The Good Place: Creator Michael Schur breaks down the fall finale
The struggle for Fake Eleanor’s soul is real.
On Thursday’s fall finale of The Good Place, Eleanor (Kristen Bell) was about to be hauled away to the Bad Place when she was saved by her literal guardian angel: Michael (Ted Danson), the pushover bow-tied architect of her afterlife paradise neighborhood. After a most unfortunate house party featuring a karaoke session that involved Baja Men and Richard Nixon, Michael mustered the courage to tell the douchey demon Trevor (Adam Scott) — who is serving as the Bad Place’s emissary — that he would not trade Fake Eleanor for Real Eleanor. Or for a unicorn. In no uncertain terms, Michael told Trevor to go fork himself and to go to… well, hell.
Tahani (Jameela Jamil) might soon say the same to Jianyu, a.k.a. Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), after she slipped into his bud-hole and discovered that he’s not the saint, er, monk that he’s silently claimed. Meanwhile, Chidi (William Jackson Harper) is speed-bonding with his intended soulmate, the other Eleanor Shellstrop (Tiya Sircar) — you know, the one who was at the Phoenix grocery store picking up food for a homeless shelter while attending a death-penalty conference on that fateful day, not the one who was there buying margarita mix and the new issue of Celebrity Baby Plastic Surgery Disasters.
What are the ramifications of Michael’s stand against evil? What happens to Jason, a.k.a. the other glitch besides Eleanor? Exactly how scary is a four-headed flying bear? These questions about the very good Good Place and more will now be answered by the true overlord of the afterlife. No, not Sean — series creator Michael Schur.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Michael held his own against Trevor, claiming both Eleanors, and telling Trevor to do his worst. I’m guessing you don’t mess with the Bad Place. What vindictive, retaliatory measures await Michael & co.?
MICHAEL SCHUR: At the end of the episode, all of Michael’s newfound confidence and bluster is pretty easily flicked away by Trevor. He says, “I’m going to tell Sean — you’re in big trouble.” So the biggest thing that’s coming is: Whoever this Sean person is, is the sort of final arbiter of all matters. And Trevor knows that despite being literally the worst creature in the universe, he has the moral high ground here, that fake Eleanor is his property, so he’s pretty confident that when Sean reviews the case, that the case will be found in the favor of the Bad Place. And that’s the big stretch that looms over the final four episodes.
So the demon’s only recourse is: “I’ll get you…. via the judicial system!”?
Yeah, there does seem be a certain amount of law and order. It’s not like the biblical wars of archangels and demons. It’s more like: There’s rules to this system, you’ve violated the rules, you have no leg to stand on, I’ll see you in court.
<Before we get into the concept of Sean, the eternal judge ruling over both realms, we ask: What were the other names you tossed around besides Sean? [Laughs] There were a few. “Todd” was one. “Chris” was one. We wanted a name that could be both genders — that was an important thing because at the time we wrote it, we didn’t know who would actually play Sean, so we wanted it to be neutral gender. But really, the fun thing was it’s just the most boring name that we could think of.
Neither side seemed terribly thrilled about getting him involved at first. Why? Is he cranky?
Yes, Sean is cranky. Sean does not like being roused out of slumber to come have to rule on matters like this. The backstory is that there have been very few of them, because the system is pretty orderly and it takes care of itself. But on the rare occasions when Sean does have to show up, Sean is not super psyched about having to do it. So no one likes dealing with Sean…. The big question obviously going forward is: What does it mean if a judge is showing up to ostensibly rule on her behavior? How is that going to go for her?
Is she going to argue her own case?
Yes, she and her friends are going to have to try to figure out a way to convince Sean that she is deserving of her place there.
When do we meet Sean, and how would you describe his or her physicality and wardrobe?
Well, Sean’s a judge, so you can imagine what a judge looks like. This is episode 9, so what we have left is 10, 11, 12, and 13. By the end of 11, you will have met Sean.
And Sean is male? Sean is male, yes. Well, appears as a male.
Is Sean played by someone we know?
Umm… I would say that if you’re fairly intimately familiar with the other shows that I’ve worked on in the recent past [Parks and Recreation] and currently [Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Master of None], it might be an actor you will recognize.
