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Recap / The Good Place S3E07 "The Worst Possible Use of Free Will"

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"This library's depressing."

"I didn't choose to fall in love with Chidi, because some all-knowing demon, you, brought us together and scripted our lives."
Eleanor
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Eleanor and Michael arrive at a public library in Arizona. Eleanor wants Michael to give her back her memories of being in love with Chidi. She needs to see for herself because she thought she was incapable of loving anyone. Michael hands her some earphones and connects her to a machine that will help her remember her time in the afterlife. However, he warns her the experience will be intense and it needs to be taken slowly, as the restoration process will have adverse physical side effects. Just simply recalling an innocuous encounter with Vicky and Bambadjan causes Eleanor's hair to burn off and her teeth to come loose (though she's back to normal after twenty minutes).

After she recovers, Michael shows her memories from Reboot #119. In this reboot, the humans were made to pick their spirit pets. Chidi had trouble picking between two puppies. Tahani chose a mirror centaur that takes on its owner's appearance, with the resulting centaur, T'Hania, being a more vain version of Tahani. Jason picked a penguin (which he didn't think were real). Chidi eventually decided to pick the black puppy but was too late to adopt it, forcing him to choose from the leftovers; he picked an owl. Eleanor got a pet iguana. When Chidi's new owl attacked him and scratched up his arm, she tells him to just ask Michael for a dog but Chidi was stubborn and said no. While Eleanor helped bandage his arm, she offered to talk to Michael for him.

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Michael pulls the earphones out of Eleanor's ears. Eleanor is upset at the interruption but Michael tells her that the rest of the memories are boring. Eleanor suspects that Michael doesn't want her to see something. She takes the earphones back and demands that he show her more. Back in Eleanor's memories, she eventually asked Michael if it was possible for Chidi to swap his owl for a puppy. Michael was happy to grant the request but noted that Chidi may want to wait because they would be having a party at Tahani's that night where everyone would be able to transform into their pets for a few minutes.

Eleanor then lost her iguana and Chidi offered to help her look for it, eventually leading to them kissing. Michael tells Eleanor that they were inseparable after this. They later realized that they were actually in the Bad Place so they used Janet's train to escape to the Medium Place. Eleanor watches as her past self says "I love you" to Chidi and he says it back before pulling out the earphones. Michael says that that's the story and asks if they can go now. Eleanor asks how it ended and Michael says that it ended with him rebooting all of them. Eleanor asks him to show her how this happened.

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Eleanor and Chidi returned to the Bad Place to confront Michael, asserting that no matter what he throws at them, their love will conquer all. Michael taunted them that their love isn't genuine because he orchestrated all of it to happen before snapping his fingers to reboot the experiment again. Eleanor removes the earphones and Michael apologizes for how cruel he was in the past, swearing that he's changed. Eleanor tells him that she isn't mad at him; she's just sad because for a moment, she thought she was capable of love, but in reality, Michael had manipulated her into falling in love with Chidi. She brushes it off and asks Michael if he wants to get some burgers. Michael asks her how she came to the conclusion that she's incapable of love when she just watched herself fall in love.

Eleanor invokes the philosophy of Determinism, which asserts people have no control over their actions, arguing that she didn't choose to fall in love with Chidi because Michael chose for her. Michael says that he didn't; he put them together to torture one another, not fall in love. Eleanor retorts that everything in her life has been determined by her upbringing, genetics, and environment; even in her afterlife, everything was determined by something else, in this case Michael. She comes to the conclusion that there is no such thing as free will. The library closes so they head to a diner called The Sandy Spoon. Michael tells her that he'll prove to her that she made a choice. He finds a memory from the very first attempt, showing her how she stood up and confessed to everyone that she didn't belong in the "Good Place". Michael explains that she chose to sacrifice herself in order to ease Chidi's pain. This wasn't him manipulating her; she ruined his whole plan, and she was constantly doing things he didn't anticipate, even though he knew everything about her as a person. He even complained to her about it once in Reboot #445.

