Monday 3 February 2020

The Good Place (Netflix TV) finale - analysis and review

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the Netflix comedy series The Good Place. There were eventually four series and the last episode has now been shown. 

The first two series were really excellent: the cleverest and most consistently surprising, very-funny, tightly-written sit-com I have ever seen. But series three and four were much less good, apart from the occassional episode at the old standard; and lasped into cheap politically correct and topical references.

However, the final double-length episode was a remarkable tour de force. It was very funny at times, but also as serious as the makers could make it; because it was about the meaning of life, the possibilities of death, and the question of purpose in reality.

***Spoiler Alert***

The Good Place deserves serious consideration as an unusally honest and rigorous (also funny and enjoyable) attempt to show in detail the consequences of modern mainstream Leftist morality.

As befits a mainstream media production, The Good Place was (or attempted to be) post-Christian. It was also non-theistic. The setting was a universe without God, a reality not-created, but merely administered (the supreme being was a 'judge' who applied a modern kind of emotivist morality). Every-thing Just Was.

Therefore there was never any possibility of genuine purpose in reality or the lives of the participants - and the plot was honest enough not to pretend otherwise.

In such a reality, the only possibility of morality is based around 'feelings' - a 'hedonic' ethical system; one based on trying to maximise pleasure and minimise suffering. For the 'evil' people/ demons it was 'my' pleasure being maximised, and/ or other-individuals suffering being taken-pleasure-in. Low level demons just maximised here and now pleasure, high level demons were strategically maximising a longer trerm.

For the 'good' characters, there was the 'altruistic' attempt to devise a system (of laws) that would maximise 'everybody's' pleasure and minimise suffering for all - but why this was 'good' had no in-show rationale. (At one point the philosopher John Rawls was mentioned - his view of goodness was pretty much that of the show.) In The Good Place, as with mainstream modern life, the desirability of altruism was simply asserted, when convenient - and the principle was ignored at other times.

The final episode was about the new 'paradise' that had been created by the protagonists. Entry to it was by modern mainstream standards of 'doing good' - and the people who went there were the  kind of people of whom upper middle class, Establishment people approve.

The implication was that the 'deplorables' - of the kind identified by mainstream mass media, and for that kind of reasons - continued to go to 'The Bad Place' (hell) and rightly so. For example, at one point Plato went to hell because he 'defended slavery'.I other words, those who violated current 'New York Times' views of good behaviour, were Bad People.

So The Good Place became a kind of perfected college campus of unlimited time and opportunities to learn, create, and enjoy the fun things in life - forever. Complete hedonism without harm to others, and no suffering. Life as a perpetual ideal holiday...

But the writers were honest enough to admit that this did not really suffice; that people would sooner or later become sated, bored, satisfied... And then they voluntarily went through a door to leave TGP and enter a state of (what was in effect) Nirvana: they would lose their self, and be re-absorbed back into the universe from which they originally came, and to which they rightly belonged.

In other words, reality was essentially Buddhist, with (as with Buddhism) tinges of Hinduism in the cyclical nature of reality.

The further question of why they had separated from the totality of reality in the first place? (why we did not just stay with the totality in the first place; instead of bothering to become mortal people, live and die, and go to paradise before becoming reabsorbed?) was not addressed - as it is not addressed by Buddhism or Hinduism.

The implication is that this is just How Things Happen. The metaphor used was that we are each a wave: a wave forms, it crashes ashore, the wave resturns to the ocean - then another wave reforms. This is Just What Happens.

This is not irrational as a belief. After all, all beliefs come down to the asuumption of It Just Is sooner or later.

But it is a metaphysics of pointlessness, and the rational human attitude is a kind of passive resignation: there is no reason to be loving, or creative, or to live rather than die.

It is, indeed, an religious view that regards death (non-being) as the ideal. And that is - pretty much - the final decision and implication of The Good Place.

This fits with the idea that Hinduism/ Buddhism is (more or less) what you get from human intelligence operating upon purely this-worldly phenomena, on what we observe for ourselves: it is a kind of natural paganism made abstract.

