Lucifer is back, with a lackluster procedural and a much more interesting start to this season’s arc, regarding his relationship with his mother, and problems for his brother.
It’s easy to write about the overarching plot to Lucifer because it has dynamic characters and largely realistic relationships between them.
It is more difficult to write about the procedural structure of Lucifer, because such structure is so prevalent in so many series that either it works or it doesn’t. The quality will vary episode by episode, and show by show. The procedural leaves a bad taste for many reviewers–especially after news that The Walking Dead, another television adaptation of a supernatural comic book, almost became a procedural. For me, it is less about whether it is good or bad; most of my reviews here tend to be analytical, about what works and doesn’t work, and considering paths not taken by the writers and other staff on a comic, TV show, and so on and whether such paths would have improved the story.
In other words, it’s a challenge for me to come down upon quality of one story when it is read in the context of so many other works, good and bad ones. Lucifer, for example, is going to suffer by comparison to series that benefit from the Netflix model of watching: the pace can slow down to develop characters. Tonight’s Season 2 premiere, “Everything’s Coming Up Lucifer,” not only has to go through a procedural crime investigation, one that had potential to be interesting but was largely dull, but to re-introduce the characters and their relationships to each other to the audience. A streaming series, in which all episodes are released at once online, tends to skip the reminders because they expect viewers remember what they watched just a few moments ago in the previous episode. Lucifer, broadcasted on Fox, even if it is watched by many viewers on demand, has to remind autumn viewers what they may have forgotten since Season 1 ended before summer.
Tonight’s episode therefore had some stilted exposition: Lucifer (Tom Ellis) is telling his psychiatrist Linda Martin (Rachael Harris) that he is really the Devil and is on a mission this season from God Himself to capture his own mother; Lucifer reminds Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German) about her former acting career while they are on a Hollywood set; Amenadiel (DB Woodside) is re-introduced as Lucifer’s brother, who had a friends-with-benefits relationship with Lucifer’s sidekick, Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt), before she got fed up with both of their nonsense and left them behind. In this regard, comparing Lucifer to Netflix shows is not fair: this is not going to be Daredevil, where a Season 1 arc builds over the entire set of episodes, or like Season 2 where there is one arc with mini-arcs included across fewer episodes. Instead, Lucifer is episodic, each week devoting half its time to a new case, some more interesting than others, all of them pulling away from the season’s arc and in many cases away from developing the characters.
This week’s murder case had opportunities for something clever to happen: Gillian, a stand-in actor for a Disney Channel-esque tween show, is found dead on set, metal rebar shoved into her head to resemble devil horns, and the suspect is initially the show’s star, Amy (Jessica Sula). This story could be an opportunity for Lucifer to locate his mother while showing the sexism that defines young female actors as having to be super-clean or super-naughty, the classic Madonna-Whore binary. And this episode doesn’t do that: the sexism is glossed over quickly, when Lucifer remarks that actors like Amy are admired by young girls and lusted by their fathers, with Amy responding to this cynicism by attempting to sleep with Lucifer to wipe away her “good girl” image.
This topic of the Disney-fying of actors and the sexism against young female actors is then dropped, so we can reveal the killer. It was Gillian’s landlord, who also was the on-set nurse Roberta Beliard (Rusty Schwimmer) and using her medical experience to manufacture drugs under the alias Bobby B. Roberta was selling drugs to Amy, and when Gillian became Amy’s sponsor to get her off drugs, Roberta killed her. That I can summarize this murder case in only a few sentences shows the weakness in the murderer’s characterization and the quality of the plot.
It’s also a missed opportunity, when Detective Decker, who also was a teen actor, also could say something about this Hollywood practice of mining young female actors for sex appeal before discarding them as being inadequate–too sexually suggestive, too unattractive, too attractive, too quiet, too loud, whatever nonsense is made up to dismiss them. But she’s busy trying to analyze some of Lucifer’s blood, left behind from his Season 1 injury, to confirm whether he is supernatural. Decker’s brief investigation leads her to discuss religion with new Los Angeles Police Department forensic science, and resident devout Christian, Ella Lopez (Aimee Garcia), about the nature of belief. The discussion is first-year theology: if you have evidence, then it’s not faith. Lopez’s point that she doubts so as to reaffirm her sense of belief is much more interesting. Unfortunately, the entire conversation between Decker and Lopez is so quick and comes so late in the episode–interrupted by Lopez finding evidence that makes Decker realize nurse Roberta is the murderer so to keep the plot moving. I anticipate Decker and Lopez will have more discussions on the matter of faith; I hope they are a bit more interesting than this week’s. At least Amenadiel’s ploy to convince Lopez not to examine Lucifer’s blood was more interesting (more on that later), and Amenadiel’s concern that Lucifer’s DNA in the forensic database would reveal evidence of the divine and thereby damn humans is a more compelling problem.
Regarding the season arc itself, this case does world-building. Lucifer explains that his mother can only come to Earth by inhabiting a dead body, so putting horns into the head of this corpse would be a warning to Lucifer. We learn it was his mother who let God cast him down to Hell, only for her to have done something that upset God and led him to condemn her to Hell–and hence Lucifer went through with imprisoning her, even sending Maze to torture her, without giving her a chance to explain why she let her own son be punished. But when Lucifer learns the murderer is not his mother, that the rebar-horns were not a warning to him, he is left without an answer. He has always been afraid of punishment by his parents, and he sees his father and his mother as out to get him.
