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Pick-a-Philosophical-Doctrine Day: The Worst Person of the Week on ‘The Good Place’

Michael and Eleanor debate whether she ever had free will in the Bad Place—while Jason plays with a penguin in a Blake Bortles jersey

Ted Danson as Michael, looking mischievous 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 jump into Thursday night’s episode, “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will.”

In Season 2 of The Good Place, the show spent an entire episode on “The Trolly Problem,” giving the famous ethical exercise some literal, bloody stakes, and causing enthusiastic ethicists to geek out in the process. On Thursday night’s episode, the show once again managed to smartly package a philosophical exercise into a sitcom episode. “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will” was essentially a 22-minute investigation of free will versus determinism in which Michael and Eleanor debated whether choices are governed by external factors—also known as determinism, which Eleanor supported—or whether we determine our own actions through, well, free will (Michael’s argument).

This is the type of Good Place episode you’d imagine a hip college philosophy professor presenting to their class, which is not to say it wasn’t a fun episode. Most of “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will” takes place in the Bad Place via several flashbacks, as Michael shows Eleanor some of his failed Bad Place reboots to prove that she and Chidi really did fall in love in some of those realities.

Eleanor’s reluctance to acknowledge her romances with Chidi stems from the fact that Michael was the architect behind much of the stuff that happened. She’s trying to blame Michael’s unseen hand for her flings with Chidi. Making the humans miserable, she argues, accidentally pushed her and Chidi closer together—which in turn delegitimizes the bond that was formed. But Eleanor doesn’t really support determinism as much as she’s trying to use it as a defense mechanism. She doesn’t want to seem emotionally vulnerable for opening up to Chidi in several reboots. (In fairness, she didn’t have the best authority figures growing up, so her insecurities make sense.)

This makes it difficult to pick a Worst Person of the Week. It’s hard to blame Eleanor too much for deflecting her feelings for Chidi in the flashbacks—she’s insecure and seeing these moments for the first time after having her memory wiped; in essence, it was a Good Place episode about watching The Good Place (meta!). And Michael was (mostly) patient in letting her come to terms with her feelings, and overall he’s demonstrated a deep, sincere adoration for Eleanor and the other humans—even if he’s responsible for them never being allowed into the Good Place.

So, because most of this week’s episode is a series of Bad Place flashbacks, we have to present the Worst Person award to Michael—specifically, Bad Place Flashback Michael. I don’t know how I forgot about this, but good grief, evil architect Michael was a forking jerk. In one of the flashback reboots he set up a Pick-a-Pet Day, where the humans got to choose a companion animal that was “bonded to their soul forever.” To torture Tahani, she was given a mythical Mirror Centaur, which mostly meant Tahani and her fashion sense was constantly being shaded by a sassy minotaur version of herself. Eleanor got an iguana that Michael made disappear to stress her out; before that, it climbed all over her face. Worst of all, the perpetually indecisive Chidi had to choose between two absolutely adorable puppies—and when he couldn’t make up his mind in time, he was left with an aggressive owl that clawed at his arm. (Jason got the best deal of the bunch: a penguin, which he dressed in a tiny Blake Bortles jersey.)

An owl, Chidi, Jason, a penguni wearing a Blake Bortles jersey, and Eleanor All screen shots via NBC

This should all sound super familiar. Pick-a-Pet Day is a peak Bad Place setup—just sneakily mean enough that the humans wouldn’t suspect anything. It’s strangely nostalgic, in a way, watching the humans get tortured in nontraditional ways. It’s also a great reminder that Ted Danson is so delightful at being diabolical. But most of all, it’s a showcase for how truly evil Bad Place Michael was. When Eleanor and Chidi confront him on Pick-a-Pet Day and say that their love is stronger than anything he can do to them, he offers a mean-spirited retort before snapping his fingers and wiping their minds. “No it’s not. Love is stronger than anything I can throw at you? I could throw an elephant at you,” he says. “You don’t think a thrown elephant would crush you because of love?”

On the bright side, at least present-day Michael is ashamed of his previous behavior. “I didn’t want you to see how cruel I used to be,” he told Eleanor. “Plus, I wore a lot of French-cuff shirts back then—I thought they made me look classy.”

At least it’s all in the past. Michael is a good dude—er, demon—now, the Soul Squad is making important strides on Earth, and the team is well on their way to establishing a template for other humans to follow so they can make it to the Good Place. While that Bad Place flashback was a great bit of fun, I’m excited to see The Good Place march forward—especially now that the gang is headed to Canada and Shawn and the other demons have created a makeshift portal to Earth. But that’s next week’s concern. For now, let’s move on to the weekly awards.

Best Branding:

A building with the sign: “Tostitos presents a public library brought to you by GoDaddy”

The Good Place’s Arizona is treated almost as badly as The Good Place’s Jacksonville.

Cutest Puppy: Trick superlative: They both rule. I mean, LOOK AT THESE GOOD BOYS.

A beige puppy and a black puppy, each sitting in a basket

I would die for both of them.

Best Subtle Tahani Shade:

GIF of Tahani telling Eleanor, who has an iguana on her shoulder, “Oh, a lizard was a perfect choice, Eleanor. You both have combination skin.”

Most Demonic Bad Place Reboot: The one where Chidi is trapped in a purple space bubble.

Most Haunting Trauma Experienced by Eleanor: There are so many to choose from, but “Mom Once Made Mac ’n’ Cheese With Wine Instead of Milk” is making me sick.

A graphic showing Eleanor Shellstrop’s traumas

And hey, Sam the Eagle is a handsome fella.

Best Casual Good Place Theory Drop That Will Put Reddit in a Tailspin, Even Though It’s Clearly Sarcastic: Courtesy of Eleanor, talking to Michael: “Maybe there’s a mega-demon who built a torture chamber for demons and this whole thing is just him torturing you. And maybe all the mega-demons are fulfilling a destiny laid out by a bunch of super-intelligent tarantula-squids who are torturing them.”

There’s a reason this quote preceded Michael dumping some iced tea on her head. Eleanor went too far down the rabbit hole. Still, at least one person on Reddit will totally take this at face value.