The Good Place Ending Explained: 4 Afterlife Lessons The Characters Learned And What It All Means

Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Michael (Ted Danson) laughing
(Image credit: NBC)

Mike Schur’s NBC sitcom, The Good Place, proposes an interesting theory of the afterlife that defies religious explanation. Centering on the story of four recently deceased people placed in an experimental version of “hell” (referred to as “The Bad Place”), the sitcom forces viewers to assess their own moral compass while learning a little bit of Philosophy 101 along the way.

After dismantling the faulty system in place that dooms people to eternity in The Bad Place, our main characters are left to enjoy paradise forever. But, what does it all mean? What can we learn from The Good Place ending in 2020? By examining what the characters learned in the afterlife, we can take away some life lessons that apply to those of us who are among the still-living.

Ted Danson as Michael on The Good Place

(Image credit: NBC)

People Can Always Change For The Better

There isn’t a quantifiable way to analyze whether someone is good or bad, which is why the original point system that sent people to The Bad Place was so flawed. By the end of the series, the characters have proven that even if people haven’t lived good lives on Earth, they still have the capacity to grow and change for the better before and during their afterlife.

The idea that “no one is beyond rehabilitation” echoes throughout The Good Place. It’s true for Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason, and it’s true for many of their friends and family who ultimately get to join them in The Good Place after passing trials of morality. All four of our main characters have earned a peaceful afterlife knowing they’ve changed the eternal destiny of pretty much everyone on the planet.

Even Michael, a literal demon, can change for the better: Though he’s the clear antagonist of the first half of the show, he revolts against the powers that be when he realizes how flawed the system is. If a demon can be rehabilitated, maybe anyone can.

Tahani, Jason, Eleanor and Chidi on The Good Place

(Image credit: NBC)

The End Doesn’t Have To Be A Bad Thing

So, The Good Place is fixed. Now what? 

In the words of The Good Place’s creator, Mike Schur, not much. Schur shared these thoughts on eternal life with The Hollywood Reporter in 2020:

That’s not a reward; it’s a punishment. Being anywhere forever, no matter how great it is, ends up being a punishment. So it made total sense to me that at some point, you’d be like, 'All right, back in the pool.'

It’s this theme that brings Team Cockroach to the realization that afterlife isn’t the end all, be all. There comes a time when everyone is ready to say goodbye, for real, so they create an archway in the forest that will allow people to bring their afterlife to an end. In short, the new system in place will ensure that future Good Place residents can really enjoy their afterlife since it ultimately will end when they are ready.

Furthermore, that final goodbye doesn’t have to be a sad one. Eleanor and Chidi’s goodbye is heartbreaking, but Eleanor can find peace in knowing that Chidi has lived a fulfilling afterlife. We don’t need to be sad for him—after all, he’s not sad to be leaving. Likewise, it’s easier for Chidi to say goodbye to Eleanor knowing that she has friends and family still with her in The Good Place.

The arch also forces Eleanor to confront her selfishness in trying to make Chidi stay with her. The fact that Eleanor wants to stay doesn’t change the fact that Chidi is ready to leave.

Janet and Eleanor have one last margarita on The Good Place

(Image credit: NBC)

Personal Fulfillment Is Subjective

There’s no timer or cosmic countdown to let people know when they’re ready to end their time in The Good Place. That decision has to come from within, and it looks different for everybody.

For example, Jason finally feels fulfilled after beating his high score on Madden. After that, he can walk through the arch knowing he accomplished everything he ever wanted to in his lifetime.

Tahani’s journey of personal fulfillment looks very different from Jason’s. After becoming a master of nearly every trade, hobby, and skill known to man, Tahani still isn’t quite ready to call it quits—which is why she takes her place as the first human Good Place architect.

However, Eleanor’s journey doesn’t feel complete until she’s certain she’s able to help people who haven’t earned eternal life in The Good Place. She revisits Mindy St. Clair, the one and only resident of the “Medium Place,” and convinces her to try to make it into the Good Place; she also ensures that Michael will have his shot at a human life by persuading the Judge to send him to Earth. Eleanor’s personal fulfillment also includes one last margarita.

Chidi and Eleanor say goodbye

(Image credit: NBC)

The Wave Returns To The Ocean

Always the philosopher, Chidi explains the end of his time in The Good Place to Eleanor like this:

Imagine a wave. You can see it, measure it, observe it—but then, it comes crashing to the shore, and it’s gone. The water is still there, it’s just no longer a wave.

In that way, the goodness the Soul Squad put out into the world won’t just disappear when they cease to exist. It will just transform into something else.

When Eleanor is eventually ready to leave, Chidi’s theory is confirmed. Eleanor’s energy dissipates into the forest in orbs of glowing light as she passes through the arch, with one orb ultimately landing on the shoulder of a human man back on Earth. We see the man second-guess a decision to throw away a discarded piece of mail; instead, he delivers it directly to the recipient: Michael. Eleanor’s wave returned back to the ocean.

Chidi’s ocean metaphor softens the blow of saying goodbye to someone you love. Even though a person’s physical body may be gone, their legacy stays behind, along with the impact of the good deeds they’ve done.

The Good Place is the perfect show to binge this winter if you’re starting to feel like this is The Bad Place. All four seasons of The Good Place are available to stream with a Netflix subscription.

She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.