“The Good Place” and Soulmates

The same friend who recommended The Librarians also pointed me at The Good Place. (Excellent taste, that lady: she’s also responsible for about three-quarters of my current wardrobe, one way or another.) It’s a really smart sitcom from the guy who did Parks and Recreation, which I mostly liked (except for April, who, ugh). The Good Place is a neat look at concepts of the afterlife, questions like relative morality, what it means to be good, and the possibility of reform, and frozen yogurt.

A largish part of the plot also involves the concept of one’s “soulmate,” the one person who you’re meant to be with, which is interesting because that’s a concept that, in real life, is total and complete bullshit.

I can get behind the Anne Shirley “kindred spirits” notion–people who click conversationally with you right away and fit into your life so well you can’t imagine them not being there–but the idea that there’s one and only one ideal romantic partner for each of us, out of seven million people? Nope. I’m a Tim Minchin girl. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KynIKjRwqDI)

(And while we’re at it, while love is great and romantic love works out wonderfully for a lot of people, True Love is a phrase that doesn’t belong in serious discussion outside of The Princess Bride and/or fifties Disney movies. Let’s be clear: the romance parts of my books are as much fantasy as the demon fighting and the time travel. I like the fantasy, I’m happy to write it, but, y’know, what you call love was invented by men like me to sell nylons, and all that.)

With that in mind, I approached the soulmate stuff in Episode One of The Good Place prepared to tolerate it as a weird afterlife thing, because hey, the afterlife is weird. What I found was that, as with everything else, The Good Place really played with the concept.

And now, spoilers for the whole series.

Because in Episode 1, we find out that the main character isn’t who she’s supposed to be (and isn’t supposed to be in the Good Place at all), and her “soulmate” is actually some poor guy who gets dragged into teaching her ethics. Then, over the series, it turns out that:

a) half of the other main soulmate pairing is *also* fraudulently in the Good Place, and in fact ends up falling for a robot.

b) they’re actually in the Bad Place, and everyone but the four main human characters, and the blatant-from-the-start nonhumans, was actually a demon playing a role all along.

c) these four people were specifically selected because they’d drive each other up the wall, which…I mean, as senses of “fated to be together” go, that’s technically true and also awesome.

People do end up caring about and/or falling in love with their soulmates, but most of that is not entirely requited, and there are questions about how much of that is personality versus proximity, and the show explores that. It’s not the main focus of the plot, which is also nice – for a romance novelist, I have very little patience for most romance-centered plots on TV these days, with a few exceptions – but means I have a bunch of additional questions.

See, at the end of S1, we only just found out about the whole Bad Place thing (we do know that there *is* a Bad Place, and a Good Place, but pretty much everything else is up in the air). So is the concept of soulmates entirely part of the fictitious Good Place?  (My vote, obvs.) Is there a broader sense in which it’s useful (and not just as a tool of the Bad Place staff) for these particular people to be part of each other’s lives, and if so, does that necessarily correspond to romantic partnership? (That could also be really interesting.)

I hope S2 addresses these questions along with the memory-wiping hijinks: the mainstream concept is one that really benefits from deconstruction. (By which, of course, I mean that it’s amazingly bullshit and the more media that pick it apart the better for everyone.)






About isabelcooper

I'm Izzy. I write stuff: mostly vaguely fantasy stuff, and most notably the following books: Hickey of the Beast, published March 2011 by Candlemark and Gleam No Proper Lady, published September 2011 by Sourcebooks Lessons After Dark, forthcoming in April 2012 from Sourcebooks I also like video games, ballroom dancing, and various geeky hobbies like LARPing. I have been known to voluntarily purchase and eat circus peanuts. Like, a whole bag at once.
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