I recently re-watched the TV series The Good Life which I have praised highly in the past but did not discuss the way it ended because I did not want to spoil it for others. But since almost two years have passed since it ended, I feel that it is safe to do so.
Those who watched the entire series know that it begins with four people who have died being fooled into thinking that they have entered the ‘Good Place’, which is a euphemism for a heaven but without a deity, because they have lived exceptional lives on Earth. But in reality they are in the ‘Bad Place’ (a euphemism for hell) as part of an elaborate hoax by demons who are experimenting with a new form of torture in which they get people to torture each other by making each others’ lives miserable by squabbling over all manner of things. You know, just like people do on Earth. Most of the series involves the four, after they discover the hoax, trying to figure out how to get into the real Good Place and avoid eternal torment.
At the end, the main characters finally enter the real Good Place only to find that everyone there is bored out of their minds. An eternity of having all one’s desires satisfied turns out to be soul-killing. In this clip the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandra (Lisa Kudrow) explains the problem.
So what can they do?
Ending a show like this is not easy. How the writers deal with it is to have the four arrange for the creation of a portal through which people can walk through when they are tired of living in the Good Place. What lies on the other side? No one really knows but the implication is that one’s physical manifestation ceases to exist and one’s essence returns to the universe, like a wave that has a tangible shape and form but then disappears and returns to the sea. (That metaphor is actually used in the show.)
The point is that you get to choose when to go through the door and the fact that there is or can be an end to their existence is what creates meaning for people in the Good Place (and by implication for those of us on Earth) and brings back joy to their lives.
The ending seems to be supportive of the idea that the atoms that make up our bodies remain of course, just like the water molecules in the wave, but we eventually cease to exist in any recognizable form. What the show has fantasized is that the Good Place is transition state between life on Earth and the final state of non-existence. It also seems to advocate for euthanasia, because people get to choose their moment of exit. These views, and the idea that heaven is a boring place that people want to escape from, and the absence of Jesus and God, run contrary to much of what Christians in America believe and so I was a little surprised that this show that ran on mainstream TV aimed at the general public was so popular and did not arouse much controversy, though there were some expressions of concern.
Here is a scene after Chidi (Willian Jackson Harper) tells Eleanor (Kristin Bell) that he has decided that it is time for him to go through the portal and tries to console her because she is sad that he is leaving her.
And here is Eleanor later when she decides its time for her to go through the door. She talks with Janet (D’Arcy Carden), who is an all-knowing, all-powerful assistant to the inhabitants of the Good Place. Michael (Ted Danson) is a demon who originally designed the hoax to torment them but then reforms and becomes their ally in the quest to get into the Good Place. At the end, he gets his wish to see what it is like to be a real human being. He is made into one and is sent to live on Earth.
The performances of the entire cast were excellent. There are very few shows that I can watch again with a level of enjoyment close to the first time and this was one of them. The fact that I knew how it ended did not spoil it for me, so maybe these spoilers do not matter.