This story contains spoilers for the series finale of The Good Place.
Technically, The Good Place, NBC’s freewheeling sitcom about the afterlife, ended its run last night. The hour-long series finale tied up loose plot threads, celebrated its characters’ relationships with one another, and dropped some heartening twists. For any show, even one as esoteric as The Good Place, hitting these benchmarks alone would make for a successful departure. But the comedy’s most salient philosophical takeaway resists this neat formula of linearity. Or, as the former “Arizona dirtbag” protagonist Eleanor Shellstrop (played by Kristen Bell) finally comes to understand, “Working out the terms of moral justification is an unending task.”
The Good Place has spent four seasons asking weighty questions about the vexing condition of being alive: Can human beings become better? If so, how, and what does that even mean? The high-concept series from the Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Schur began as a screwball comedy with some ethical musings threaded into its zany high jinks. For every invocation of Aristotelian theory, there was a giant shrimp flying around on-screen or a joke about the former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. The sitcom’s commitment to its dual mandates never wavered, but its finale still exhibits a surprising level of care—for the show’s ragtag crew of dead characters, to be sure, but also for its viewers, who will presumably be stuck figuring out this whole “existing as a human” thing for a bit longer. Nowhere is this more evident than in the episode’s clear-eyed approach to life’s final question: The Good Place concludes that human experiences are meaningful precisely because of our mortality—and how we treat one another in that finite window is the greatest measure of our lives.