After the finale, we called up [Todd May and Pamela Hieronymi, the show’s philosophical advisors] to ask them about their history with the show, their cameos, and whether Ted Danson is really as nice as everyone says. Below, we’ve spliced together the two conversations, which have also been condensed and edited for clarity.
Slate: So, what did you think of the finale?
Todd May: I thought what they did was very touching. The moment with Chidi and Eleanor where you have “Spiegel im Spiegel” in the background was very moving. The idea that you have to be mortal in order for life to be meaningful is something I wrote about in the Death book, although it’s not original to me. There are debates between philosophers who think immortality would be good and philosophers like me who think you need mortality. One of them has called people like me the “immortality curmudgeons.”
Pamela Hieronymi: They’re definitely taking a side in an ongoing philosophical discussion about immortality, saying that an infinite and trouble-less life would be meaningless. I’m not sure I agree with that. I think probably Tahani got it right in trying to see what she could do to help the rest of humanity. It’s not that the other characters were being selfish. It’s that the portrayal of existence as relying on a termination to give it meaning—I’m skeptical of that idea, especially when you have new people coming into existence who are in the midst of learning through life. One of the things that Michael says early in the show is that they have a shortage of architects. So Tahani is meeting a real need. And then you also have the [Tim] Scanlon quote at the end: “Working out the terms of moral justification is an unending task.” If the problem is boredom, trying to help those people seems pretty interesting.
It seems as much an argument about television as it is about morality: Better a good ending on your own terms than dragging things out until they’re dulled by repetition.
Hieronymi: I kind of like it better in that setting. Television will get boring.
I was thinking about that too. How much they're about punishment, consequences, how your own damage is a reason but not an excuse for the damage you inflict on others, and whether it's possible or meaningful to become a better person. If The Good Place about believing in the possibility of change, seeing everyone as redeemable, and getting past punishment-based justice, Bojack Horseman is about the limits of that worldview - how wanting to become a better person and trying to be a better person don't (and shouldn't) let you escape the consequences of your actions.
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