‘The Good Place’ Star William Jackson Harper Explains Why Chidi Wrote Himself That Note

“Eleanor is the reason, she’s the point, she’s the person that he exists for”

Last Updated: November 21, 2019 @ 6:51 PM

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Thursday’s episode of “The Good Place.”)

Depending on how you look at it, Thursday’s midseason finale of “The Good Place” spans either 300 years or however long it takes a glass of Duval ditch water to hit the floor. In either case, Chidi has been through enough that the version of himself who wakes up from his afterlife-induced coma at the end of the episode is unlike any version of the character we’ve seen before.

Having regained all of his memories from every one of the show’s many timelines, Chidi comes out of his deep sleep having relived each and every time his trademark neuroses and indecisiveness have failed him — from losing his seat in class to derailing his romantic relationships — in, essentially, the blink of an eye. But the new Chidi isn’t going to make those same mistakes. He’s not going to let an obsessive need to find the best, most perfect solution to every problem derail his (after)life anymore.

“Sometimes you have to get a birds eye view of things in order to really see them clearly,” William Jackson Harper said in an interview with TheWrap from the set of his next project, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of “The Underground Railroad” for Amazon.

“Getting that huge download does sort of throw everything into relief. And there’s the benefit of having seen all these different lives and the running themes,” Harper said. “That gives him a lot of clarity, having this magical thing happen where suddenly you get to see where your habits are, what your paradigm is and ways it needs to shift in order to move forward.”

For Chidi, the takeaway is simple and comes in the form of a note, written to himself before his memory was wiped and stashed with Janet: “There is no ‘answer’… but Eleanor is the answer.”

The Good Place - Season 4

Colleen Hayes/NBC

“Whether it’s romantic or friendly or, sometimes antagonistic, there’s something about the energies of these two people that they’re drawn together,” Harper said. “They need each other so, so deeply.”

“I think that for Chidi, Eleanor is the reason, she’s the point, she’s the person that he exists for. It’s a sort of clarity. It’s just this clear moment: Here’s this other person who encapsulates everything I need or want, whether I know it or not.”

That newfound clarity is a long way from the Chidi who was so paralyzed by the trolley problem that he ended up with a faceful of guts.

And it comes not a moment too soon given that the events of last week’s episode left the Soul Squad with less than an hour to prevent the entirety of life on Earth from being wiped out.

“Chidi is still Chidi, but he has the benefit of seeing all of his afterlives and all of his terrestrial lives, and remembering them for the first time. There’s no way you come away from that unchanged,” Harper said. “But the stakes are really high right now. We have a task in front of us, and that’s really what’s driving the action. That’s what Chidi’s focused on going forward.”

Read TheWrap’s full interview with William Jackson Harper below.

William Jackson Harper, The Good Place

TheWrap: What was your first reaction when you found out that you were going go from being unconscious the whole episode to being in just about every scene this week?

It’s part of the job, you know? I’ve been playing the character for so long that you kind of just go scene by scene. It’s never daunting in a way of, Oh my god how am I going to do it? At this point it’s more, how am I going to stay truthful day-to-day and not mail it in.

It seemed like a lot of those individual flashbacks came from different timelines or resets. How did you approach keeping everything straight?

Well, the way TV works, we shoot a lot of it out of order. Like, one of the last scenes we shot early in the week. So really it’s just keeping a loose timeline in your head, but keeping the focus on the moment — and the moment just before, what just happened that triggers this conversation or this moment — and living in that. It’s easy to get bogged down, but there’s only so much you can play in a couple minutes. And the most important thing is my scene partner, and trying to stay connected with them. Knowing what came before, it’s useful, but I don’t want to do anything that takes me out of the scene and takes me out of the moment with the people that I’m working with.

When Chidi does wake up at the end, his outlook or his reaction to everything is pretty different than what we probably would’ve expected. What is it about getting this download of everything’s that’s happened that helps bring him to this new point of view?

Sometimes you have to get a birds eye view of things in order to really see them clearly. It’s like when you ask advice from people who aren’t in the situation that you’re in. You usually can rely on that person for something in whatever they say that’s worth considering. When you look at the whole thing, when you look at all these various lives that he’s been through, there is this sort of running thread of not being able to make a decision, looking for the answer. He’s looking for the concrete thing that is always right, which I think is one of Chidi’s biggest flaws. His rigidity, the idea that there’s this one thing that is always right in every situation. I, personally, don’t think the world works that way. So, you know, getting that huge download does sort of throw everything into relief. And there’s the benefit of having seen all these different lives and the running themes. That gives him a lot of clarity, having this magical thing happen where suddenly you get to see where your habits are, what your paradigm is and ways it needs to shift in order to move forward.

