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Turn Off the Happiness Pump: The Worst Person of the Week on ‘The Good Place’

A pilgrimage to Canada to meet the legendary Doug Forcett—the guy who correctly guessed what the afterlife is—turns out to be a cautionary tale on the drawbacks of ultra-utilitarianism

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 swing into Thursday night’s episode, “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By.”


On this week’s episode, life on Earth teaches Michael a lesson that all humans and humanoid demons eventually learn: Never meet your heroes. Inspired by Eleanor’s suggestion of taking the Soul Squad to the next level, Michael skips straight to the highest level imaginable: meeting afterlife icon Doug Forcett, whose portrait once adorned Michael’s office wall in the Bad Place. Forcett (Michael McKean), who’s famous among immortals for correctly intuiting the Good-Bad Place points system while high on magic mushrooms in October 1972, lives like a hermit (and a little like Chuck McGill, with a side of Desmond Hume and James Delos) in the Alberta wilderness, so Michael and Janet drop by his house posing as reporters from the Calgary Times Examiner who want to talk to him for a human-interest piece. Their press credentials are as fake as their surname (“Scoop”), but their interest in humans is completely sincere.

Michael’s hope is that Forcett can be a “blueprint for humanity,” a model for maximum point-earning that less enlightened people could replicate—presumably without having to eat mushrooms and risk Forcett’s friend’s Randy’s bad trip, in which “everything was made of ears.” Forcett is following a course intended to help him rack up points faster than Special Jacksonville-Style Pool players, but it’s an ascetic existence in which his own earthly pleasures are afterthoughts (if he thinks of them at all). Forcett has turned himself into an ultra-utilitarian “happiness pump,” functioning solely to serve—and avoid impeding—the desires of others. It’s a sweet deal for Raymond, the local laundry-hating weirdo, but it’s not much fun for Forcett.

On the one hand, Forcett’s greatest goal is avoiding eternal torture—which, as he points out, is pretty rational if you know it’s a real possibility. In that sense, accumulating Good Place points may bring him some satisfaction, no matter how hard-earned. On the other hand, trudging through life with only the afterlife in mind is an unpleasant process. It also makes Michael and Janet miserable to see him subsist on a diet of radishes, lentils, and his own recycled waste, all of which work well as appetizers but aren’t that appealing as entrées. As a companion, Doug isn’t ideal, given that his whole lifestyle doubles as an implicit critique of the carbon footprints, unethical clothing, and gluttonous diets of anyone who opts not to live like him.

Forcett is the Worst Person this week not just because he’s a human guilt trip, or because of the crimes he committed against Rosa Parks the deer tick, Franklin Delano Raccoon, Abraham Lincoln Einstein Mandela Goose, and Martin Luther Gandhi Tyler Moore—not to mention the inhumane-sounding decision to keep 71 dogs and wolves inside the same pen—but also because his good deeds are entirely self-serving. Granted, all good deeds may be somewhat self-serving; as much as anything else, this series revolves around that question. But Forcett doesn’t even seem to be helping people because it brings him personal pleasure. He helps as a hedge against damnation. And he’s not even that adept at doing good: By removing himself from society, he’s decreased his opportunities to lend a helping hand. There must be better ways to game the points system than spending weeks walking to Edmonton as penance for stepping on a snail.

NBC

Unfortunately for Forcett, he knows only 92 percent of the way the afterlife works. It must be the other 8 percent, then, that contains a pretty important caveat. As Michael explained to the Brainy Bunch in “Jeremy Bearimy,” “As soon as you learned about the afterlife, your motivation to be good was corrupted. So you can’t earn points anymore.” Forcett is banking points for a corrupt reason, so it comes as no surprise—although it does seem to surprise Michael—when Shawn reveals that he’s bound for the Bad Place, where his portrait preceded him. Good riddance; here’s hoping there’s a purple space bubble waiting when he arrives.

After Forcett sets off on his trek to save the snails, our heroes have an eventful final few minutes, featuring an all-out brawl with the Bad Place brigade, Eleanor’s declaration of love for Chidi, Michael’s cryptic comment about a deeper problem with the points system, and, oh, everyone dying on Earth in order to flee from the demons. With three episodes left before the finale, it’s good to see The Good Place karate-kicking into high gear; as always, the show is at its best when its characters remember that they like (or even love) one another, which adds an element of warmth that’s occasionally lacking during their bouts of reboot-induced amnesia. Even if that warmth comes with a comment about a best friend’s “grating speaking voice.”

Colleen Hayes/NBC

Best Brawling Accessory: We’re lucky that Shawn and his henchdemons stymied Jason’s makeshift Molotov cocktail and accompanying war cry (“BORTLLLLES”), because it gave Janet time to kick ass. Her action-hero recovery from almost being banished to the Bad Place was a fitting finishing blow, but the billiards rack was a weapon even Steven Seagal never tried.

NBC

Michael’s Alter Egos, Ranked From Most to Least Convincing:

1. Bartender
2. Zach Pizazz
3. Gordon Indigo
4. Michael Scoop
5. Professor Charles Brainman
6. Omniscient Australian Librarian

Most Disappointing Yahoo Answers Search Result:

Not only has no one already answered Eleanor’s question, but no one can ask it, because it’s 67 characters too long. This is the closest we can come. I hoped this day would never arrive, but Yahoo Answers has finally failed to quench our curiosity, for the first and only time. At least it offered answers to someone named Neil, who actually asked about snail first aid because he was worried about ending up in the Bad Place for stepping on snails. Speaking of which …

Best Way to Make It Up to the Mollusk Community If You Feel Guilty About Stepping on a Snail: Snail first aid is real (hint: Scotch Tape isn’t the answer), but the Canadian Mollusk Association is, unfortunately, fictitious. However, there are real organizations on the side of the slimy, including the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society. (Motto: “Mollusks • People • Streams.”) FMCS president Heidi Dunn says via email that “the best way to ‘donate’ to mollusks is to learn about how to protect them. FMCS is a good place to start.” (You can also buy a membership.) Technically, FMCS specializes in aquatic snails; for land snails, your best bet is the American Malacological Society, which also, Dunn says, “deals with mollusks worldwide.” The AMS, understandably, didn’t answer my email, but according to Dunn, “the same message” her society sends about freshwater mollusks “applies to land snails” as well.

Line Most Likely to Make Michael Scott Say, “That’s What She Said”: “I think I can take you into my void.”

Most Helpful Link in Case You Were Wondering Whether the Demon Who Always Takes His Shirt Off Is on Instagram: He is, and by incredible coincidence, he often takes his shirt off there, too.