Michael admits that he tried to script Eleanor's whole afterlife but she kept made choices that he never saw coming, illustrating that she does have free will. Eleanor still doesn't believe him and wonders if there are greater forces at work guiding their actions. Michael gets fed up with her and pours his glass of iced tea over her head. Eleanor is shocked and angrily asks why he did that and he says because he has free will and she was being annoying. He scolds her for refusing to consider that the feelings she had for Chidi were real and points out this is a classic defense mechanism of hers, as she hates being vulnerable. Michael caps it off by stating that he's going to use his free will to go pick up their friends from the airport.

The Soul Squad reunite and Eleanor apologizes to Michael, admitting that he was right about her stubborn refusal to accept that she had free will. He accepts her apology and apologizes for having poured iced tea on her head. Eleanor notes that she's realized that maybe they are the freest people in the galaxy because they actually know what happens in the afterlife, and this has gotten her to think that the Soul Squad needs to think on a bigger and bolder scale to reach more people. Michael agrees and tells the gang that they are going to Canada.

Meanwhile, Shawn has built an illegal doorway to Earth. He frees Vicky from her cocoon, sends her through the doorway and he, Val, and Glenn follow her through.


Tropes

  • An Aesop: No matter how much control you think others (people, circumstances, or other outside factors) have over you or your behavior, you have free will just like everyone else, and you ultimately are the one in charge of what you chose to do...except maybe when you work for the Devil and he's determined to achieve a goal at any cost, at which case you'll do whatever the hell he wants, no matter what risk you are at.
  • Animorphism: In one of the reboots, Michael had all of the residents transform into the animals they recently acquired from Janet at one of Tahani's parties. Eleanor and Chidi decided they'd rather have some private bonding time instead.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Michael is reluctant to reveal much of Eleanor's afterlife memories because of his formerly cruel nature. And also the French-cuffed shirts that he used to wear.
  • Big "WHY?!": How Chidi responds to being pushed into the lake by Eleanor.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: In their argument about whether or not Eleanor fell in love with Chidi of her free will, Michael points out that Eleanor kept making decisions that baffled and surprised him, that he couldn't anticipate. Eleanor retorts that he created a fake neighborhood and manipulated everyone, so even if he didn't make her fall in love directly, he did create a scenario where two "hot people" could hook up under a time of stress.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Among the things glimpsed in Eleanor's quirk file is that Rihanna's bodyguard is one of her worst enemies. Later on in the episode, Eleanor mentions attending a concert of hers and licking her, before getting kicked out.
    • Doug Forcett being the only living human to mostly understand the true nature of the afterlife.
  • Brown Note: A living person being given memories of time spent in the afterlife has to put up with side effects. After getting back three seconds of memories, Eleanor is left bald and spitting out teeth. Fortunately, she somehow returns to normal soon after and that short exposure is enough to allow her to withstand longer bursts.
  • The Bus Came Back: Shawn finally releases Vicky from her cocoon to test his new self-made portal to Earth and see whether it is safe to use. Unfortunately, it is.
  • Call-Back:
    • Eleanor's pet lizard that Michael made poop on everyone in attempt 119 is seen, along with everyone else's pets.
    • One of the memories Michael shows Eleanor is during his breakdown from the Failure Montage of "Dance Dance Resolution", mirroring their first scene from "Everything is Fine!" Here, a bedraggled Michael tells Eleanor to "get in here", and the sign in his office's waiting room is downgraded to merely "everything is okay".
    • Michael has Eleanor recall her first unpredictable action from the first iteration of the neighborhood — admitting that she was the cause of the chaos.
    • Way back in the first episode, Michael explained that the portrait in his office is of a man named Doug Forcett, who is the only human to come even close to guessing the nature of the afterlife with 92% accuracy, courtesy of being very high. He's considered something of a hero in the afterlife because of this. The revelation that Michael was lying about the Good Place at the end of Season 1 made some viewers write this off as another ridiculous lie. Turns out, no, Forcett is real, still alive, and the gang are on their way to visit him at the end of the episode.
  • The Cameo: Gideon, the miniature horse who played Li'l Sebastian on Parks and Recreation appears as one of the animals in the flashback.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Janet's Virtual Reality system. Michael uses it to show Eleanor clips of the afterlife.
