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The Good Place, annotated: “The Worst Possible Use Of Free Will”

Photo: Colleen Hayes (NBC)

In addition to being one of the best shows on TV, The Good Place is a dense knot of running jokes, visual humor, references to dense philosophy tomes, and breadcrumbs for later episodes. In order to help you keep it all straight, The A.V. Club will be annotating the show’s third season. Catch something that we didn’t? Email us at youforkingmissedit@avclub.com.

Read our recap of “The Worst Possible Use Of Free Will

But first, a word from you, the readers

Nathaniel Barlam makes a structurally sound observation of “A Fractured Inheritance”: “I noticed at one point that Dave (Andy Daly’s character) was talking with Michael about one of his projects being inspired by Monticello, the landmark plantation Thomas Jefferson designed for himself (and where he is buried). Dave says “it was the first Hooters made out of brick, sort of inspired by Monticello,” which indeed is made out of bricks and structural timber. As an architect myself, I found it pretty amusing.”


Krisztina Kun is Hungary for more: “To add to the Hungarian jokes in this episode, Gene Simmons is Hungarian and and Keyser Söze kills the Hungarian mob (and speaks Hungarian in The Usual Suspects) which, I think is why they were referenced in the Budapest episode.”

Visual gags

Tostitos Presents A Public Library Brought To You By GoDaddy

Frito-Lay’s popular brand of tortilla chips has a proud history as a name sponsor of Phoenix-area institutions: Recall the 18-year run of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the only college football game whose name doubled as a delicious hangover remedy. A series of lesser brands have taken Tostito’s rightful place—PlayStation, consumer electronics manufacturer Vizio, something called Battlefrog—and the once-mighty chip hastaken the humblest of dips, its logotype now plastered on the side of a public library. Adding insult to injury, it’s sharing the dishonor with the most lecherous of Super Bowl advertisers. (Sidenote: Add Tostitos Presents A Public Library Brought To You By GoDaddy to the one-two Jacksonville punch of Randy “Macho Man” Savage Non-International Airport and The Carmen Electra Auditorium in the Smith & Wesson Perfoming Arts Center, and it starts to look like The Good Place version of the United States is no better than hell.)

Roses Are Red And So Is My Neck by Jeff Foxworthy


The Blue Collar Comedy Tour veteran has added to a bibliography that includes You Might Be A Redneck If…, No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem!, and How To Really Stink At Work: A Guide To Making Yourself Fire-Proof While Having The Most Fun Possible with this, one of the only books in a poetry section monopolized by the Redneck Dictionary III: Learning to Talk More Gooder Fastly author. Back-cover copy: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s Daytona 500?”

Blake The Penguin


When Jason-as-Jianyu selects a penguin as his Good Place pet, is there any doubt that the “mythical” creature will wind up named after a certain Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback? Really, no matter what animal he picked, that thing was going to wind up named Blake Bortles. The true surprise is in little Blake’s tiny Jags jersey, emblazoned with Bortles’ number and everything. ADORBORTLES!

Kabob Patch Kids


According to season two’s “Best Self,” Eleanor and Chidi fell in love during the 119th reboot of Michael’s experiment, when all the restaurants in the neighborhood served kebabs. Here’s one of them now, a double-whammy food pun riffing on the hottest Christmas toy of 1983.

A Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Cliff Notes To Philosophy For Dingdongs… For Morons


We can reasonably assume that this is the lone offering in the library’s philosophy section, but that may just be an issue of consolidation. If you unravel the title, it appears that three other books—Philosophy For Dingdongs, Philosophy For Dingdongs… For Morons, and Cliff Notes To Philosophy For Dingdongs… For Morons—have been condensed into this single volume.

The Sandy Spoon


Because a greasy spoon would naturally pick up some dirt and grit if left out in the desert. While visiting The Sandy Spoon, be sure to ask about the brand new Arizona Junk Breakfast.

“Welcome! Everything is okay.”


The change in the requisite waiting-room signage foreshadows Michael’s emotional state and appearance in this reboot: Tousled hair, shirtsleeves rolled up, desk covered in crumped-up paper—the physical embodiment of sighing “everything is okay.”

Eleanor’s personality map


Michael’s use of screens has provided a blank slate for The Good Place’s writers to pack with jokes. This episode’s shows Eleanor Shellstrop’s lifetime wrongs, sorted by Shames, Family, Bad Memories, and Enemies. Some are clear, like “Mr. Peanut Tattoo” and “Shrimp farts.” Others tell a whole story, if only in suggestion: under the “Enemies” subheading is “Neil deGrasse Tyson (Note: One-sided, from his side),” while a bad memory is “Ambien-hamster mishap.”


