Speaking about her character Eleanor’s onscreen relationship with Chidi (William Jackson Harper) in The Good Place, the actor revealed that the show has something very significant to say on the subject of relationships.
On paper, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) are about as far away from soulmates as possible.
That’s the gag, isn’t it? The chaotic hot mess Eleanor, who has fumbled her way into heaven in The Good Place, is by no means the perfect partner for the frustratingly indecisive philosopher Chidi.
But as the beloved television comedy unspools, and we learn that Eleanor and Chidi didn’t make it into heaven at all, but into a hyper-designed version of anti-heaven as part of a strange torture experiment gone horribly wrong, suddenly the Eleanor and Chidi partnership looks less unlikely and more inspired. Because what Eleanor and Chidi represent isn’t some kind of frustratingly improbably opposites-attract, but the true power of a connection that isn’t about sparks or thunderbolts but about growth and maturity and the fundamental belief that a person can change, if they really, really want to.
On The Good Place, the relationship between Chidi and Eleanor has evolved through three seasons of activity and reboots and experimentation. Through their partnership, The Good Place has shown love in all of its casual, wonderful forms: the love in friendship, the love in romance, the love in partnership, the love in education, the love in helping others, the love in growing together.
And by repeatedly showing the pair of them making their way to each other, through every reset and recalibration, it challenges the notion of a static, unchangeable soulmate while reinforcing the idea that love is all about choice and growth and change.
This commentary on love isn’t the only way that The Good Place has enabled the series to become one of the most insightful, revelatory comedies on television. But it is maybe the most important.
As Bell summed it up, at the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), what The Good Place says about love is one of its most crucial messages. “Maybe growing together is what makes everyone their healthiest,” Bell explained, of her character’s relationship with Chidi. “Maybe what love is is a commitment to grow with one another.”
“Yes, it’s a choice,” she added, talking about how Chidi constantly has to choose between Simone, the character on the show who is most like him, and herself.
“But the very important thing is that they never let you forget about the history of growth with Eleanor and there’s something to be valued in your history of growth with someone. Life is not going ‘You’re great, we’ve been through a lot, let me see what’s over your shoulder.’ This definition of love we’re all searching for is looking at this person in front of you, recognising their flaws, recognising your own, and saying let’s go through this together, not searching for a different perfect person.”
This, Bell added, would be the focus of the fourth and final series of The Good Place, currently slated for release later this year. Eleanor and Chidi will be tested as they never have before in this series finale. This is because Chidi was rebooted in season three in order to wipe all memories of Simone from his head. He wants to ensure that he and Eleanor can have a relationship on its own merits: he wants to choose her as his person, but he wants to do so without any of the knowledge of their prior relationship muddying the waters.
“I am not even scared to get rebooted,” Chidi told Eleanor. “Cause I know you’ll be there, taking care of me. Time means nothing. Jeremy Bearimy, baby. We’ll get through this, and then you and I can chill out in the dot of the ‘i’ forever.”
“Right,” Eleanor responded. “We’ll be OK. We’ve found each other before, hundreds of times. We can do it again.”
Yes, on paper, Eleanor and Chidi are about as unlikely as soulmates are ever going to get. But in reality they represent something much better: how two people can change, and within that growth, make each other into better people.