  • Clip Show: Most of the episode is Michael and Eleanor looking at clips of the memories she lost when her memory was wiped, both from previous episodes and entirely new material.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: The main dilemma of the episode is Eleanor feeling that she barely uses her own free will and just lets those around her control her life for her. It's up to Michael to talk sense into her.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Among the many things in Eleanor's quirk file is that Donna Shellstrop tried claiming she was Eleanor's sister more than once, starting from the day Eleanor was born.
    • The Rihanna concert from which Eleanor was ejected is possibly the same one that she ditched dog-sitting to attend.
  • Death Glare: According to Tahani, when she tried riding on T'hania's back, the centaur gave her a "withering glare" and refused.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Michael cites this as evidence that Eleanor does have free will, as he never foresaw her actually changing into a better person through Chidi's help.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: Jason learns that he can pick a mythical animal as a pet and opts for a penguin.
    Eleanor: Dude, penguins are real.
    Jason: That's the spirit, Eleanor!
  • False Soulmate: In the flashback, Michael finally confirms explicitly that soulmates are not real, and he just made it up as part of the torture.
  • Foreshadowing: Vicky makes a brief cameo in one of the flashback sequences. Her onscreen appearance for the first time in several episodes hints that she is returning to the series. There's also the one memory where Eleanor asks about Doug's portrait in one of the reboots.
  • Food Slap: Michael dumps his drink over Eleanor's head to get her out of her funk.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Michael's database of Eleanor's many, many quirks.
  • Geeky Turn-On: In one of the flashbacks, still-evil Michael reveals that Eleanor had recurring sexual fantasies involving the Muppet Sam the Eagle.
    Eleanor: He’s very authoritative, and I find that reassuring.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Michael ultimately snaps Eleanor out of her funk by dumping his glass of iced tea on her head. He then lectures her that he knows everything about her and she's merely using determinism to hide her fear from proof that she was ever vulnerable enough to outright say she loved anyone because she fears letting the walls she had built up around herself down.
  • Heroic BSoD: Eleanor has a mild one after learning about the reboots from Michael, feeling her entire life has been controlled by outside forces as well. Michael helps her see otherwise by pointing out that Eleanor made a number of her own choices as well, such as confessing that she didn't belong in the neighborhood in order to help Chidi.
  • I Hate Past Me: Michael admits that part of the reason why he did not want to show Eleanor her lost memories was because he did not want her to see how cruel he used to be, especially the sequence where he mocked Eleanor and Chidi for thinking that their love was stronger than he was, pointing out that he manipulated everything that made them fall in love in the first place, and thus is still the one in power.
  • Literal Metaphor: When Eleanor claims that her and Chidi's love for each other is stronger than anything Michael throws at them, Michael says that he could throw an elephant at them and their love wouldn't protect them.
    Chidi: She was speaking metaphorically.
    Michael: Even metaphorically it's lame.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Vicky was cocooned last season whilst in the middle of telling Shawn about what Michael's been up to. She's still in the middle of the conversation when she's uncocooned in this episode, revealing she was been paused the whole time and so has no idea what's happened during her absence.
    Shawn: Yeah, zip it, toots. We're way past that.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The fake Good Place has tarantula-squid. Eleanor was pretty keen for Chidi to get one, but he passes.
  • Noodle Implements: Michael gathers various objects to help prepare Eleanor for her first experience of receiving her afterlife memories, which include a banana and a paper towel roll. The audience finds out they're used to deal with the side effects, but not how they help (other than the container used to collect her teeth).
  • Noodle Incident: While trying to bring up a relevant afterlife memory, Michael accidentally brings up an event where Chidi is painfully trapped in a "purple space bubble". We never learn where it came from or how it was resolved.
  • Ominous Owl: Chidi picked an owl as a pet. The minute he tried to play with it, it attacked him.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: Tahani got a "mirror centaur", whose human half takes on the appearance of its human companion. Unfortunately, T'hania was snobby and judgmental.
  • Parrot Pet Position: In one of the fake Good Place iterations, Eleanor gets a pet iguana which spends most of its time clinging to her. It even climbs on her head as she talks with Tahani (though that was most likely unscripted).
