Existentialism and “The Good Place”

*SPOILERS AHEAD!*

“The Good Place” is set in a world where your afterlife is calculated by a complex point system determining if you spend eternity in The Good Place or The Bad Place (or in one very rare case the Medium Place). The show begins with certain demon, Michael, creating a special and revolutionary way to torture people without them even knowing – making them believe they are in the Good Place, but secretly make them miserable.

The selfish Eleanor Shellstrop is made to believe she has been placed by mistake when she is told about an amazing life she never led. Indecisive ethics professor Chidi becomes the confidant of Eleanor, and thus put in a stressful moral dilemma. Over-privileged and attention seeking Tahani is tortured by mentions of her overshadowing sister, and Floridian Jason is placed in the afterlife of a monk who has vowed silence.

However, one problem arises in Michael’s scheme: all 4 characters become better people and uncover that they are not in fact in the Good Place in every single simulation he runs. Micheal begins to see that maybe something isn’t wrong with his model, perhaps something is wrong with the system itself. Meanwhile, his boss, Shawn, finds out that he has been failing to torture the humans, and threatens to take away Michael’s immortality in court.

When faced with the possibility of death, Michael begins to question everything he is doing with his existence, and then the meaning of life itself in a full blown Existential Crisis.

Searching for meaning is philosophical suicide. How does anyone do anything when you understand the fleeting nature of existence?

Micheal, “The Good Place,” S2E4: Existential Crisis

Chidi, the ethics professor, seized this opportunity to explain that, yes the world is absurd and meaningless, but now that you know that, you are free to do whatever you want in this world. You can break free of the constructs in your life and create a new meaning for your existence.

In the end, Michael decides that since in the afterlife, everytime without fail, each ‘bad’ person became a good one, than maybe it wasn’t something wrong with the people, but something wrong with Earth. Taking away the complexities of the world, actions do not harbor any hidden consequences. Explained below by Michael to The Judge:

skip to 1:35 for the tomato example

Michael decides to commit his existence to changing the point system that is failing humanity in the afterlife. Thus, in this example, existentialism is not just a depressing realization that everything we think we know about life is meaningless, instead it is a means to reexamine what YOU want to do with your life, and not what society tells you to want. Existentialism allows Michael to be free from his constructed roll as a torturer, giving him a sense of true gratitude for his existence.

7 thoughts on “Existentialism and “The Good Place”

  1. JOHN WEIBLE

    My mother loves this show more than any other show ever, I swear to god. although, I do think Camus would be pissed that your comparing his work to a world with an actual religion in it, although one nobody knows about. not that your post makes any worse.

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  2. JULIA Y

    Yes! I also wrote about how it relates to The Good Place! I didn’t realize thid until talking about it in class and reading more about it. But the show is a direct reference to existentialism and is a nod to Sartre’s play, “No Exit.” I think this show is a really interesting exploration of philosophy, all different kinds !

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  3. I love this show! I love how well Chidi explains existentialism, and hence the point of the show: to assert the importance of the shortness of life. Not only that but living for yourself and doing what you think is right.

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  4. Alexis S

    I really enjoyed your take on this show. I watched this show from beginning to end, and I never really thought out of all of the characters, Michael was going through an existential crisis. I really liked how Michael character was developed during the course of the show and how he found himself in the afterlife.

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  5. LILY TROGUS

    I have also watched this show and love it! This book and the conversations that we have in class always make me think of this show so I really enjoyed reading your personal take on the show. I also would agree that Michael finds himself through existentialism toward the end of the series and I enjoyed reading your thoughts!

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