I’ll admit—after I watched the first couple of episodes of NBC’s The Good Place several years ago, I thought they were *OK*…but felt no big commitment to keep following the series. Then I encountered recommendations to see the last episode of the 1st season—the unexpected ending of which, I was informed, CHANGED EVERYTHING.
Spoilers ahead, naturally!
And so I sat down and watched that season ender, entitled “Michael’s Gambit.” And I was like HOLY MOTHERFORKING SHIRTBALLS, IT DOES CHANGE EVERYTHING!!!
I can’t remember any TV show doing such a 180-degree turn like this. Essentially what spends its first 12 episodes being a quirky *OK* comedy not only gets as dark as fuck…but it essentially gets as Gnostic as fuck, too. Because The Good Place is not, in essence, a quirky *OK* comedy.
The Good Place is an adaptation of The Matrix.
The initial premise of the show is that Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), kind of a jerk in Life, dies and ends up, by accident, going not to Hell (“The Bad Place”) but Heaven (“The Good Place”). And so she’s is what appears to be this squeaky-clean wholesome world, filled with annoyingly good people. And the “manager” of The Good Place is Michael (Ted Danson)—the moniker bringing to mind the Archangel Michael…but also, importantly, the first name of the creator of the show, Michael Schur.
Michael is also annoyingly nice.
While Eleanor feels lucky to have “escaped” Hell, she starts to realize that she isn’t super-happy in Heaven, either.
And so that’s your situation comedy: The Good Place. Wackiness ensues.
And then comes that season finale, “Michael’s Gambit.” About 2/3rds into this episode, it’s revealed that The Good Place is not Heaven…it’s Hell.
But that’s not all! Michael is really a man called “The Architect” who, with the backing of a weird group of elites, has purposely created a devious “fake world” for Eleanor and the others to live in—created with the sole purpose to torture them!
So basically…what we’ve seen going on through the entire show is an elaborate lie, created by humanoid advanced creatures to inflict pain on humans simply, it seems, for the joy of doing so. And to me: that’s as dark as it gets.
Eleanor, who figures out the ruse and confronts Michael/The Architect on it, eventually gets her mind “wiped” so all her memories of the past 12+ episodes have been erased. Only, she before that happened she hid a message in the mouth of a robot-type humanoid (Janet—who really sort of has a Sophia/VALIS thing going on as we explore Season Two), to trigger her mind into remembering. And so she is now in another Good Place—seemingly ideal and wonderful, with a super-cute boyfriend to boot—and has the reality shattered by this retrieved message.
If you compare The Good Place to the 1999 movie The Matrix & also Gnostic mythlology—especially by substituting the “afterlife” storyline with a metaphor of our own world—it fits perfectly.
Michael is literally The Architect from The Matrix mythos—the person who has constructed the fake reality, the Demiurge.
Michael and his “co-workers” are the Archons, advanced beings (angels, demons, aliens, the lizard people, whatever you want to call them) who want to keep the truth of existence hidden from humans so they can “get off” on their suffering. Eleanor is Neo—the “chosen one” who has figured out the ruse.
And just like a good Philip K. Dick novel, Eleanor has memories of the true world—and who she really is—triggered by a hidden message to, essentially, “wake up.”
In Season Two we get a lot of mind-wiping and reality resetting, and eventually Michael and the humanoid Janet learning to be a bit more human. There is also a fair amount of philosophy and ethics discussed, with the episode “The Trolley Problem” being the most notable.
Though the humans in The Good Place are really dead and in the metaphysical concept of Hell, the metaphor for our daily world is evident. Their world is completely created, manipulated, and scripted by otherwordly highly-advanced creatures. In the third episode of the second season, “Dance Dance Reslolution,” you see their world constantly “rebooted,” complete with subtle changes to each new landscape (shades of the Mandela Effect!) as well as a large cast of “simulated” (possibly soulless) citizens and, as Dolores Cannon would call them, “back-drop people.” (I think Cannon would have gotten a really big laugh at how much these guys are like the “back-drop people.”)
Season Three of The Good Place starts on September 27, so…if you’re looking for an intelligent TV series that deals with these philosophical and frankly metaphysical concepts definitely check this show out.