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  • Margaret A. Robbins, PhD

[SPOILERS] The Good Place Finale: The Art of Letting Go

Caution: Contains Spoilers

The hero’s journey theme resonates with many people. So does the theme of letting go.

The hit television show The Good Place has developed a large fan base. Many of the primary characters were in the middle to later end of their “young adult” years. However, some of my “tween” aged Generation Z students watched the show and appreciated the humor in it, and a handful of them have written fan fiction about it as part of my Humanities course. I know people across age spans who have watched or expressed interest in the show. I’ve read blogs that discuss the Millennial-centered humor of The Good Place, but the interest among age spans shows that the show will likely remain popular for years to come.

Perhaps part of the widespread appeal of the show was Eleanor going on a hero’s journey, with Michael and Chidi as her primary mentors and Janet, Jason, and Tahani as secondary mentors and companions. She was on a quest to become a better person, an attribute that we all want. By the end of the show, she seems to have arrived at that goal.

It’s both ironic and fitting, then, that the finale of the show was about coping with loss, yet finding a new sense of self through that loss.

By the end of the show, Eleanor has become a better person. Yet along the way, she had to let go of the parts of herself that were holding her back. She had to release the resentment she felt toward her parents. After spending time with her mother in her new suburban home, Eleanor is finally able to be happy for her mother’s new life, even though she didn’t get the mom she really needed growing up. Perhaps more importantly, Eleanor learned to get go of control and learned a form of surrender when she had to say farewell to Chidi, who very well might have been her true soul mate.

When Chidi told Eleanor “I’m not ready to leave you, but I’m ready to leave” to go beyond the realm of the happy afterlife, I felt that. It’s the same way I felt last spring, when I had to put down the cat who I got in college and who had been my only constant companion at home for 15.5 of the 16 years of his life. He didn’t want to leave me, but he was ready to leave his body. As much as it hurt, I had to let him do that.

I believe this is one of the hardest lessons that young adulthood teaches us: if someone wants to leave, it isn’t fair to try to make them stay. This transcends so many connections, whether it be aging pets, friendships that have withered, dating relationships that haven’t worked out, or first jobs from which people need to part for new opportunities. We can take our loved ones to the most beautiful cities in the world, literally or metaphorically, and show them the best parts of ourselves. But if we’ve done that, and they are still ready to go, then giving them permission to move on is sometimes the grandest gesture of love we can give. I am reminded of a line from The New Girl: “When you care about somebody, you do what’s best for them, even if it sucks for you.” As horrible as letting go can be, it is sometimes what needs to be done and is in the best interest of your loved one, even if it hurts you.

Yet letting go can be positive. Jason Mendoza, while he tends to be the comic relief character of the show, let go of his past mistakes and a rocky relationship with his father to form a happier relationship with his friends, his partner Janet, and himself. Tahani let go of a troubled relationship with her sister and parents and, perhaps more importantly, the unfair expectations that her family laid upon her, resulting in her own unrealistic expectations and resulting narcissistic tendencies. Finally free of these expectations, Tahani decided not to release into the next realm. Instead, she gets to work as a new Good Place architect who will ultimately be a designer of the new afterlife test. Well after her earthly death, she finally found her purpose. Chidi let go of the pain of his own and his parents’ romantic relationship challenges and, gradually, came to terms with his indecisive tendencies.

Letting go is both painful and positive, and regardless, it is often necessary to evolve into the best version of yourself. Even though the main protagonists of The Good Place are mostly younger adults, this life lesson can apply to all ages. Letting go allows us to explore new territory and to grow beyond past pains. Letting go can also involve moving past the comfortable, safe bubbles from which we cannot evolve, like the flawed, supposedly happy but boring “good place” of the final season.

The series finale’s post-show event with Seth Meyers also showed a beautiful aspect of letting go and moving on, as the cast had their final toast and said their farewells. It reminded me of saying farewell to my PhD program. My colleagues and friends had this intense experience together, and we then took separate paths. While we knew we would not see each other as often, we had grown into better people because of each other.

Letting go is moving on, but it is also moving forward to a different space, either literally or metaphorically. To me, The Good Place was about many things, but the end was about the pain and the beauty of letting go, regardless of numeric age.

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