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How The Good Place redefines soul mates
"Soulmates aren't real, are they?" Chidi asks. He's just come back to himself and in a snap seen his centuries-long life flash before him, all those memories and feelings and fears rushing back. He has watched himself fall in love, break up, die, and do it all again several more times.
Michael explains to his friend that he originally borrowed the concept of soulmates from Chidi's profile, from his own history and memories — and that he used the concept to torture him because he knew that Chidi believed in soulmates.
It's a heavy moment for a series known for its chuckles, but it reflects the deft way The Good Place navigates headier topics. The series, which just aired its finale, is a show unlike any other. It tackles sweeping philosophical concepts like good and evil, the capacity for humans to change, and, more to the point, what we owe one another in relationships in a sitcom format with sharp humor.
Ostensibly the tale of four humans who die and go to heaven, the whole plot is a Trojan horse. Buried inside that nugget is a more complex and compelling tale; what the humans think to be heaven, the Neighborhood, is actually hell and they have to beat the demon that's keeping them there. As they thwart him time and again, only to find themselves facing new unforeseen obstacles, the humans gain unlikely allies in Michael, the aforementioned demon-turned-buddy, and an omniscient font of knowledge that looks like D'Arcy Carden.
Now, that alone is a damn fine reason to watch the series, but it just so happens that The Good Place is romantic AF. There are multiple romances that take place over the four seasons of the series, and wow, there are some steamy love triangles. And love triangles that intersect with other love triangles. And reincarnated lovers. And reincarnated love triangles! I'm telling you, folks — it's a shipper's dream come true.
Where all the philosophy and all the lovey-dovey ish intersect is the concept of soulmates. Viewers first learn about the concept in "Everything Is Fine," the series pilot. Eleanor meets Chidi, who tells her he is her soulmate. Almost immediately she reveals that she shouldn't be in the Good Place. (Eleanor is a self-described Arizona dirtbag.) Doing something unethical is unbearable to Chidi, so he helps Eleanor and later Jason and Tahani try to become better people, becoming a better person himself in the process.
When Eleanor figures out the humans are actually in the Bad Place at the end of Season 1, that sets off a series of "reboots" where Michael restarts the Neighborhood over and over, reassigning the four humans to other soulmates. Eleanor cycles through a lot of people — including Tahani and a beautiful golden retriever. The others fare about the same. However, each time in each scenario, Eleanor and Chidi find each other, teach each other, often love each other, and become better people. Hundreds of times over hundreds of years they find each other — this ends up being a main theme of the series.
At the same time that Eleanor and Chidi fall in love, Jason and Janet find one another. They're a different kind of unlikely love story. Jason is not known for his intellectual prowess, and Janet is literally an all-knowing, nonbinary information system slash deity. But to be together, they go to hell for one another, face the Judge (a sexy godlike figure played by Maya Rudolph), and directly change the fate of humanity. And even then, the two cuties just really want to have a wedding, so they do.
Season 4's "Soulmates" finds Chidi having all his memories returned to him after spending most of the season unaware of his past experiences with the afterlife. As the memories of his lives and afterlives return, Chidi sees himself as a child trying to convince his parents to stay together, watches an adult version of himself alienate people he loves, and observes himself and Eleanor finding each other and love throughout time and space. It is no wonder that when he comes to, soulmates are on his mind.
He asks Michael about soulmates and learns that the concept was used to torture him and the other humans. Michael says, "If soulmates do exist, they're not found. They're made. People meet, they get a good feeling, and then they get to work building a relationship."
That scene reinforces the running message regarding not only relationships but being on this planet together: It takes work. It takes millions of tiny choices, millions of moments that build toward something larger. The real meaning of a soulmate is someone you choose over and over, no matter what you face.
The Good Place teaches us that we have to work to be better to one another even against impossible odds — especially when we have a chance to love and be loved.