That note he writes for himself — “There is no answer, but Eleanor is the answer” — what does that mean?

I think it points to something larger, something I can really get behind, this idea that the point of life is other people. There are people who are extremely important to you, who do things for you that no one else does — and who you do things for that you wouldn’t do for anyone else. This recurring theme that no matter what reality we’re in, we’re always drawn to each other. Whether it’s romantic or friendly or, sometimes antagonistic, there’s something about the energies of these two people that they’re drawn together. They need each other so, so deeply. I think that for Chidi, Eleanor is the reason, she’s the point, she’s the person that he exists fo, and it’s a sort of clarity. It’s just this clear moment: Here’s this other person who encapsulates everything I need or want, whether I know it or not.

The Good Place - Season 4

Colleen Hayes/NBC

It’s interesting that to hear you describe it that way, because he writes that note for himself after he and Michael have that conversation about how soulmates don’t really exist. How do those two ideas square together in your mind?

Personally, this idea that there’s a person out there who just magically, without any work, fulfills all your needs, and you without doing any work fulfill all of theirs, I don’t know if I buy that. There are people out there who make you want to be a better person, who you want to put the work in for, but there’s something in the term soulmates that makes it feel really passive. There’s no effort, there’s no work to be done, it’s just magic and perfect all the time. I don’t think that’s really how it works. I think you meet someone who you want to be better for. Someone who makes you want to act on their behalf, to be the person that they need you to be, because they give you something intangible and ineffable too. There’s something about them not being soulmates that makes it an active choice. At some point Chidi, whether he knows it or not, did make a choice. Every time he chose to connect with Eleanor, no matter what. Because there’s just something between them. So I guess in a way there is a natural sort of component, and a soulmate kind of mystical element to it, but in the end, it’s really more about the work that you’re willing to put in for a person who does something for you that you can’t name.

And this comes after that moment with Simone a couple of episodes ago where they come to that sort of impasse and literally go their separate ways. What is it about their relationship that makes it different from the relationship he has with Eleanor?

I think that’s honestly one of those things. It’s just like this pearly mist. Sometimes it’s not necessarily a linear or an expressible thing. It’s just a feeling, it’s a reaction. It’s almost like it’s chemical or something. I don’t think there’s fault in Simone’s argument when they break up … but it doesn’t really mesh with Chidi’s paradigm. No matter what, he has to help people. that is why he’s here. I think that sometimes we can discount our outlook on life being something that can make or break a relationship, but it really can. The way people were raised sometimes can rear its head deep into a relationship, and then you realize that there’s this odd impasse in the way that you view the world. And that can make it tough to feel like you’ll ever really connect at the depth that maybe you once thought you had or that you had hoped to reach. So that’s sort of the central difference, but it in the end it’s sort of a fine mist. Like, had it not been such a pressure cooker, maybe it wouldn’t have been the break that it was.

The Good Place - Season 4

Colleen Hayes/NBC

The episode ends on Chidi realizing that his indecisiveness may have been super annoying to other people without him ever realizing it. Moving forward, how does his behavior change?

Well that’s something that you’re going to have to wait and see. Chidi is still Chidi, but he has the benefit of seeing all of his afterlives and all of his terrestrial lives, and remembering them for the first time. There’s no way you come away from that unchanged. So going forward, yeah, Chidi is different in a few ways, but at the same time, old habits die hard. He’s still a neurotic guy. His brain doesn’t turn off. If anything, there’s moments where knowing this much just adds the possibility for him to be even more paralyzed. But the stakes are really high right now. We have a task in front of us, and that’s really what’s driving the action. That’s what Chidi’s focused on going forward.

I’m not going to ask you to spoil anything, but what was your reaction to finding out how the show wraps up?

I think that this show is never overtly simple. And I feel like our conclusion continues in that sort of aesthetic, things being not quite what they seem and the rug being pulled out from under you. So, yeah, I feel good about it. I feel that this is the right way to end it. I’m more curious than anything to see how people will feel when they see it.

Is it anywhere close to anything you could’ve predicted when you first joined the show?

No, absolutely not. There’s never been– No finale on this show has ever been anything that I’ve expected. We go on the same journey that the audience goes on when we’re doing the table reads. We really can’t predict anything. We have things we hope to get to do, and things we hope our characters will get to do, but we never know anything, honestly.

The Good Place - Season 4

Colleen Hayes/NBC

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