Spoilers ahead for Season 3 Episode 9 of The Good Place. What does it mean to have a soulmate? Are people fated to find each other through some divine plan, or does who we choose as a partner depend entirely on the circumstances we find ourselves in at any moment in life? Season 1 of The Good Place seemed to take the idea of having a soulmate to its logical extreme, introducing viewers to the concept of a heaven in which every good person is united with their one ideal mate for eternity. But the infamous twist at the end of Season 1, in which the humans we've been following realize they've actually been in the Bad Place all along, turns that concept on its head, revealing that couples Eleanor and Chidi and Tahani and Jason are not fated to be together at all — they've been fated by the demon Michael to torture each other forever just by thinking they're supposed to be in love.
And yet, as we're continuing to discover in Season 3, something keeps happening. Throughout multiple reboots of the timeline, the humans are bonding and working together instead of tormenting one another. In one timeline, Eleanor even falls in love with Chidi, a man whose personality is so diametrically opposite to hers that a seemingly all-knowing demon threw them together specifically so that they would drive each other crazy.
After convincing Michael to let her see how she fell in love with Chidi in one previous timeline, therefore proving she's capable of love, Eleanor comes to the realization that she might be in love with her soulmate/teacher/torturer in this one, too. It's a realization she shares with him amid the chaos of an extremely entertaining fight scene, and we don't get much resolution before the episode ends on yet another cliffhanger. But The Good Place creator Mike Schur, who has called Eleanor and Chidi's relationship one of the core tenets of the show, tells Bustle that the rest of this season will see both Eleanor and Chidi struggling to decide if something that happens in a previous timeline could and should affect how they feel about each other now.
It's yet another fascinating existential question of many posed by the show. Is love something that's fated to be, or something that depends on the circumstances you're put in by chance? Schur seems to believe it's the latter.
There are different circumstances when you meet different people at different moments in your life.
"What we're trying to say is that there isn't necessarily one version of a relationship you can have with someone," he says, before launching into an extended example. "That, you know, I really love my wife dearly and I never want to be married to anybody else. But I'm also totally aware that when we met, if she had been married to somebody else happily and maybe I had been married somebody else happily, that she and I — I think that we're very compatible people and I really like her in addition to loving her — but there's a version of the multiverse out there where she and I are just very good friends, and we go to dinner [with our respective partners] every once in a while and we have a great time and I drive home thinking, 'I really like that Jennifer Philbin, she's really funny and cool.' But that we're not like divorcing our spouses and running off and getting married. There are different circumstances when you meet different people at different moments in your life."
It's a shockingly sane and yet still optimistic portrait of love, one that leans heavily on the belief that people are ultimately good and strive for connection no matter the circumstances (even when they're actually in the Bad Place and are supposed to be torturing one another). Setting all of Season 3 up until this point with the humans back on Earth has allowed Schur and the writers to experiment with how each character would react to the others in different circumstances. He uses Eleanor and Tahani's initial rivalry in Season 1 in the afterlife as an example of how, in that circumstance, they were specifically set up to be at odds with each other.
"Every time Eleanor met Tahani, the circumstances under which they met were Eleanor was in, essentially, heaven, panicking internally because she knew she didn't belong there and she knew she might get caught and sent to hell. And Tahani believed fully that she belonged there and that she was immediately anointed queen of heaven," Schur says. "She immediately hated Tahani. Now, if you take those two people and say now they're going to meet on Earth and they're going to meet under very different circumstances... there's no reason they shouldn't be friends. Like why not?"
Suggesting that, in the right circumstance, a self-proclaimed Arizona trashbag and a snobby London socialite have no reason not to be friends is exactly the kind of inherently optimistic worldview that underscores each of Schur's beloved shows, so perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that he's created yet another TV show that's more interested in how and why humans connect than in how and why they can sometimes tear each other apart.
So what of Eleanor and Chidi? Does love triumph over multiple reboots, or is this just another one of the mind-boggling tests that comes along with exploring the afterlife? Schur won't divulge any details of what's ahead for the pair's relationship. But even if Chidi and Eleanor don't ultimately end up together, at least we can take comfort in knowing that it did happen somewhere in the multiverse.