“I either know exactly what I’m doing and it’s something. Or we’re doing nothing and I’m winning.”
When Michael excitedly announced that the Soul Squad was going to meet the legendary Doug Forcett last week, it seemed like a brilliant idea. After all, the young Doug’s photograph adorns office walls all over the afterlife like “Einstein with his tongue out” posters in a college dorm, thanks to the Canadian stoner’s unprecedented, mushrooms-inspired, 92-percent-correct guess as to the true nature of the moral universe. Surely, such a towering figure must have ridden that psilocybin-surging wisdom to become, as Michael puts it, a “blueprint” for living. Well, sort of.
Setting us up to meet Doug Forcett was setting us (and Michael and the rest of the gang) up for disillusionment. Because Doug Forcett is a human being, and as we’ve seen through The Good Place’s first three seasons, we humans just fuck everything up. Even, in Doug’s case, a glimpse into the true ontological structure of all creation. When Michael and Janet (sorry, reporter Michael Scoop and his photographer/sister Janet Scoop) knocked on Doug’s Calgary cabin, they were in for a surprise of some kind, as Michael’s own flash of inspiration carried with it the hope of a grand, one-shot fix for the Soul Squad’s seemingly impossible predicament. That’s something The Good Place has shown simply doesn’t work, whether it takes the form of a complete reboot of reality or a single-minded pursuit of something that seems like a sure thing. The ethical system of this universe is too vast, complex, and seemingly rigged against anyone possessing even a scrap of human failing that even knowing how it truly works, down to a 92 percent certainty, can’t guarantee you’ll be able to live up to its standards.
Doug Forcett, as Janet sums up after spending a few minutes with the now late-middle-aged man, is “a happiness pump.” He lives completely off the grid, calls the animals surrounding his meager cabin by their species (in case they have names they prefer), and—as Michael discovers to his chagrin—only drinks water reclaimed from his own composting toilet. (Plus, eating only home-grown radishes and lentils as he does, well, Michael does complain of an aftertaste even before he learns the truth of what he’s drinking.) The surprise for Michael and Janet is crushing, as Doug dashes the notion that there’s a roadmap for the Soul Squad’s plan to put goodness out into the world before their time comes in the Bad Place. For us as viewers, the surprise is actually doubly rewarding, both because of the way Doug’s example serves to deepen The Good Place’s already head-spinning moral universe, and because the older Doug is played by Michael McKean.
McKean, with his kind eyes and sad mouth, has become an invaluable character actor when it comes to playing tortured, ineffectual souls, and Doug’s youthful epiphany has left McKean’s aging Doug a saintly clown worthy of his own Buñuel film. (“Every face tells a story, Doug,” says Michael, trying to advise Doug to loosen up the point-accumulating asceticism just a touch.) Apart from adopting every stray dog (and wolf) that wanders onto his isolated property (no matter how vicious), and allowing caustic cosmetics to be tested on his face in order to save lab animals, Doug Forcett is routinely tortured by a young, bicycle-riding “local sociopath” named Raymond who, realizing that Doug’s only response to any cruel, humiliating demand will be a smiling, “Would that make you happy?,” delights in torturing his neighbor. Sure, Doug didn’t get his stoner pal’s hallucinatory nightmare vision of everything being made of ears, but his unbidden peek into the fabric of all things turned him into a terrified points zealot, refusing Michael’s advice to maybe eat some ice cream instead of raw radishes and pee-water because, as he explains, “There’s an accountant out there somewhere measuring the value of everything I do. What if I relax and do something that loses me just enough points to keep me out of the Good Place and I’m tortured for all eternity?” “It’s the only rational way to live,” he assures Michael and Janet, as he plans to walk the three weeks to Edmonton in order to give $85 to the Canadian Mollusk Association because he had earlier stepped on a snail.
As Janet tells the perplexed Michael at one point, Doug’s foreknowledge has turned him into one of the classic refutations of the philosophy of utilitarianism, the happiness pump. In his single-minded desire to achieve the ultimate reward after this life (and avoid an eternity of, as we find out this week, “nostril-wasps,” among other tortures), Doug Forcett has spent every single day (minus the post-tripping come-down period spent watching kung fu movies) doing good for the wrong reason. He’s, indeed, done some good (the local blood bank has to shoo him away lest they have to give his anemic body some of its blood back), but it’s destroyed Doug’s life in the process. Witness his reaction when he commits the cardinal point-deducting sin of momentarily forgetting Michael’s name, where Doug’s face flashes with sheer panic before he hits on what he imagines is the perfect scale-balancing task he can do in response. (“I’m going to give you a really nice haircut!,” Doug exclaims, ignoring Michael’s soothing advice to “Stay with me here, buddy.”) There’s no here here for Doug Forcett. There’s only the looming afterlife where he knows his immortal soul (and nostrils) hang in the very real balance of every action, no matter how insignificant.
