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Recap / The Good Place S2E05 "The Trolley Problem"

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"These five people all need organ transplants, or they will die. Eleanor's perfectly healthy. Chidi, do you want to slice her open and use her organs to save the five sick people?"

"Look, this isn't about Chidi not being able to take a joke. This is about you. You're doing what I used to do. You're pulling an Eleanor."
Eleanor to Michael

Chidi is teaching the trolley problem philosophical question, but Michael's practical knowledge of the afterlife scoring system conflicts with Chidi's theoretical approach. Supposedly as a learning aid, Michael subjects Chidi to realistic simulations of the trolley problem and related ethical questions, then admits he is deliberately torturing Chidi. Chidi expels Michael, who tries to placate the humans with extravagant personalized gifts that Chidi calls bribes. Chidi allows Michael to return after Michael offers a sincere apology. Meanwhile, Tahani and Jason continue their relationship, but Tahani insists on secrecy while Jason wants to go public. Janet becomes their couples counselor; over the course of a month, their relationship improves. But Janet is performing outside her specifications, causing worsening glitches; Janet tells Michael the neighborhood could collapse.


  • Actually Pretty Funny: While Eleanor understands intellectually that what Michael is doing to Chidi is wrong, she also clearly finds it hilarious. In fact, her "Reason You Suck" Speech to Michael later in the episode is all the more effective because, unlike Chidi, she does see where he's coming from.
    Michael: If Chidi can't take a joke, that's on him. Just like all that blood was.
    Eleanor: I can't high-five that! No matter how badly I want to.
  • Apology Gift: Michael brings a series of them to Team Cockroach; Chidi throws his in the trash and calls it a bribe.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: This is the only episode where Chidi has snapped at anyone. When Eleanor figures out that Michael is torturing him and Eleanor, Chidi gives Michael a "The Reason You Suck" Speech about Michael breaking their deal to not torture him in exchange for ethics lessons, and he may as well be straight up tortured. Then he kicks Michael out of ethics classes.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Which manages to be mixed with Blue-and-Orange Morality. Michael's analysis of Les Misérables is that everyone in the story is bad - Jean Valjean, Javert, the prostitutes. Apparently stealing a single loaf of bread to feed your family is still counted as negative points, with the additional problem that if it's a baguette, that's worse simply because it's more French. Of course, as French people, everyone in the story is automatically damned to the Bad Place anyway.
  • Bloody Hilarious: Michael decides to take Chidi's thought experiment, The Trolley Problem (about whether to run over one person with a trolley or five) and do it for real. Chidi gets covered in blood and gore as he runs people over. Repeatedly.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Chidi accidentally does this at first by telling Michael that he knows more about ethics than the demon does. Michael retaliates by making them relive the trolley problem. Then he does it on purpose by kicking Michael out of ethics class, and Michael cannot retaliate because, as Chidi points out, he'd be tortured either way.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Janet is not a therapist, merely an anthropomorphic vessel of all knowledge in the universe. Including therapeutic knowledge. And since there are no other options, she's good enough for Tahani.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Michael, being a demon, thinks that the "Trolley Problem" is about figuring out how to kill all of the participating people rather than focusing on the moral dilemma.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Michael's apology gift to Eleanor is a shrimp dispenser, which includes a mystery flavor. After trying it, she warns the others not to try it because it's white chocolate, and it's not a good taste with shrimp...except she continues eating it.
  • Easily Forgiven: Averted. Michael assumes that, after torturing Chidi with the trolley problem, merely saying "my bad" will earn forgiveness. Even when he tries to give them gifts later to make up for it, Chidi recognizes that this is not a true apology and instead a bribe, and makes Michael sincerely understand what he did was wrong.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Michael, a demon, thinks the initial solution to the trolley problem is to find a way to kill everyone.
    Michael: Oh. I did the thing again, didn't I?
    Chidi: Yup. [flips the chalkboard over, revealing the words "people = good" written multiple times] Ten more, buddy.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: Michael thinks it's funny to force Chidi into Sadistic Choices where multiple people are in mortal danger and he has to choose to let at least one die in order to save the others. To be fair, Eleanor acknowledges that it's at least a little funny, but he goes too far.
  • Evil Is Petty:
    • Michael subjects Chidi to repeated emotional torture because Chidi's better grasp of ethics makes him feel insecure.
    • In life, Eleanor once posted her cousin's credit card number on Reddit simply because she said Eleanor looked tired.
  • Foreshadowing: The opening makes it clear that Michael is still having trouble remembering not to torture humans.
    • Michael is back to torturing Chidi with the real Trolley Problem. Note that it's still all emotional torture. Michael has trouble grasping the human perspective, but he does have a connection with human emotional and moral drives.
  • Get Out!: Chidi to Michael, once he learns what's going on.
  • Gratuitous Rap: Defied. Eleanor repeatedly advises against Chidi's idea to do a philosopher rap for Michael. It really is for the better.
  • Has Two Thumbs and...: In the middle of Jason and Tahani's therapy session, one of Janet's thumbs floats away in a glitch. She says, "What has one thumb and wants to keep going? This not-lady!"
  • Help, I'm Stuck!: Chidi's friend can't get out of the way of the tram because his red boot is stuck in the tracks.
  • High-Five Left Hanging: Eleanor can't high-five Mike's joke at Chidi's expense.
    Michael: If Chidi can't take a joke, that's on him. Just like all that blood was. (laughs and raises a hand to high-five)
    Eleanor: I can't high-five that! No matter how badly I want to.
  • History with Celebrity: Tahani has only ever ridden one trolley, James Franco's ironic trolley that travels backward from his penguin grotto to his garage full of adult tricycles.
