I’ve got some concerns about the future of The Good Place, and not for the first time.
Part of this series’ appeal since Season 1 has been its willingness to burn through plot and transform itself seemingly with such reckless abandon that we’re always a little nervous that the house of cards is about to come crashing down. After each reveal and unexpected left turn, we ask: is this finally one twist too many?
For the first two seasons, the answer was no every time. Against all odds, Michael Schur and this ingenious team of writers managed to maneuver themselves out of every corner, keeping the show fresh and evolving it into something new that still maintained the same basic appeal.
But Season 3 contained my least favorite stretch of episodes in The Good Place yet, and this was the first time some of my reservations about a reveal turned out to not be unfounded.
Those reservations came at the end of Season 2 when, in one of the series’ boldest moves yet, the plot was taken down to Earth — literally. The group has their memories wiped once again, but this time, they’re allowed to return to their pre-death lives as Michael and Janet observe.
My fears were twofold. One, I worried the show was beginning to overuse mind wipes as a plot device to the point that it would soon become an issue that major story elements and pieces of character development were constantly being lost like tears in the rain. And two, I wondered whether a season on Earth would even be interesting when part of the appeal of The Good Place is the sense of discovery that comes with exploring a world unlike our own.
The second concern did, in fact, turn out to be a problem in Season 3, especially during the Soul Squad storyline. The Good Place, uncommonly, was settling down somewhere I found to be supremely less compelling than where we had been before, and the stakes were so theoretical that it was challenging to become as invested as usual, especially since these were hugely character-focused episodes revolving around people who don’t even have the same memories of their lives that we as the audience do. Besides, the show’s zippy nature was beginning to become a hindrance because now, I had been trained to understand that this newfound focus would soon be abandoned, anyway. As a result, I was just kind of waiting for the next big twist.
After the show did indeed move on from the Soul Squad idea, it really began to excel again, but my other concern about mind wipes manifested itself in the Season 3 finale, which I found to be fairly unsatisfying overall.
In general, if a show is to erase events that we’ve spent a good deal of time watching, there better be a forking good reason. But when it came to wiping all progress we’ve seen from Chidi away (for the third time!) as occurs in the Season 3 finale, this seemed to be one rare example of The Good Place‘s writers coming up with a contrived way out of a situation they got themselves into by rushing through too much plot too quickly. I can’t help but feel the only reason to wipe Chidi’s mind was that it was too early in the life of the series for Chidi and Eleanor to be such a happy couple together, and more conflict was called for.
Within the plot, the reason is that Chidi is worried he’s not going to be able to handle teaching moral philosophy to Simone, his ex, without giving away that they know each other and used to date. This would, therefore, ruin the experiment. And sure, the stakes are quite high, and yes, Chidi is known for not exactly being able to conceal his feelings especially well. But in recent episodes, The Good Place had gone out of its way to progress Chidi into a far more confident person than ever, especially in the stellar “Janet(s).”
So shouldn’t this new Chidi, who is not nearly as much of a worrywart, is head-over-heels in love with Eleanor and theoretically has no remaining feelings for Simone, be able to do just fine in this scenario? Yes, there’s a chance he could slip up and reveal that he knew Simone before, but there’s a chance any of them could do that. The fact that Chidi and Simone used to date complicates things, of course, but I just never quite bought into this incredibly intense step being taken to resolve a situation with seemingly not that large a chance of even happening. Besides, doesn’t wiping Chidi doom Elenor to the same fate he is avoiding, as she now must pretend she doesn’t have feelings for him while he possibly falls in love with Simone instead? Is that really better?
But maybe I was so resistant to this just because I’m deeply frustrated by the idea of once again taking an entire series’ worth of events and wiping it from a main character’s mind, which is quickly becoming exactly as annoying as an “it was all a dream” reveal a the end of a movie. I spent virtually the entire finale hoping for some extra wrinkle to be thrown into the mix so that we wouldn’t have to start all over with Chidi, as if I was begging for a bully not to smash my PlayStation 1 memory card containing the 30 hours I’ve put into a video game. But alas, it was smashed before my eyes. All that Chidi progress … gone.
Yes, this will certainly set up an intriguing dynamic for the fourth season, and I’m overall a fan of the fact that we’ve now come full circle but with plenty of exciting variances, including Eleanor as the architect. But my fear is that with twists like these, The Good Place will soon become a show where it’s impossible to become invested in character-driven storylines like the one at the center of Season 3’s finale because any progress that’s being made will simply be reset sometime down the line.
We’re not quite there yet, and The Good Place is certainly still one of my favorite shows on television. And there’s always a chance that there’s a last-minute reveal in store, where Chidi’s memories will have somehow been preserved and this is all a fake-out. But I once again fear that that’s not the case and that the show may be heading off a cliff, for real this time. Fingers crossed that Schur and the gang have this shirt under control.