It’s probably no secret that I enjoy the philosophy of extistentialism — having written a few posts about it here — so it should come as no surprise that a show like The Good Place, where the characters are literally trying to be their best selves, should seem tailor made for me. (Plus, it has Kristen Bell and it’s hilarious.) But the latest episode, appropriately titled “Best Self,” takes the concepts I enjoyed about the show, turns them to eleven, and creates what is possible the kindest and most enjoyable episode I have ever seen.
“Best Self” begins immediately after the last episode, where all the demons (and Shawn) have finally left the fake Good Place, leaving our four humans and Michael and Janet alone. But they know that Shawn won’t be fooled for long, so they need to get to the real Good Place A.S.A.P. Michael jury-rigs a vehicle to get them there (a hot-air balloon, which is appropriate, but also pretty on the nose), but the trick is that they have to be their “best self” to get on the balloon and go to the Good Place.
In any other show, that’s what the episode would have been about: each character’s self doubts and then figuring out how to be their best selves. Of course, most shows wouldn’t even have gotten far with such a philosophical premise in the first place, but it’s to Michael Schur’s credit that the show doesn’t go the simple route and simply have them get on the balloon by episode’s end. Instead, like a lot of the show, the balloon is a lie that Michael made up, but instead of being a malevolent lie, it was there because he honestly tried finding a way to get to the Good Place and couldn’t find one. To get to the Good Place, you have to be a good person on Earth and that’s it.
So the remaining amount of the episode is dedicated to one of my favorite things in all of fiction: a group of people having a party, doing what they want, in anticipation of their last day on Earth (or, in this case, before they go to the real Bad Place).
(It’s no coincidence that my favorite series finale is Angel’s “Not Fade Away,” which is 80% about the characters going about their last day and 20% awesome fight scenes.)
And that’s where the episode really becomes about being human and being kind. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason could have blamed Michael for his lies, but they don’t. They forgive him, because he tried to make things right. He admitted his mistake and tried to fix things which, as Chidi points out, makes him “better than 90% of humanity.”
Meanwhile, everyone deals with their unresolved issues by drinking heavily and then having a dance party, which is how all unresolved issues should be solved. Tahani breaks up with Jason and shows just how much she’s grown (while Jason tells a story about mom that ends with “and it was all a dream!” which...makes me worry, really), Eleanor admits she does have feelings for Chidi and knows he doesn’t, and Chidi admits that it’s hard for him to process anything, since his mind is like that sound a fork makes in the garbage disposal. And then they present Michael with an “honorary human” box, with things like car keys (so they can get lost) and band-aids (for their stupid fragile bodies) and a Dr. Oz book (because they are all suckers).
Because this ability to be human is equated with the group’s ability to be kind. Sure, they can make fun of each other, but they can also laugh at themselves. They may have started off as terrible people, but together, they have become their best selves, which, in this case, means they have self-actualized, gone beyond the need for simple safety, love or belonging, to a place where they can see who they truly are.
And then comes the bigger twist: that there actually is a manager they can call, a Judge that judges disputes between the Good Place and the Bad Place. But they have to walk through the actual Bad Place to get to a portal to the Judge and the show their case (which is pretty terrible) and hope that he/she/it accepts the case and then, impossibly, grants them admittance in the Good Place. It’s such a leap that Michael himself never considered it.
But Team Cockroach do. Because there are no other options and because, as Michael says, it’s the most human thing of all: to “attempt something futile with a ton of unearned confidence and fail spectacularly!”
And I can’t wait to see what comes next.