The Good Place Season 3 finale redefines the will-they-or-wont-they TV relationship

Photo Credit: The Good Place/NBC, Acquired from NBCUniversal Media Village
Photo Credit: The Good Place/NBC, Acquired from NBCUniversal Media Village /

What the fork?! The Good Place Season 3 finale shattered our hearts into a million pieces while putting an inspired twist on the traditional sitcom relationship.

Sam and Diane. Rachel and Ross. Pam and Jim. NBC has the will-they-or-won’t-they relationship on lock.

Starting most famously with Sam and Diane from Cheers, the will-they-or-won’t-they (WTOWT) relationship served as a through plot for most episodes of several seminal NBC sitcoms. While the primary story in any given half hour generally focused on a fun foible of the week, the secondary story frequently revolved around the simmering sexual tension between two seemingly incompatible people. The barriers to couplehood frequently differed – personality quirks, repressed feelings, one person already in a relationship, etc – but the circle of feels spun round and round, creating a thrilling carousel of emotion for viewers to revisit week after week.

WTOWT relationships traditionally flourished by featuring characters that avoided introspection and growth at all costs. And, before the era of Peak TV, that was all fine and dandy. But now, as sitcoms branch out with an eye toward emotional truth, depictions of romantic relationships are frequently bolstered with much-needed nuance and heart.

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So, almost 35 years after that first thrilling kiss between Sam and Diane, The Good Place is subverting the outdated WTOWT device by focusing on the afterlife’s two favorite love birds, Chidi Anagonye and Eleanor Shellstrop. Oddly enough, the legendary Ted Danson – aka: Sam Malone, aka: reformed demon Michael – is on board for the changing of the guard. And it’s so forking fitting that he’s taking part in revolutionizing the very trope that he once played a large part in creating.

Whereas Sam and Diane couldn’t be bothered to delve below the crackle and pop of sexual tension between them, Chidi and Eleanor actively strive to understand one another on a deeper level. Sam and Diane fought, whereas Chidi and Eleanor compromise. Sam and Diane relied on sex to fuel their relationship, whereas Chidi and Eleanor know that sex is best when you share it with someone you trust and love. Sam and Diane repeatedly failed, whereas Chidi and Eleanor thrive every single time.

Sure, Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and Eleanor (Kristen Bell) are two polar opposites who absolutely shouldn’t work together – a standard requisite of a WTOWT relationship – but they feel the need to explore their cosmic connection. And instead of just trusting that things will naturally gel, they work. They both work hard at understanding one another, but they work even harder at understanding their own quirks, faults, and deep-seated issues. In fact, they literally encourage each other to do so, thereby becoming better people in the process.

The Good Place
Photo Credit: The Good Place/NBC/Colleen Hayes, Acquired From NBCUniversal Media Village /

Within the boundless possibilities of the show,The Good Place has – perhaps inadvertently – created the inverse of a WTOWT relationship. In fact, Chidi and Eleanor are unwittingly enacting a cycle of they-did-and-they-will. And, as viewers, we’re drawn to witness these two kooky opposites learn to love one another from scratch over and over again.

While the nerd and the horndog had some serious vibes flowing in Season 1, they didn’t get it on until Season 2. Reboot extravaganza “Dance Dance Resolution” is Chidi and Eleanor’s own personal Groundhog Day in which the two dum dums repeat their stint in hell nearly a thousand times just to become truly good enough to declare and subsequently enjoy their love for one another.

A willingness to change, grow, and sacrifice consistently underscores all the relationships on The Good Place, but none more than Chidi and Eleanor’s. Every time these two realize they care for one another, there are significant personality hurdles that they must overcome in order to actually be together. And the beauty of the show is that these issues are directly written into the plot. They’re not a secondary device, meant solely to pull eyeballs to screens; they’re a direct focus of the show, meant to help viewers learn and grow right along with the characters on screen. We watch with baited breath as Eleanor grapples with her pride and selfishness in order to leave herself vulnerable to love, and Chidi trades indecision for certainty when he finally gives in to fate.

The Good Place Season 3
Photo Credit: The Good Place/NBC, Acquired From NBCUniversal Media Village /

Season 3 boosted the relationship to the next level, illustrating that Chidi and Eleanor bring out the best in each other. Instead of being frustrated by their differences, they choose to celebrate, and, in some cases, even adopt them. When Chidi freaks out post-Jeremy Bearimy, Eleanor uses logic and reason to help bring him back down to Earth. And, when Eleanor freaks out in Janet’s void, Chidi finally allows himself to give in to instinct, steadying her uncertainty with an bold declaration of love. Their complex yet loving interactions as a couple send a consistent and needed message that relationships aren’t always easy. Love is a great power source for any relationship, but lines of healthy communication and open acceptance are needed to keep that baby running.

And yet. The universe – or, at least, Good Place creator Mike Schur – seems hell bent on keeping these two apart.

Is hell finding your soulmate only to be ripped away from them at the exact moment of true connection and understanding? It sure seems like it. Because in the The Good Place Season 3 finale, Chidi and Eleanor were separated yet again, but in the most devastating of ways.

When Team Cockroach realizes that Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) has been sent as one of the four new humans in their good person trial, Chidi goes into meltdown mode. He’s certain that he won’t be able to keep up the ruse of not knowing his old girlfriend. So he asks Michael to reboot him. After all, the entire fate of the universe depends on his ability to deliver baller ethics lessons.

Saving humanity comes at a price. And that price – the precious, budding relationship between Chidi and Eleanor – is a hefty one.

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As the season closed on the two soulmates saying goodbye to one another, it was a wholly heartbreaking affair, but we viewers know something that the characters don’t. The Good Place is breaking our hearts, only to build us back up again in the most wonderful of ways. Chidi and Eleanor are part of the exclusive they-did-and-they-will club after all, and that new evolution in TV relationships is one that will surely land them in the pantheon of best love stories of all time.

Sartre claimed that hell is other people, butThe Good Place flips that maxim on its head by repeatedly showcasing the complex give-and-take of Chidi and Eleanor’s relationship. Sure, hell is the WTOWT relationships of old – a pattern of frustration that often ends in explosive arguments followed by endless longing and a brief, unsatisfying reconciliation – but in the newer, kinder universe of The Good Place, other people can – and often do – lead to salvation.

‘The Good Place’ Season 4 returns in Fall 2019.