    • Tahani also once had a dalliance with a not famous Hemsworth brother, but even Larry had a job.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: Tahani predicts that Jason is gonna rant to The Shrink Janet about her being a Control Freak and it would be better if he left the talking to her. She quickly realizes how well-founded that prediction actually was.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Running over someone with the trolley will result in blood spraying everywhere. The people being run over aren't real, but they're still meaty.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While Michael is using the Trolley Problem to torture Chidi, he does point out that with a question that has no right answers it's easy to just not bother looking for the answers. Even Eleanor has to agree with Michael on this.
    Michael: This is why everyone hates moral philosophy professors.
    Eleanor: Dude, I am on your side, but he is not wrong!
  • Meaningful Echo: Michael gives a sarcastic, angry version of an apology, asking Chidi if that's what he wants to hear. When Chidi just says, "Yes.", Michael realizes what that means and repeats it, word for word, with all evidence of sincerity.
  • Morton's Fork: Michael turns the Trolley Problem into this. No matter what he chooses, Chidi ends up miserable and splattered with blood. Justified as Michael isn't trying to learn ethics and is just torturing Chidi.
  • Moving the Goalposts: A hint that Michael is just forking with Chidi comes when Chidi actually does make a decision re: the trolley, and immediately Michael changes the scenario so that he now runs over his friend Henry.
  • Mundane Object Amazement: While the others get amazing gifts from Michael (a large diamond, a shrimp dispenser, an unknown notebook from Kant), Jason only gets a Pikachu balloon. He acts like it's the greatest thing ever, but in his enthusiasm he holds it too tightly and pops it.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Michael's ability to make impossibly life-like simulations with his Badass Fingersnap is only shown in this episode.
  • No-Sell: Chidi is uninterested in Michael's first attempt at an apology, casually dropping Immanuel Kant's notebook in the trash with a blasé "Cool.".
  • Noodle Incident: Out of the trolley scenarios we see, the one where Chidi chooses to run over five Shakespeares over Santa Claus is only mentioned in passing.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Eleanor pointed out to Michael that Chidi telling Michael off is the most decisive action Chidi has ever taken. Considering how Chidi is constantly indecisive, it's quite alarming. It's also one of the rare times Chidi cusses.
    Chidi: Get the fork out!
  • Person as Verb: "Pulling an Eleanor", which means "lashing out when you feel like a failure."
  • Power Incontinence: Janet exceeding the limits of her programming is causing her to glitch. At first it's minor things like her thumb detaching and floating away, or spitting out a live toad. But then she causes an earthquake, so she goes to Michael and warns him that if she's not repaired she'll destroy the whole neighborhood.
  • Precision F-Strike: Chidi actually lays one into Michael after having had enough of his torment.
  • Proud Beauty: Eleanor trying to reassure Chidi about his problems getting through to Michael get sidetracked when she compares it to trying to teach her "not to be hot".
    Eleanor: Would you have me stand with a hunch and go "gurp... gurp... gurp", or - I don't know! I can't even picture it, I've been hot my whole life!
  • Reformed, but Not Tamed: Michael still enjoys torturing people. He even outright states that he's still on their side, but he just wanted to let loose a bit. However, Chidi is not having it and refuses to let Michael off the hook until he genuinely apologizes.
  • Sadistic Choice: The titular Trolley Problem is one of these, and variations on the "kill one person to save five" set up are discussed. Michael forces Chidi to act out the problem as a study aid. This is, in fact, the entire point of the Trolley Problem — it explores human morality by discovering impossible situations that pit one moral emotion against another, separating true, evolved moral drives from mere cultural conventions.
  • Sexual Karma: Inverted. Jason is great in bed precisely because of his bad traits. He thinks he's ten thousand times more awesome than he really is, and it makes him completely confident and free of self-consciousness.
  • Sidetracked by the Analogy: Eleanor argues that Michael might be unteachable in learning human ethics, with her claiming that him (a demon) learning to be good would be equivalent to her learning how to be "not hot". Cue Eleanor getting distracted and contemplating how she could ever present herself as unattractive.
  • Take a Third Option: The Trolley Problem is an exercise in looking at these options. Later on, when Chidi has had enough of Michael's torturing he takes this in a dark way:
    Chidi: You keep saying that we need you, or we'll end up getting tortured forever. But then when we do help you out, we still end up getting tortured. I'd rather just BE tortured than choose it!
  • Take That!: Being French gets you an automatic ticket to the Bad Place. Stealing bread is worse if it's a baguette because it makes you more French.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The probably-a-simulation of Chidi's friend Henry.note 
    Henry: Oh, hey, Chidi! Nice trolley!
  • Treasure Is Bigger in Fiction: Michael gives Tahani an enormous fist-sized diamond. Justified, since the gem was conjured by Janet rather than being mined from the earth.
  • Verbal Backspace: Pleading for Chidi not to kill her for the sake of a thought-experiment, Eleanor first pleads that she's his hottest friend, then admits that's actually Tahani. Then she tries nicest, and admits that's Jason. She finally settles on just "I'm your friend."
  • Writing Lines: Michael is assigned to write lines of 'People = Good' on Chidi's blackboard as punishment/learning strategy when his demon nature resurfaces during their ethics class.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Michael gives Tahani a giant diamond, but tells her that he doesn't understand their appeal, since they're just carbon atoms arranged in the most boring way possible, calling them space garbage and "meteorite poop." To make his point, he drops it in the waste basket.


Video Example(s):


The Trolley Problem

Chidi explains "The Trolley Problem" to his ethics class. Michael, being a demon, thinks its about figuring out how to kill all of the participating people rather than focusing on the moral dilemma.

How well does it match the trope?

4.96 (24 votes)

Example of:

Main / ComicallyMissingThePoint

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