I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you’ve already seen The Good Place’s season two finale. I’m not going to recap the entire episode, but if you haven’t seen it, there are spoilers ahead.
I think we’re supposed to believe that Eleanor and Chidi are back on Earth, but Lost, which now seems like a terrible show after its own second season by comparison, has taught us that we need to expect the unexpected. What’s really going on? The Good Place‘s own conceits give us something of a clue.
The Good Place somehow manages to keep itself fresh from episode to episode all the while improving. Like its characters, it’s constantly evolving. In philosophic terms, the themes explored have stuck mostly to the show’s self-consciously staked-out claims on moral philosophy. Michael telling Eleanor that the real question is about what we owe each other keeps the stated focus on deontology, the duties we have in a moral universe. I submit that with the seeming shift back to Earth, we’re moving into discussions of ontology, which centers on questions of ultimate reality and being.
To wit: I posit that Eleanor and Chidi are not back on Earth, but are navigating a simulation. The idea that we, in real life, are living in a simulation, has been around for centuries and is an especially ripe topic thanks to advances in technology and artificial intelligence. Famous intellectuals are hedging their bets by saying we’re almost certainly living in some kind of matrix invented by our far-flung descendants. I reject this view, but it has a lot of currency at the moment. The Good Place‘s focus will stay on moral philosophy, but this foray into ontology is clever and timely, especially because without discussions of ontology, deontology is meaningless.
Now for my favorite two moments of the episode, both of which I literally cheered at:
The return of Sam Malone. As soon as I saw Eleanor walk into a bar, I hoped and hoped and hoped Michael would be the bartender. This did not disappoint.
Michael’s final line of the episode, which shows his genuine joy at Eleanor’s progress.
Thematically, it’s worth noting that the Apostle Paul says Heaven is a place where we’ll know fully and be fully known. It’s a place, he says, where everybody knows your name. In Christian thought, it’s not a place you earn, and one of The Good Place‘s biggest contributions to popular theology is its terrifying vision of merit-based judgement. It’s what Paul said about the Law writ large, and with Ted Danson.
I can’t wait to see where it goes next.