Reboot 119

See above: All of the seeds for “The Worst Possible Use Of Free Will”’s central flashback are planted in “Best Self,” when Eleanor asks Michael to recount the reboot in which she and Chidi fell in love. Those scenes in The Bad Place are a dramatization and visualization of everything Michael tells the humans and Janet in front of the magic balloon: We see Eleanor’s anticipation of the sneeze, the lizard, the kebab restaurant, the first kiss by the lake.


Except: Not every detail lines up precisely. In “Best Self,” Michael describes making Eleanor’s lizard poop all over her; in “The Worst Possible Use Of Free Will,” we see him gloating about making the reptile run away. In “Best Self,” the first kiss is described as occurring during a walk by the lake; in “The Worst Possible Use Of Free Will,” they only smooch after Eleanor—who’d been walking along the lake by herself—shoved Chidi into the water. So was Michael experiencing the faultiness of human memory in that moment from last season? Or are the memories he’s playing for Eleanor faulty? There’s something fishy going on here, and not just because a lake is involved.


“We just went to Mindy St. Clair’s, and when she wasn’t trying to trick us into having a threesome…”

This part totally checks out, though, and the dialogue from Eleanor and Chidi’s confession of love in Mindy’s guest room is word-for-word from “Dance Dance Resolution.” Based on the blocking and performances, it might even be the same footage, minus the peephole frame and VHS effects.


“Watch this. It’s from the very first attempt.”

Back to season one, for another pivotal moment seen from a different angle: In “The Eternal Shriek,” Michael is the focus of the “If anyone has any information about any of this” speech, with the occasional cut to anguished Chidi. But this is Eleanor’s memory, so she and Chidi are the focus—and William Jackson Harper really gives you the sense that he’s in distress.


“Rihanna. Good call. I don’t know her personally, but I did see her in Vegas once and her calf brushed up against my tongue. I licked her leg. I was kicked out.”

Additional details on the concert for which Eleanor skipped out on house- and dog-sitting during the “What We Owe To Each Other” flashbacks. Rihanna was very late, and a little drunk, and then she got Shellstrop saliva all over her leg—that explains why “Rihanna’s body guard” is on Eleanor’s list of enemies.


Vicky, unzipped

Last seen being sealed into a cocoon in “Leap To Faith,” Tiya Sircar’s schemin’ demon returns as the guinea pig for Shawn’s slapped-together portal, picking up right where she left off on that train platform: “Ask Michael how many times he rebooted them. He’s lying…”



Free will versus determinism

The Philosophy 101 nugget at the center of “The Worst Possible Use Of Free Will” is an Eleanor special: Sure, she seems like the type who would declare that Eleanor Shellstrop and Eleanor Shellstrop alone determines Eleanor Shellstrop’s fate, but that would mean taking on a responsibility and accountability for her actions that isn’t exactly in Eleanor Shellstrop’s character. So why wouldn’t she then subscribe to the theory that all of her choices and decisions are actually attributable to biological, genetic, and societal factors? At least until the guy who actually manipulated the conditions of her afterlife makes his own choice to douse Eleanor in iced tea?


“I’m going to miss Nietzsche. I spent a lot of my life thinking I was better than everyone else—and he showed me why I was right”

The Good Place sees you, undergrad with a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra tucked under your arm, condescending to the barista about how Nietzsche wrote about nihilism but can’t be defined as a nihilist per se.


“A little Tommy Quine Quine”

Eleanor’s nickname for the patron saint of students and all universities, a 13th-century Italian equivalent of chicky chicky parm parm.


“I haven’t had a pet since Barbra Streisand gave me one of her cloned Siamese cats and it killed itself.”

In the world of The Good Place, the EGOT winner has branched out from paying thousands of dollars to make copies of her Coton de Tulear—though it sounds like the feline specimens didn’t fare as well as Miss Violet and Miss Scarlet.


“I know all your private shames, like that you don’t wash your feet in the shower, your first concert was Barenaked Ladies, and you have frequent sex dreams about Sam The Eagle from The Muppets.”

Honestly, there’s one thing here that Eleanor has nothing to be ashamed about: Barenaked Ladies is a perfect first-concert band, and given that Eleanor was born in 1982, she probably would’ve caught the Canadian act at their pre-“One Week” peak. Sam The Eagle, meanwhile, is nobody’s idea of the hottest Muppet (even Scooter would be less shameful) and too conservatively vanilla and averse to “weirdos” for Eleanor’s sexual appetites.



“It’s not Rihanna. It’s someone way cooler.”


“The Worst Possible Use Of Free Will” ends with the Soul Squad heading to rural Canada to “find someone who can serve as a blueprint for humanity.” While not confirmed in the episode, there’s a pretty good chance they’re heading to see Doug Forcett, the Calgarian stoner who, during a mushroom trip in the 70s, described the nature of the afterlife with 92 percent accuracy, and whose photo was hanging on the wall of Michael’s office.

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