Eleanor and the gang have already learned this lesson. And, after a spree of heedless hedonism, wanton philanthropy, and terrifying chili, they have come to their current resolution that, regardless of their seemingly inescapable knowledge that nothing they do will matter when it comes to the final accounting, they’re going to do good anyway. Maybe it would be different for Doug if he could have seen what they’ve seen, instead of only latching onto a mushrooms-inspired freakout (as accurate as it turns out to have been). Maybe being confronted with the stark reality of the universe’s impossibly harsh rules and punishments (and having a sextet of endearingly flawed weirdos for companionship) would make Doug Forcett a member of the Soul Squad, instead of a pee-drinking old hermit. (Certainly, keeping McKean around on The Good Place wouldn’t be a bad thing.) But Eleanor, Tahani, Jason, and Chidi are truly alone, together. No other human being knows what they know. Even if there’s one poor bastard who knows 92 percent of it.
So for them, the quest for enlightenment and defiantly fruitless redemption runs through Calgary’s Puking Moose Saloon, cold Canadian beer (and not their own pee) is on the menu, and Chidi can discover the jet-lagged and tipsy delights of playing “Jacksonville pool” with Jason. (You use your hands, hit any ball you want, there are no rules, and you make up the points yourself—Chidi’s 5 ball in a glass of beer nets him 30 million points.) While that’s going on, Eleanor, still stewing over whether or not to tell Chidi about their one-time true love connection, gets some good advice from Tahani, who tells Eleanor that it all depends on whether Eleanor wants that connection back. This season’s tack of splitting the gang up hasn’t always been my favorite thing, but the way the six all come back together here is the sort of twist that makes it all worthwhile. Or do you not like the sight of Janet elegantly but brutally beating the crap out of a bar full of demons? Yeah, I thought so.
Oh, did you think The Good Place was above a good old-fashioned bar fight? Especially one with “knowledge of all fighting styles in human history” Janet kicking Marc Evan Jackson’s smug Shawn through a table, and some Rick Sanchez-worthy portal work from Michael? As Eleanor is just about to tell Chidi what happened between them, she’s interrupted by her sighting of Bambajan at the bar. (Eleanor’s distracted “You and I are . . . Bambadjan,” elicits Chidi’s agreeably uncomprehending, “You know, I never thought about it before, but we are kind of bambadjan.”) Quickly sussing out that they’re surrounded by the likes of Vicky and the soon-shirtless musclehead demon Chris, Eleanor tries to hustle everyone out the back way. (Jason wants to employ his signature Molotov cocktail solution, prompting Chidi to marvel at the lit bottle, “How did you make that so fast?”) And then Shawn strides in through his illegal portal, at first nonplussed by the humans’ lack of reaction before he fills them in, “You don’t remember. I’m Shawn. You are very scared of me.”
And the ensuing battle royale is relatively scary for a time. For one thing, Eleanor’s confident assertion that Michael will never stumble into Shawn’s trap is undercut mid-boast by Michael and Janet stumbling right into Shawn’s trap. Then, while Janet is kicking all manner of demonic ass, she comes very close to being marbleized by Val before Jason whips a pool ball at Val’s head (2000 points, Jacksonville rules), and Chidi is almost hurled through a Bad Place portal by Chris (who’s been hitting the gym—a lot) unti Tahani calls upon her years of fencing training to brain the demon bodybuilder with a pool cue. Still, it’s a close one, at least until Janet—nearly shoved through a portal herself—discovers that even partly touching the afterlife again means her powers are back. With Shawn captured and running off at the mouth in Marc Evan Jackson’s inimitable deadpan villainy, Michael just kicks him back where he came from, explaining offhandedly, “Why let the guy keep saying mean stuff, right?” I mean, Shawn did call him a hemorrhoid.
The Good Place has room for a knockabout bar fight in the same episode as a searching and deeply sad exploration of the relative merits and pitfalls of true utilitarianism. It’s also got time for Michael to tease us once more with a heretofore unheard-of player in the cosmic game, as he announces that his disillusionment with Doug’s example means he and Janet are planning to confront The Accountant (no doubt impeccable casting choice to be revealed after the brief hiatus). Explaining that, from the very beginning of his demonic dream of retooling the Bad Place’s torture methods, he’d always suspected that there was something fundamentally flawed with the universally unquestioned point system, Michael says now’s the time to truly get to the root of the problem. Naturally, more demons bust in to the bar at that point, leaving Janet no choice but to whisk them all away into her void, where they might die, or explode, or something worse. See you on December 6, for an episode apparently and evocatively titled “Janet(s).”
- In posing Doug for a replica photo, Michael hints at Doug’s true nature, advising, “Smile but only with your mouth, not your eyes.”
- Chidi, complaining of the jet lag the group’s constant world-hopping is causing him, proclaims, “I can’t even regrender my chorf.”
- Doug grows lentils because of their negligible carbon footprint, and radishes because they were growing there when he moved in and he didn’t want to disturb them.
- Eleanor asks Tahani the age-old question, “When is the right time to tell someone you were passionate lovers in an alternate timeline in the afterlife but he doesn’t remember because technically none of that happened in this strand of the multiverse?” Been there, sister.
- As ever, check out this week’s annotated rundown of “Don’t Let The Good Life Pass You By” for all the in-jokes, Easter eggs, and smart stuff I didn’t catch.