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The Lava That Lurks Beneath: The Worst Person of the Week on ‘The Good Place’

Larry Hemsworth—the worst Hemsworth brother—isn’t so bad, and Tahani—who used to date Tom Brady—is OK too. That leaves just one choice for this week’s dishonor.

Ted Danson as Michael in ‘The Good Place’ NBC/Ringer illustration

Fork yeah: The Good Place is back. This season, as we follow the show that is so devoted to understanding what it means to be good and bad, we will be applying the NBC comedy’s own standards and practices in determining the Worst Person of the Week. The weekly winner — well, “loser” is probably more accurate — will be judged by their ethical choices rather than any subjective measures. Think of us as another Shawn, only less into encasing traitors in slimy cocoons. At the end of this ethical exercise, we’ll also hand out episodic awards for more frivolous things. Let’s clear the way for this week’s episode, “The Snowplow.”

If you ask Larry Hemsworth, the worst person on The Good Place this week was himself, a dumb old pediatric surgeon who’s only 6-foot-4 and barely has an eight-pack. But as Larry’s bedtime book was trying to tell him, he’s not so bad. So with the hideous shame of the Hemsworths crossed off the list and last week’s winner, Trevor, presumably still spiraling through the void, this episode’s dishonor goes to another demon who’s devoted much of his long-lasting existence to torturing humans (and sort of still is): Michael, who’s now 2-for-3 in taking this title.

It’s ironic that Chidi was worried about biasing the results of his research by becoming too close to its subjects, because unbeknownst to him, he’s participating in an experiment as partisan and poorly constructed as a climate-change study funded by fossil-fuel companies. Michael continues to make a mockery of the Judge’s test of the core quartet’s virtue by intervening in its affairs, and he’s even invented an analogy to make his meddling seem moral and assuage Janet’s unease. In Michael’s version of events, he and his omniscient accomplice are acting like snowplows, clearing away obstacles so that Eleanor and Co. can “more easily drive along the road of improvement.” In reality, he’s destroying the study’s internal validity by trying to keep the Brainy Bunch together, a goal that’s still slipping through his grasp.

If Michael were motivated solely by concern for his former torture victims, we could excuse his constant tampering. But more than once this week, his friendly, Dansonian exterior slips, letting us glimpse the lava that’s probably lurking under that scratchy skin. Michael’s primary concern isn’t seeing his supposed friends saved; as he confesses to Janet, his real reason for trying to get them into the Good Place is that if they don’t accrue the requisite score, “then there’s no point in us even being here.” And if that’s the case, then at “any moment, the universe could fold up around [him] and squeeze the last breath from [his] dying lungs.”

In his year-long quest to keep Chidi’s study from splintering, Michael not only plays manipulative romantic matchmaker but also oversees a full-fledged surveillance operation, with Janet indulging her voyeuristic urges by listening in on every interaction among Eleanor et al. (Let’s face it: Between Lester Freamoning her friends, rocking Ken at the coffee shop’s world by telling him that the woman he thinks is his aunt is actually his mom, and serving vegemite canapés in her Party Down disguise, Janet’s week wasn’t much better than Michael’s.) More disturbing still, Michael is willing to sacrifice innocents in an act of arson or reset the timeline entirely, wiping away portions of billions of lives just so he can p-hack his way into heaven with one positive result. Then again, taking a mulligan on the last year of Earth’s history does sound pretty appealing.

At the end of “The Snowplow,” the Brainy Bunch walks into the wine cellar and spots Michael standing in front of his interdimensional door, which seems like a hard thing to hand-wave away—especially because the man masquerading as a caterer looks an awful lot like a certain worldly librarian, not to mention international dance impresario Zach Pizazz. This climactic collision of alter egos could spell the end of this phase of the season, which might not be a bad thing. There’s only so long a study can plausibly last—even when it’s designed by the indecisive author of an unfinished 3,600-page thesis—and there’s a limit to how much Michael can encroach without his scheme being exposed. If the core characters escape their Plato’s-cave confinement and realize where that glowing portal leads, then whatever additional good deeds they do might, like Michael’s, be performed for purely selfish reasons, making it even more difficult for them to get to the Good Place.

As the situation stands, Shawn has every reason to make a motion for a mistrial. If another failed experiment forces the four friends to, as Eleanor says, “start over from scratch again,” their perpetual backsliding could start to seem tiresome. And worse, it could distract the Judge from a much more important matter: her Mark Harmon marathon.

While our heroes battle the Judge’s Reasonable Doubts and their own Original Sins, try to stay friends instead of Deliberate Strangers or Casualties of the Bad Place’s Intimate Agony, and keep Chasing Liberty For All Time to decide who’ll be The First to Go on the Long Road Home to a Cold Heaven, let’s hand out a few other awards for this week.

Most Wanton Disregard for Bathroom Etiquette: In this three-shot sequence from the first scene of the episode, two closed toilet-stall doors instantaneously open:

Screenshots via NBC

Continuity error, or inevitable byproduct of the interdimensional door’s disappearance? We may never know; teleportation works in mysterious ways. Fortunately, without Trevor inside soaking up the sweet smells, no one was exposed by this breach of privacy.

Most Typically Tahani Display of Privilege: Was it the ostentatious mansion she booked through Heirbnb? Her attempt to console Eleanor about her measly lotto score of $18,000? The promise to meet on a mega yacht at the same time next year? Her practiced portrait pose? No: It was the casual disclosure that she dated Tom Brady but pawned him off on Gisele because Brady wasn’t her type.

Most Mysterious System of Measurement: As confounding as kilometers can be, they’re simple compared to clock-lands.

Likeliest to Lead to a Lucrative Career:

1. Telemarketing

2. Guessing how long to microwave food without looking at the box

3. Journalism

Best Belated Entry for Fat Bear Week: Blake Beartles.