<What was it about Adam Scott that made you say, “Yep. He’s the perfect demon”?
Well, he played basically the world’s sweetest and nicest and most empathetic and wonderful man for several years, and he also has it in him to be the guy from Step Brothers and I think he’s so funny. How he burst into the comedy world, at least to me, was in Step Brothers. So, I called him and said, “How would you like to play Not Ben Wyatt?” (laughs) I said, “You’re literally a demon. You’re the worst absolute creature that exists anywhere in the universe,” and he said, “That sounds fun.” Because I know he’s so funny when he does full d-bag, I thought it would be fun for me and for the other Parks and Rec writers who work on the show to write him that way, and I thought it would be really fun for him to act that role, so it was an easy choice.
You’re a stats guy. What percentage good was Eleanor when she arrived in the Good Place, and what do you think she’s at now? What’s her VORS — Value Over Replacement Soul?
Well, without giving too much away, we are actually going to find out the answers to that. We’re going to find out what her score was when she was on Earth. And there was a big debate about it in the writers’ room. She says a couple of times, “I wasn’t a murderer, I wasn’t an arsonist.” If [those in the Good Place] are the very, very best people who ever lived, then the very, very worst people who ever lived would be your Idi Amins and Joseph Stalins. So she was nowhere close to that. I would say if the best people who have ever lived end up with scores with +3 million, and the very worst people are -3 million, I would say she’s right around average in terms of her final score.
How much do you think she has changed in the afterlife?
One of the last four episodes will get into that a little bit. But fairly significantly. I think that she’s been working hard and she’s committed to this, and I think you see it in episode 9 when she has this moment, where she’s like, “I don’t belong here, but I want to.” She’s a great deal more self-aware by episode 9 than she was when she started.
She’s quoting Kant at ease now. She’s learning.
Yeah. There is a lot of evidence that she is not only studying this stuff, but she’s internalizing and understanding — and that she likes it. She sees the wisdom of trying to be a good person.
NEXT: “I would say it’s a romantic quadrangle.”[pagebreak]
Eleanor notices the fast-forming bond between the other Eleanor and Chidi. What dynamic can we expect between them in the final few episodes? And will Tahani join her in jealousy to help form a complicated romantic square-type thing?
Well, part of what’s fun about introducing Fake Eleanor’s doppelgänger — who shares her name and has led the most perfect life possible that anyone can lead — is that you’re pulling all of Fake Eleanor’s flaws into very stark contrast. (laughs) We knew from the beginning of the year that eventually we would introduce the real Eleanor and the fun of it was to go, “Oh wow, so when she shows up, this is Chidi’s actual soulmate.” The bond between them would be instantaneous. But he’s also spent a lot of time with Fake Eleanor, and then there’s also this weird other complication where he and Tahani seem to have found some kind of common ground in certain ways, and they have the same favorite painter and have a same shared worldview in certain ways. So, yeah, that’s definitely one of the big drives of the final four episodes trying to untangle all of that romantic stuff.
Is a romantic square a good way to describe it?
Yeah. I would say it’s a romantic quadrangle.
Tahani realizes that Jianyu is not who he claims to be. What does that relationship look like in the final episodes, besides in shambles?
Episode 10 picks up right where 9 leaves off and as you can imagine, Tahani is less than thrilled in a number of ways, No. 1: That she’s been misled and deceived for this long. No. 2: Theoretically, she might find out that other people knew before she did, which is never a great feeling. And third — and perhaps most of all for Tahani specifically — the actual person that Jason is is basically Tahani’s worst nightmare. (laughs) Yeah, it doesn’t go well.
I’m assuming that Jason glitched his way into the Good Place in a different way than the two Eleanors dying in the same exact moment and the same exact time. Can you confirm that his glitch is a different kind of glitch?
I can indeed confirm that his glitch is different than Eleanor’s, yes.
Is there anything you can hint about the difference?
No, it really would be a giveaway. It’s a different glitch, but I would say an equally kind of fun and hopefully satisfying glitch.
Speaking of doomed romances, is there a potential for a Jason/Janet relationship? He was checking her out in this episode. And as she reboots, she might be in a vulnerable place.
Hmmm. Interesting theory. I’ll be interested to explore that notion with you at a later date.
