This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 3 Episode 7
“The Worst Possible Use of Free Will” presents a compelling argument for never tearing down sets. When Michael, Janet, Eleanor, Tahani, Jason, and Chidi left their fake heavenly neighborhood via train at the end of season 2’s “Best Self,” they looked back at their old digs wistfully. This could be the last moment they spent in the celestial location that was their home for literally hundreds of years.
Eleanor and the others may never make a return to their Good Place-shaped Bad Place. This show is off to bigger and better things on Earth. Or maybe they will! That’s the appeal of The Good Place. Settings can change massively from one moment to the next. But even if Team Cockroach/Soul Squad never makes a return, that doesn’t mean that The Good Place, itself can’t.
“The Worst Possible Use of Free Will” makes the greatest possible use of flashback memory-based storytelling. After Michael revealed to Eleanor last week that she and Chidi fell in love in one of the many Good Place reboots (Reboot 119 to be exact), Eleanor demands to know more. Michael, like all great storytellers, adopts a “show don’t tell” policy and hooks Eleanor’s brain up to a memory device to relive Reboot 119. Well first the machine fries off all of Eleanor’s hair and teeth, but then it’s all good. A banana helps.
This is the kind of episode that Michael Schur likely had in mind when he initially developed the idea of The Good Place. At its core, the episode is simply two people sitting in a room (first a public library in Arizona and then a diner in Arizona…both become porn sets after close naturally) and debating the concept of free will vs. determinism. Michael wants to prove to Eleanor that she really did fall in love with Chidi, breaking a lifetime of pain and programming from her awful parents and accepting that she deserves intimacy too. Eleanor wants to prove that she only fell in love with Chidi because of Michael’s devilish machinations.
That would be an interesting enough concept on its own – particularly since a human, Eleanor, is on the side of determinism, and a demon, Michael, is on the side of free will, which is undoubtedly an inverse of what one would expect. What makes it even better, however, is that we finally get to see Reboot 119 Eleanor and Reboot 119 Chidi fall in love before our very eyes. Eleanor’s argument for determinism is a strong one until we see the actual love in front of us.
In Reboot 119, Michael attempts to torture the humans with “pick a pet” day. Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani get to pick their familiars that will accompany them for the rest of eternity. Eleanor quickly settles on a very chill lizard named “Lizard,” Tahani receives a centaur that looks like her named “Tahani,” Jason gets a penguin (guess what his name is…go on, guess. It definitely rhymes with “Jake Jortles”), and Chidi naturally cannot make a decision between two perfect puppies.
Eleanor, who is doing wonderfully in her philosophy classes with Chidi and building up a real rapport, gently chastises her professorial buddy.
“Uh oh. Chidi’s kryptonite: picking between any two things,” she says.
After both puppies are taken, Chidi has to select a murderous owl named “Spencer.”
This is such a fun effective little look into the ghost of Good Place past. It feels legitimately nice to be back in the hallowed neighborhood, even if it now might be the setting of Amazon’s Homecoming. This provides another opportunity to watch old events with a new perspective. Michael’s methods of torture were really truly elaborate and convoluted. How would getting to turn into one’s pet possibly backfire?
Beyond just pure Good Place-ian nostalgia, however, this look back to Reboot 119 is truly a very effective, simply told meet-cute love story. Eleanor loses her iguana the day of the big party at Tahani’s. She walks the streets of the neighborhood looking for the little guy when she is unexpectedly joined by Chidi, who wants to help her look for Lizard. When Eleanor realizes that Chidi has skipped out on the opportunity to fly as Spencer to help her fiend her scaly friend, she kisses him.
They fall in love. They stay in love. They run away to Mindy St. Clair’s together. Then Michael cruelly and viciously tears them apart.
“We’re in love. Love is stronger than anything you can throw at us,” Eleanor tells Michael in his little office.
“No it isn’t.” Michael responds
“No matter what he does we’ll find each other and we’ll help each other because we’re soul mates,” Eleanor says.
Michael makes a fart noise, says “there’s no such thing as soul mates,” and reboots them right to attempt number 120.
The Good Place is able to get away with these moral debates that would otherwise be too heady or boring for a network sitcom precisely because it has a backbone of love running through it. Love is a philosophy that we all must contend with in one way or another. We may not all have trenchant opinions and theories readily available on free will or determinism but we all have something to say, feel, or think about love.
The only previous look we got at Chidi and Eleanor’s life in love was that brief “I love you” scene in Mindy St. Clair’s guest room. Now we have so much more and it all works. The trip we take back to the old neighborhood is worthwhile because it teaches us more about these characters we care about, not because it teaches us the dictionary definition of determinism…though that certainly helps.
It also helps that The Good Place is spending its second episode in a row almost exclusively with Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. The familial chemistry these two actors have is very real and it makes their little debate really poignant. It all culminates of course with Michael pouring a sweet iced tea over Eleanor’s head.
“Why did you do that?” Eleanor asks.
“Because I have free will and you’re being so annoying,” Michael says.
“Dude. Not cool.”
“Disagree. I think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
It definitely is the coolest thing he’s ever done. “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will” comes down pretty solidly on the side of free will. It does so in a satisfying worthwhile fashion too not because Michael makes the best arguments, though he does. Michael is correct that Eleanor clings to determinism because she remains terrified of intimacy. Free will really wins out though because it’s nearly impossible to conclude anything other than the fact that Eleanor and Chidi once loved each other. And they chose to do so.
This is a relatively quiet midseason half-hour that if it weren’t for the repurposing of the old Bad Place neighborhood sets could possibly be called a bottle episode. On The Good Place, however, sometimes the simplest episodes are the best…and usually involve eternal stakes.
We’ll see how the stakes stay high next week in rural Canada.