And therefore Nirvana is a natural end-point for an honest a rigorous modern materialist - amounting to a more thoughtful version of the absolute annihilation that materialists (whose understanding Is incoherent) assume to be the fate of all living beings, including Men.

What is an alternative to such a Paradise-Nirvana scenario?

Well, for me it is the vision of Heaven that was made lucid by Mormon (CJCLDS) theology with some help from William Arkle - that is  heaven of men and women who are en route to becoming gods (on a level with, and within the prior universe of, God the creator); gods whose motivations are harmonised by love and who are participating in the primary work of creation.

Heaven consisting of men and women who live in families - extended families, cross-linked by ('celestial' = everlasting, dyadic) marriage.

I did not realise until after the show had finished - but the Paradise of The Good Place had no children: none at all. The protagonists had parents, but no children. Get that? No Children.

After aeons of cohabiting life in this Paradise; a women still described herself as the 'girlfriend' of a man - there was no marriage. Their life was a perpetual holiday of visiting 'cool' places, partying, eating good food, having more elaborate sex... Modern 'dating', but without limit.

Relationships were just as contingent as upon earth, whether it was currently enjoyable - or not. Continuation was based upon each individual's appetite for more life of this kind - whether there was anything 'yet to do' that they still wanted to do (in one case; literally a written list of accomplishments, ticked-off as accomplished).

Thus all relationships and participation in Paradise likewise; at any time, anybody might decide they we ready to go through the door to Nirvana.

Sooner or later, everybody would decide this.

No children, no families, no commitments... Paradise was exactly like the modern 'singles' life of students, young professionals, media people, most of the most popular TV shows and movies, a social media lifestyle... shared, presumably, by most of the people responsible for putting together the show.

Implicitly, marriage, family, children - all these are evanescent pleasures (or pains), just like any other pleasure - but in practice inferior to personal growth, fun parties, sex, travel, good living... And then annihilation.

So, here it is. The Good Place describes accurately the best that can be offered by the mainstream, modern, media view of life.

It - without even comment - excludes precisely what I personally regard as The most important things in life. And ultimately; this exclusion comes about inevitably because there is assumed to be no creator, no God, and no divine purpose; no possibility of permanent committments; no eternal marriage and no eternal families.

Subtract all these: and The Good Place is a fair, honest, worked-through picture of what remains.


c matt said...

I watched the first episode or two, and while comical enough and well acted within its parameters, the show's idea of "the good place" did strike me as rather vapid. I kept wondering what was the point of this "heaven"? Just a more pleasant version of earthly life is all I could figure out. Could not get past that to watch any more of it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@c matt - You didn't stay long enough for the wholesale deconstruction!

Epimetheus said...

After they get bored with the Good Place, do they go to the Bad Place to drown themselves in the oblivion of sadism and depravity? I kinda suspect that's what happens in real life...

Bruce Charlton said...

E - Well, no. As I said, they dissolve back into The Universe, lose all self and will. Your idea may well have tempted them as a joke resolution that would appeal to many mainstream young people, but if so, they did not yield.

David said...

I started watching this show at your recommendation some time ago and thoroughly enjoyed it... but then my interest tailed-off, at more or less the same season you seem to have noticed a drop in quality. I got bored, not enough forward momentum for me to remain engaged, felt like treading water with 'canned laughter' and an acute case of couch-potatitis. Nevertheless you seem to have persevered, whereas I threw in the towel at that point. Still, it's good to hear what happened at the end without bothering to watch it myself. I may skip directly to the last episode, time permitting.

On a serious point though, your observation about the lack of children in the good place paradise, or even the desire for them, fits with what I see in many of my peers. Yes they have more exciting lives with free time, varied and interesting hobbies, travel, disposable income...I can't comment on their sex lives...but I have two young beautiful children, no money, sleepless nights, no opportunity to pursue interesting hobbies...and I can't comment on my sex life...So, I am truly blessed and love them both more than life itself...Sorry, I forgot my original point... Something about having Children being heavenly I think, perhaps it will come back to me and will post a mature, spiritually insightful comment at a later time when inspiration strikes.