REVIEW: Lucifer, Season 1 Finale: “Take Me Back To Hell”

A slow pace and a lack of stakes compromise a season finale, but at least there is some much needed levity and an implication of more to come.  

This season finale reaffirms my interpretation that Lucifer is a parody of the crime procedural drama–intentionally or not. Everything has to be over-explained, with Lucifer (Tom Ellis) again drawing out confessions through his powers of persuasion so we have convenient monologues of characters talking about their motivations for the crimes they commit. And like a crime drama, a twist has to come exactly with 20 minutes left in the episode that involves a relative of the police detective being kidnapped.

Even Lucifer’s opponents seem self-aware that they are in a television show: instead of freezing time to plan their upcoming fight sequence in private with Amenadiel (D. B. Woodside), Lucifer is talking directly in front of the armed lackeys–and one of them waves at Lucifer, as if to say, “We doing this or what?”

Lucifer, therefore, is hilarious–but it also demonstrates how thin the show’s plot can be.

Such an archetypal plot is not helped by having such a weak villain in the form of Malcolm (Kevin Rankin). I’m not even mad that, in the span of one episode, Malcolm switches from Lucifer’s fanboy to his killer: not only was Malcolm already trying to kill Lucifer, but, to paraphrase Nathaniel Hawthorne, love and hate are pretty much the same emotion, emerging out of obsession. (And, oh, if only this series would reference “Young Goodman Brown” at some point.)

The finale ends with Chloe (Lauren German) confronting the dirty cop Malcolm, whom she has been trying to out for so long, so while there is catharsis to her killing him to conclude her narrative, it is unfulfilling to have the Devil himself confronting a mere human being whose rise to power in this episode owes to coincidences. Granted, that has been Malcolm’s entire schtick: he benefited from the coincidences of Lucifer knowing Chloe, Amenadiel needing a way to send Lucifer back to Hell, and Amenadiel resurrecting Malcolm to kill Lucifer.

So it is typical that of course Malcolm, by coincidence, acquires from the crime scene the knives Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt) left behind and which can be used to fatally stab Amenadiel (“It’s only a flesh wound”), escape in time because Lucifer delayed too long in fighting with his bare hands instead of with his divine abilities, and kidnap Chloe’s daughter so she will be right there to shoot Lucifer in the chest. It is like Malcolm is the beneficiary of divine intervention–except every single pseudo-deus ex machina comes from the writers and not God.

Malcolm, as the final boss for this finale, makes Lucifer and to an extent Chloe look weaker in comparison: giving the anti-hero and hero an opponent who lacks the skills to win and whose advantage is only coincidence and the foolishness of said anti-hero and hero reduces their appeal in my eyes as a viewer. Why should I root for the protagonists when they are so incompetent?

While it is acceptable for the series to set up its own rules for this universe, its characters behave in ways and its plot unfolds in ways that do not seem grounded in a reality. Lucifer is wanted by the police, he knows that any delay means Chloe could confront him and actually cause him mortal harm, yet he still decides to fight a crime boss’s lackeys physically rather than opting for a more immediate solution. Chloe sees Lucifer shot dead and bleeding, and his lack of explanation warrants this police detective to only say “Hmm” and move on. Chloe acts similarly foolish earlier when Maze is right next to her and says she tried to kill her in her sleep, which warrants a cliche, “Wait, what?” reaction. I think some of this content would be easier to accept if the show was far campier, something the equivalent of Community, where almost every episode is simultaneously a genre parody, or if the medium was changed from live action to animation. Imagine Chloe serving much more like Eliza Maza in Gargoyles, or imagine this series’ approach to Lucifer walking through Earth as more akin to The Devil Is A Part-Timer.

Granted, there is also a lot to like about these subversions: at least Lucifer explains to Amenadiel that he would rather fight hand-to-hand rather than manipulate time because he wants to exorcise some pent-up aggression; at least Chloe is not panicking about or insisting on an explanation, and at least Lucifer outright admits to everyone that he is the Devil and leaving it the responsibility of everyone else to realize he is not lying.

This episode could have been improved with a bit more of the fantastic in representing the divine. When the series makes sure, twice, to have Lucifer and Amenadiel escape instantaneously, I am disappointed that we don’t get to see Amenadiel’s wings pulling them away, like something out of Kevin Smith’s Dogma. Yet I accept that instantaneousness because these are angels and demons, whose abilities surpass human awareness: therefore, I can tolerate this technique for the sake of budget because it fits in the story and helps define the rules of this universe.

At the same time, however, there are some representations of the divine that are too mundane. I cannot as easily accept the vision Lucifer receives from God, with an image of Hell (which looks more like Minnesota after a volcano explosion) and an opened prison cell. Perhaps this episode was not presenting the actual Hell; perhaps this was God’s stylized image for Lucifer as a symbolic warning that his mother has escaped. While the colors and atmosphere of this scene certainly has a chilliness that can show Lucifer’s isolation from both Hell and Earth–and draws nicely upon Dante’s idea of Hell not as fiery but icey–it lacks something more that defies a human understanding of the world. As an aside, it reminds me of the problem I have with the Doctor Strange trailer: it does not feel trippy enough, and it depends too much one tangible objects, buildings in Strange and the prison’s walls in Lucifer, to feel bizarre. As a contrast, I would draw more on Sam Kieth’s representations of Hell in The Sandman, which itself forms as a basis for the original Vertigo Lucifer comics. I would want something more akin to animation or comics, something that is so largely removed from live-action that it paradoxically better represents something like Hell, that is supposed to be beyond human conception.

For all the criticism I write about Lucifer, I am enjoying the series. As I said, it is more enjoyable having the Devil willingly out in public and contending with Los Angeles denizens too jaded to believe him: the interactions between the characters are hilarious, and that moment of Chloe’s dull surprise that Lucifer survived being shot and bleeding out at least demonstrates her character and Lucifer’s directness yet coyness.

And this series gives me content I look forward to for its next season. While Amenadiel’s survival and Maze’s seeming escape are barely touched upon in the final minutes of the episode–a flaw of the broadcast television structure in which, thanks to commercial breaks, the emotional graph is full of mini-climaxes or false climaxes to serve as cliffhangers before a  commercial–at least the mystery of who escaped Hell received a partial answer: Lucifer’s “mum.” After the season finale to Supergirl, in which what is in the Kryptonian pod is hidden from viewers as a cheap sequel bait, this finale reveals just enough while prompting a new mystery: just what will Lucifer’s mom be like? How will this show, having spent a season on Lucifer’s conflicts with his father, and all the Christ imagery included, use his conflicts with his mother to tease out more religious allusions and perhaps issues about gender?

And, for my own selfish desires, will Lucifer’s mother and Chloe’s mother have dinner together?

Stray Observations

  • No songs in this finale that use the word “Devil” in them? Not even “Sympathy for the Devil”? Instead, we get a song with “detective” in the lyrics to remind us that Chloe is a detective.
  • The cinematography and close-up on Ellis as he stares down Malcolm was chilling–and helps to sell the immediate contrast when Malcolm shoots his gun directly into Lucifer’s gut, reducing Lucifer to his very humanity and hinting that he could die. Granted, we all know Lucifer will survive–he is not only the Devil but the title character–but still, the staging was appreciated to sell the potential death.
  • Lucifer to Malcolm on how he survived: “I know a guy.” Lucifer knows Scott Lang?
  • “Your ninja bartender.” Again, Chloe does not bat an eye at any of this weirdness surrounding her.

 

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