 2 on Thursday night with another savvy reinvention. And while nothing in the episode “Somewhere Else” was a bombshell the likes of last year’s upside-down-flipping megatwist, this finale still brought about some major changes that, in true “The Good Place” form, keeps the show fresh as it barrels on through to Season 3.
Series creator (and finale writer/director) Michael Schur has never shied away from “Lost” comparisons, even before “The Good Place” aired an episode. “Somewhere Else” saw this series once again embrace some of the same world-transforming paradigm shifts of its spiritual ancestor. Eleanor avoiding the column of parking lot shopping carts may not exactly be “WE HAVE TO GO BAAACK!” but it still opened up the possibility of a radically different setting for these characters without sacrificing the central tenets that keep them compelling.
Now, at least half of the Good Place Four have returned to mortal life in an extended test of their true moral selves. Sacrificing the group dynamic to shift the focus directly on Arizona was a bit of a bummer in the short term, but through Eleanor’s eyes, the episode brought together the endorphin rushes of good works and their natural obverses in a way that put the perfect bow on a Season 2 that truly embraced both of those sides.
There’s something heartening that “What We Owe Each Other” once again pops up not only to underline the show’s recurring theme, but to ensure that even as these characters continue to get separated, there’s a unifying force that keeps bringing them together. Amidst the discussions of moral philosophy and inherent human nature, this Season 2 finale reinforced the idea that this show is still about faith. Sure, its conventions of the afterlife are still in flux, but the core guiding principles guiding what it means to be a “good” person are still rooted in the idea that we are our best selves when we’re able to delay selfish gratification for some good that we may never be guaranteed to recognize.
Through this ever-evolving conception of post-life judgment, Michael has become quite the spin on a redemptive guardian angel. Popping up at the bar could easily have come across as a saccharine dose of spiritual guidance. (Hard to say which was the bigger thrill: another spectacular eatery name based on a late-90s Sting single or seeing the actor who brought Sam Malone to life reclaiming his regal bar towel.) Michael isn’t a device, though. For an immortal demon, his apparent interest in seeing Eleanor fulfill her potential for goodness means more after seeing his own conflicted journey play out. That also extends to Janet, who you’ll notice was exclusively keen on how Jason’s time back on Earth was playing out.
Part of the specific Season 2 magic (aside from the food puns) was seeing this core truly bond. Who’d have thunk that Eleanor and Tahani’si heart-to-heart on The Judge’s couch would have been possible — much less as poignant as it was — even a few episodes ago? After the tectonic shift of “Michael’s Gambit” threatened to split this quartet apart, Season 2 managed to reunite them in the snap of a finger. Seeing Eleanor and Chidi find their way back again just before the credits rolled was a heartening sign that Season 3 won’t be as much about getting the gang back together as it will be about seeing what’s changed. (Of note: There’s no truer, self-aware piece of writing in this episode than seeing that Chidi’s lecture has less than 4,000 YouTube views.) “The Good Place” has no need to put them through their paces just to show that they can triumph over adversity under a changing set of variables. The show already did that. Now the show has the room to really explore who these people can become, free from the confines of a realm governed by unfamiliar cosmic rules.
(In case this next batch of episodes stays mostly Earthbound, let’s take a quick moment to acknowledge the work of the inimitable Maya Rudolph as The Judge. If the last 18 months have shown us anything, it’s that individuals in positions of highest power have both the capacity and the impulse to wield their influence in impulsive, nonsensical ways. Credit Rudolph with somehow being able to add an ounce of levity and reason to that same style, turning that arbitrariness into something far less malicious.)
Even as the show looks to shift venues, it’s still retaining the sharpness of its story delivery that’s made this such valuable TV comfort food. Tahani’s name-dropping of Maggie Smith, Jason’s flamingo story, Eleanor’s Talmudic knowledge of the plot of “Kangaroo Jack,” and the invocation of Chidi’s grinding forks monologue were all centering forces in explaining how these characters are meant to survive, even if the end of Season 3 may find them becoming slightly different versions of who they are in “Somewhere Else.” And there’s still the searing truth of the real world: Who hasn’t been motivated to make some major changes after seeing one of those Facebook Moments anniversary flashback things?
Up through now, “The Good Place” has never shied away from romance, but it’s also never made it the massive sticking point for any of its potential pairings. Maybe it’s love that’s motivating these reunions, maybe it’s destiny. Still, that Chidi-Eleanor kiss (not to mention Janet’s very Janet-like profession of feelings) felt more like an evolutionary building block than a destination. By staying 15 steps ahead of its audience, “The Good Place” isn’t in a spot to coast on wish fulfillment. Sending its characters back to the land of the living isn’t merely a means to set these people up again. It’s an excuse to believe in them and to be invested in someone else. If that’s being “good,” then sign us up for as many seasons as they can manage to keep this up.