  • The Power of Love: In the flashback, Eleanor claims that love is the most powerful force in the universe. Michael, exasperated, points out that love won't protect them if he decides to throw an elephant at them.
    Chidi: She was speaking metaphorically.
    Michael: Even metaphorically it was lame.
  • Precious Puppy: When picking pets, Chidi couldn't decide between two puppies whom he found equally adorable. By the time he made up his mind, both puppies were taken.
  • Recursive Reality: Eleanor suggests that Michael is being tortured by megademons the same as how Michael tortured her and the others. She goes on to add that those megademons may in turn be controlled by tarantula squids.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: Eleanor asks Michael if he can believe that she was voted most likely to die young and unaccomplished. He reminds her that she did die young and unaccomplished.
  • Rule of Pool: In the flashback, while Eleanor looked for her lizard, Chidi came from behind and tapped her on the shoulder, startling Eleanor and causing her to shove him into the lake before realizing who it was.
  • Running Gag: Twice, when Eleanor and Michael get kicked out of a place because it's closing up and is going to be used to shoot porn afterward.
  • Seen It All: The waitress at the diner Eleanor and Michael go to has zero response to Michael pouring his iced tea over Eleanor, since it happens all the time, beyond commenting it's usually the younger woman doing it to the older male.
  • Series Continuity Error: When Shawn releases Vicky from her cocoon, she is Un-Paused from when was pleading to Shawn not to cocoon her back when she was accused of helping the humans escape, and does not remember what has happened. However, the episode "Everything is Bonzer" showed the demons that Shawn cocooned as being conscious while so. Of course, Shawn could vary his cocoons depending on how he tortures them.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: The philosophical conundrum of Determinism is brought up multiple times throughout the episode, with Determinism as being a part of Chidi's lesson in Eleanor's time in his ethics class. When Eleanor sees that one of the previous iterations of her time in the afterlife had her and Chidi fall in love as part of Michael's diabolical plan, she rationalizes that she is incapable of love since the only time she ever fell in love was all carefully orchestrated. When Eleanor tries putting Michael in the role of the "Grand Mover" that orchestrated all of the factors that led to their romance, Michael asserts that them actually falling in love was a complete accident, and that his inability to properly create an effective torture chamber despite knowing every objective fact about her life and personality is due to free will.
  • Spanner in the Works: Michael emphasizes to Eleanor how she kept making choices he couldn't predict, throwing his plans into disarray every time.
  • The Stinger: Not strictly a stinger, as there's no cut to a credits sequence, but watch carefully and you might notice a few cast members/characters (in particular Shawn) not seen in the episode as Guest Stars. Cut to after the credits, and we see Shawn and some demon have built a portal to Earth.
  • Take That!: Wanting an empty location to show Eleanor's afterlife memories, she and Michael go to a library in Arizona, where most of the poetry is by Jeff Foxworthy and the Bible is cataloged under sex education (in fact, it's the only thing in sex education). They're also urged to leave as soon as possible when it closes, since porn is near immediately shot on location. They later get a similar warning from a waitress at a diner.
  • Three-Way Sex: In the iteration where Eleanor and Chidi confessed that they loved each other, what made them leave the Medium Place was Mindy trying to get them to have a threesome with her.
  • Title Drop: Near the end of the episode Michael half-jokingly says that the worst possible use of free will is picking up his friends from the airport.
  • Trivial Title: Free will is indeed the episode's main theme, but the title as a whole refers to a throwaway line when Michael says that picking their friends up from the airport is the worst possible use of free will — which he's only saying to snark at Eleanor because she's being so annoying.
  • Un-Paused: Shawn pulls Vicky out of her cocoon mid-sentence, while she's trying to explain Michael's reboots to him.
  • Up to Eleven: Tahani chose a "mirror centaur", a centaur version of herself, as a pet. Unfortunately, the centaur acted like an even snootier and more vain Tahani, with her disdain aimed at Tahani herself.
  • Wham Episode: The episode ends with Shawn building a working portal to Earth and heading there himself along with Vicky and other demons to search for the gang.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Eleanor is less than pleased that Michael keeps trying to hide the reboot from her and demands to see the proof because he has lied to her before.
    • Michael's lecture of Eleanor also includes a chiding for dismissing the free will of herself, himself and their friends, because he wants to help them because he cares about them and he wants to believe that matters.

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