When we return, where does Fake Eleanor live? Does she have to shack up with Chidi and Real Eleanor?
Yes. It’s funny, we had a whole scene that really got into the awkwardness of where should she stay, like, “Chidi currently lives with a woman who shares my name, and they are fake soulmates and I’m his real soulmate and this is an awkward situation.” But we ended up dramatically simplifying it, and what you’re supposed to believe is that everyone’s just kind of chilling out a little bit and sleeping in separate rooms until they can sort out what this all means. And the real Eleanor, because she’s a good person, is of course incredibly forgiving, and is a, “It’s okay, I’m fine, I’ll sleep on the floor,” kind of person.
Are there any repercussions for Real Eleanor in terms of the PTSD that she must be suffering from after having been tortured in the Bad Place? Is that something that we explore?
No. What’s funny is obviously we couldn’t say anything about what the role would be because it’s such a giveaway. So the [script pages] that we wrote to audition people were a journalist who had been captured by some weird Pakistani pirates or something, and she was giving an interview about her time and she was saying, “You know, I really felt bad for them. They’ve had terrible lives.” And the reporter kept saying, “But you must be suffering the trauma of your experiences.” She’s like, “No, no, no, it was fine. I had a rusty cot to sleep on and made friends with the fleas who lived in my pillow.” And we basically told Tiya Sircar, “You don’t suffer the ill effects of this because you’re such an incredibly centered and empathetic person that you just woke up everyday in the Bad Place and you thought to yourself, ‘How can I make my little corner of the Bad Place as nice as it can be?” (laughs) Yeah, she’s amazingly suffering no ill effects because she’s just such a completely, thoroughly empathetic and kind person.
We got a taste of the denizens from the Bad Place when they came to the Good Place, but will we finally get to see the Bad Place in this final stretch of episodes? And did Dante get it right?
My comment is no comment.
Did the Bad Place glitch because Real Eleanor was there, and what did that look like?
No, and I think we cut this line out of the episode. At one point, Adam had a line in the episode where he said, “Honestly, it was a relief to find out that there had been a mistake made, because we could not figure out a way to make this chick sad.” So the idea is that it didn’t glitch in the sort of inverse way that the Good Place glitched; they were just annoyed because they had all this torture planned for Eleanor and they were just like, “Why isn’t this working? Why is she still happy? This is driving us crazy!” So it didn’t glitch out.
On the scale of scary things in the Bad Place, where does the four-headed flying bear rank?
I think it’s pretty typical. It’s not extraordinary. It’s like, “Eh.” It’s a workmanlike aspect of it. It’s not the best they have, but it gets the job done.
Explaining the mix-up of Eleanors, Michael says that they only see names and files. Why don’t they see faces? Will they change protocols now after what’s happened?
That main idea came from the premise that they don’t want to know what people look like. I read this story once about how symphony orchestras had this problem were they were very non-diverse in terms of their ethnic make-up and they started auditioning people by putting them behind screens. So they would play and they didn’t know whether they were old or young, they didn’t know whether they were Asian or Caucasian or African-American or whatever. And it was a very progressive idea because they were like, “What difference does it make what they look like? This is a symphony orchestra— it should just be the best sounding people.” So I felt like the Good Place should operate in the same way. It’s utterly unimportant what people look like or where they’re from.
It’s blind admissions.
They have a mathematical system and to remove any possibility that any person would get in for any reason other than their pure deeds and actions on Earth, they’re like, “All right, well, we’re going to do it blind. We’re just going to take the people who have the best scores.” And they know what their names are, but they don’t know anything about them other than what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished on their time on Earth.
Eleanor has yearned for a Medium Place. The Good Place is described as home to the greatest of humans, so it does feel like falling just shy of those rigorous admission standards shouldn’t necessarily doom you to spending an eternity with hideous selfie-taking souls. What can you say about the concept of a Medium Place — and our odds of seeing it before the season is over?
All I would I say really is that it was Eleanor’s stated belief in the pilot that there should be a Medium Place. She has repeated that point of view a couple times in the intervening episodes, and that is a belief that she hold very strongly. And we do deal with that concept later in the season. There is some follow-through on that.
The show won’t air again until Jan. 5. Give us one word to think about for the next two months.
The Good Place