The Good Place Finale Takes Eleanor Shellstrop Back to the Start
"Pandemonium" is The Good Place at its best.
SPOILER ALERT: This article spoils the events of The Good Place season finale episode “Pandemonium”.
We always knew we would end up back in the Good Place. No amount of detours to Earth, the Bad Place, Gwendolyn’s mailroom, the accounting offices, or even the Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes could delay the inevitable. And so, the season finale of season three of NBC’s The Good Place brings us right back to the sugary sweet streets of Michael’s neighborhood. Initially designed to torture the four humans, it has now become a last stop on the road to redemption, not just for the Soul Squad, but for humanity itself.
Over the past three seasons, The Good Place has thrived on subverting expectations. Mike Schur and his writers room seem to delight in pulling the rug out from under its viewers, hitting the reset button repeatedly and throwing curve balls at its core cast. But despite countless resets and memory wipes, the gang continue to find one another and steadily improve their lives and the lives of others.
But a devastating twist threatens to undermine the Soul Squad. Judge Gen has given Michael and his team the chance to replicate the neighborhood experiment with four new souls, to see if they too can become better people in the afterlife. But thanks to Sean and the Bad Place, those four new souls have been cherry-picked to destroy the team.
Before the experiment launches, Sean emotionally devastates Michael, leaving him unable to do his job as the neighborhood architect. Michael’s emotional collapse forces Eleanor to step in and pretend to be the architect, which she does with aplomb. After all, if anyone has the confidence and chutzpah to masquerade as a Godlike entity, it’s everyone’s favorite Arizona dirtbag.
First, Tahani get stuck with new soul John, the catty editor of the blog, The Gossip Toilet, who made her life a living hell. After five minutes with John, Tahani is already back to her status-loving high society ways.
But the second soul to arrive is none other than Simone, Chidi’s exceedingly cool and capable ex-girlfriend. Realizing that he will be unable to lie to Simone or act normally, Chidi comes to the conclusion that Michael must reboot his memory back to his original timeline, which means erasing all memory of the Soul Squad, the Good Place, and his romance with Eleanor.
Eleanor and the gang quickly balk at Chidi’s self sacrifice, but they cannot find a way around it. Chidi has to have his memory wiped, not just for the good of the team, but for the fate of all of humanity. This leaves Eleanor bereft, without her soul mate and her ethical anchor point.
Before he gets mind-wiped, Eleanor and Chidi are treated to a movie of their greatest moments together. Eleanor, character whose rough childhood forced her to build an emotional wall against others, has finally allowed herself to open up and love someone, and now she has to lose him. It is heartbreakingly unfair, and she asks Janet what the point of anything is if loving someone only leads to pain.
Eleanor, like every other soul before her, wonders what the point is. Is the universe needlessly cruel, or is there a greater answer, a larger purpose beyond bees with teeth and pain and frozen yogurt that tastes like a male co-worker busted for stealing your ideas? Janet assures her that there is no real answer, just an explanation. According to Janet, an explanation “would just be machinery—some dumb food processor.”
The universe is an unknowable abstract, it’s chaos and nonsense. But finding friends and soulmates makes sense of the chaos. It makes us happy. The Good Place delves into several different school of philosophical thought, but it repeatedly comes back to Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other. In “Pandemonium”, it is the owing that makes us fulfilled. It is the relationships among the Soul Squad that finds peace in the chaos.
The end of the season finds Eleanor back in her old neighborhood, but everything has changed because she has changed. She came to the Good Place possessing a huge secret: that she didn’t belong there. Now, she is running the Good Place and she belongs with the Soul Squad, but her soul mate is gone. Now she is burdened with a new secret, and there’s no Chidi to help her see her way through.
We’ll have to wait until season four to find out what happens to the Soul Squad, but I’m not worried about Eleanor and Chidi. They’ve found each other in countless timelines before. Like Chidi says, “Jeremy Bearimy, baby.”
(image: Colleen Hayes/NBC)
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