Eleanor Revisits Her Time in the Afterlife on 'The Good Place' (RECAP)
This week, The Good Place went back to doing one of the things it does best: posing huge, philosophical questions and asking its characters to answer them.
In “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will,” Eleanor and Michael debate just that. While Michael argues that Eleanor’s free will made life hell (pun intended) for him when he was trying to run his neighborhood, Eleanor feels all her choices, and her feelings for Chidi, were pre-determined by his interference in her life. Thus, she comes to the conclusion she’s still incapable of truly loving anyone, which wounds her deeply, and Michael makes it his mission to change her mind by showing her clips of her time in the afterlife.
The NBC comedy has a lot to say about what it means to be a good person.
Eleanor and Michael have gone to the only abandoned place they know in order to talk things out: a public library. Eleanor isn’t willing to just take Michael’s word that she was in love with Chidi; she needs to see it for herself, with Janet’s backup files from the simulations. After a fair bit of bickering, Michael relents and allows Eleanor to see a short memory (she can only see a few seconds at first, because afterlife memories can have negative effects on Earth). She watches herself say hi to Vicki in the fake Good Place, and when the memory ends, she’s lost all her hair. Adverse effects, indeed!
Thankfully the side effects are only temporary, and 20 minutes later Eleanor has a full head of hair again. Now that her brain has been “rewired” for those memories, Michael can show her the highlights of reboot 119, when she and Chidi were in love.
Eleanor watches the memories, starting with when they were discussing their philosophy class — free will vs. determinism — and she handed Chidi a tissue in anticipation of a sneeze that hadn’t yet happened. Chidi gives her a wide smile, and she smiles back. “What are you grinning at, weirdo?” she says.
They go to a neighborhood meeting at which each resident is supposed to pick a pet that will “bond with their soul.” Eleanor picks a lizard fairly quickly, but Chidi’s stumped when he finds two puppies and, as usual, finds it impossible to make a choice. Eleanor coaches him through his indecisiveness and he eventually manages to pick one, but they’re both gone by then. Drat! Instead, Chidi ends up with an owl: his other two options were a 16-foot albino python and a “tarantula squid.” Tahani ends up with a centaur that mirrors her appearance and Jason picks a penguin.
Unfortunately, the owl might not have been the best choice, either. When Eleanor gets home one day, she finds Chidi cowering under the kitchen counter. His owl, Spencer, doesn’t like loud noises and is very unwilling to play fetch — Chidi received several nasty scratches for trying to play the game with him. Chidi’s unwilling to ask Michael for a puppy, but Eleanor says she’ll do it for him; it’s the least she can do, she says, after everything Chidi’s done for her. Awwwwww!
In the present day, Michael tries to stop Eleanor from watching more. Suspicious, she asks him what he’s hiding. “You are going to show me how thoughtful and caring I am, or I am gonna rip off your demon head and shove it up whatever’s where your butt should be!” she says. Oh, the irony. Of course, Michael presses play.
Eleanor goes to ask Michael about getting Chidi’s pet swapped, but he tells her they might want to wait a night. Tahani’s hosting a neighborhood party during which the residents will be able to transform into their pets, meaning Chidi will be able to fly! But because this is still the Bad Place, things don’t go according to plan. Eleanor can’t find her lizard. She tells Chidi and Jason to go to Tahani’s party without her, while she continues looking for her missing (read: Michael-stolen) pet.
That night, Eleanor’s searching for her lizard by a lake. When someone comes up behind her and says, “Hey!” she panics and pushes them in… so Chidi, who had left the party to see her, takes an impromptu, unplanned swim. Eleanor apologizes profusely, but Chidi isn’t upset and tells her not to worry about her lizard. She realizes Chidi passed up the chance to fly in order to help her, and kisses him.
Michael explains that from that point on, they were inseparable. They moved in together and fell even deeper in love, and they eventually escaped to Mindy St. Clair’s house, where they told each other “I love you.” He stops Eleanor’s memories again, but she wants to know how things ended between her and Chidi. She watches a memory of them arguing with Michael in the fake Good Place, where they claim they’ll always find each other because they love each other. Michael taunts them and reboots them.
Free Will vs. Determinism
The memory ends, and Eleanor’s back in the present. Michael’s feeling guilty about how he acted, but that’s not why Eleanor’s affected: she’s upset because she thinks she didn’t really love Chidi, and that it was all caused by the simulation and Michael’s manipulation. She didn’t have free will, and thus, her fate and feelings were pre-determined. “Everything in my life has been determined by my upbringing, my genetics or my environment,” she says. Michael believes she’s wrong, and does his best to prove it.
They leave the library and go to a café, where Michael tries to make his friend see reason. Not everything in the fake Good Place was planned, he says, and most of the time the malfunctions boiled down to Eleanor making rogue choices he couldn’t anticipate. He shows her the time she confessed to not belonging in the neighborhood to save Chidi, and claims it’s an example of her exercising free will; she counters by saying she only cared that much about Chidi because Michael forced them together. Michael answers with another memory of a brief reboot where he interrogated her about her brain and personality because she was consistently making unpredictable choices.
With that, Michael knows he’s won the argument. But Eleanor’s not done fighting yet — she dreams up a convoluted scenario in which all of Michael’s choices are predetermined, and a higher chain of predetermination exists that makes everyone’s “choices” a fraud. Michael answers this by dumping iced tea on her and, once she’s calmed down, he makes an irrefutable point. Eleanor’s getting defensive because she saw herself being vulnerable with Chidi, and that terrifies her. Her friend says he’s going to go pick up Tahani, Jason and Chidi from the airport — “the worst possible use of free will” — and eventually, Eleanor decides to go with him.
They pick up their friends, and Eleanor apologizes for how she acted. She points out something Michael seems to not have considered; she, him and the rest of their friends are the only “truly free” beings in the universe, because they know the truth about the afterlife. This gives Michael an idea. He says they need to find someone who humans can model their lives after, so they know how to get into the Good Place. Time, he says, to head for rural Canada!
While the soul squad is happy, nasty things are brewing in the Bad Place. Shawn and his demons have managed to build an illegal door to Earth, and as the episode ends, they send Vicki through before following her.
- I continue to love the details on this show. For example, the library sign: “Tostitos presents a Public Library, brought to you by GoDaddy.”
- Apparently Eleanor’s dad got into a fistfight with the entire ASU Financial Aid office, she has a tattoo of Mr. Peanut, she considers Rihanna’s bodyguard her enemy and has bad memories of an ambien-hamster mishap.
- This episode was exactly what I needed to restore my faith — pun intended — in The Good Place. By allowing Michael and Eleanor to talk and narrowing the focus down to them, their philosophies and their personalities, I felt like I could connect with the story and the show’s focus in a way I hadn’t been over the last few installments. Though I did miss the rest of the gang!
- Tahani having a centaur that treated her exactly how she treats everyone else was another perfect example of the poetic justice this show is known for.
The Good Place, Thursdays, 8/7c, NBC