If his mother did not do this, and has not contacted him yet about her arrival to Earth, then what does she want to do to him if not kill him? This is a good question for the start of the season, another indication that the procedural pales in comparison to the season arc, and it develops further part of his identity as someone who struggles to please others. Lucifer wants to be admired, so he comes to Los Angeles, the home of idols, and he wants to impress anyone–Decker, Martin, even his brother Amendiel. But he could not impress God and his mother to let him stay in Heaven, and if his actions have not earned punishment from his mother, then that means nothing he does can get her attention–and being ignored by a parent makes him feel even worse. That is a well-done characterization as to his problem.
The procedural is best used for developing the characters. Lucifer cannot stop himself from reading this case as about his mother, and that fixation strains his relationship so much that Martin gets tired of his crap and tells him to leave. The show likely will continue this push-and-pull quality to their therapist-client relationship, for the sake of drama. While that yo-yo effect will be annoying, I appreciate this season starting with Martin defying expectations of her from last season, where many times she was lenient in her admonitions against Lucifer, and taking her role as a mental health care professional seriously to tell him that, if she is not helping him, her therapy practices may actually be reinforcing his poor behavior.
Further complicating Martin’s character is the revelation that Maze is also visiting her for therapy, or at least to have a friend to listen to her concerns. That Maze only hints at this fact to Lucifer helps develop her: while her dialogue to Lucifer is direct exposition to the audience, it is clear in acknowledging her confusion about what her place is. While a hedonist like Lucifer can play like he too does not have those questions, that Maze feels conflicted like he does not only helps to develop our titular antihero but also gives her a moment, and I hope more to do in this season, as a contrast: what if someone like Lucifer sees Maze finding a place in this world, relationships away from him and other angels like Amenadiel, and an opportunity for her forces him to change, for good or bad? That is an exciting prospect for the season–and helps contend with far less enjoyable moments in this episode.
For example, Lucifer mocking Maze for seeking therapy, while in keeping with his character, felt less like he was mocking her specifically for her choice, as he is amused that someone as self-assured as her is now in doubt, and more a mockery of seeking emotional help at all, which of course Lucifer doesn’t think but is still mocking. Then, while seeking how this week’s murderer infiltrated a drug rehabilitation group, Lucifer has to seize that group to make it about himself and his problems. The benefit is that the moment lets Lucifer monologue about his concerns about his mother and how he reached his lowest point–but the setup to that monologue depends on dumb gags that work more to laugh at persons with addiction than at an actually deserving target.
Toss in a really uncomfortable moment with Lucifer asking a group of people recovering through addiction about their lowest point, citing one example of a lowest point as sleeping with a “he-she” (unless that’s some drug slang I’m not catching), and we have a show mining comedy in poor ways. Lucifer, as a character, usually avoided such low-hanging fruit intended only to insult people for petty reasons or on the basis of their identity. Even his gag at the opening of the episode–stripping a jewelry store robber of his clothes, tying up his shoelaces, and putting on a tiara seems cartoonish in the worst sense of the word. At least Maze’s torture of one suspect in this episode, involving gluing feathers onto someone and holding up a taser, was funny because its silliness contrasted so sharply with how violent her initial threats sounds. Lucifer, in contrast, re-tasering Roberta upon her capture, just seems like a petty gag involving a dangerous weapon–it didn’t work for me.
It is paradoxical for me to expect the Devil himself to be portrayed as far less petty: he’s understood in most stories as evil, so of course this show would write him like this. Except, no, this show has up to this point made him far too sympathetic to have such poorly written comedy, especially when, as such a manipulative, craft individual, Lucifer, in this or any other story, has little reason to be written as such a crass buffoon–it’s not culture, it’s not stylish, and it’s not clever. It’s offensive, sure, like Lucifer has been, but it doesn’t work.
Where the episode did better was at its conclusion. Oddly enough, the concluding moments reminded me of about the only part I enjoyed in Gurren Lagann, that being brief clips of the lives the characters could have had elsewhere. These small moments at the end of tonight’s episode of Lucifer, in which our titular antihero is singing “All Along the Watchtower” over images of the characters summarized what they are feeling: Decker dumps the blood, because she would rather believe in Lucifer’s helpful qualities than try to prove whether he is supernatural; she avoids eye contact with her ex husband Dan Espinoza (Kevin Alejandro), who is still working with her on the force; we find out Maze indeed is seeing Martin for help in finding herself; and Lucifer’s mother (Tricia Helfer) arrives at his apartment, stabbed and asking for his help.
Even as the Mother’s arrival is the cliffhanger, I did not find it to be the most interesting detail in this montage: the most interesting part to me was Amenadiel, alone on a park bench, trying to cheer himself up with his ability to slow down time while he tosses and catches coins in the air–but finding he is too slow to catch them. Since his near-fatal injury last season, in this episode, there are hints that he is severely depowered, this being one of them, another being his inability to pass into the police station undetected, the third that he took the precaution to put on the bullet-proof vest before shooting himself in front of Decker. Granted, that last one was so he could trick Decker into thinking he and Lucifer are simply human, that of course he cannot survive a bullet to his chest, that Lucifer is lying about his blood, and that to investigate it would only further encourage him. Yet all of that moment had as an undercurrent his anxiety: he knows he is facing Decker, whose presence somehow negates his and Lucifer’s invulnerability, and now he may be losing his divinity and may become human or something else entirely. I want to see more of that story, and I can’t help but feel like my preference to that story means that the story of Lucifer’s mother is going to be one of the less interesting aspects of this season.
- The preview for the next episode has Lucifer suggesting his mother was the one responsible for God’s plagues. I am getting worried this show is going to have it be his mother responsible for Old Testament God’s works, which is an uncomfortable, potentially misogynistic projection of the lesser qualities of God onto his wife. While my anticipation may be wrong, I am erring on the side of caution for this.
- As cliche as it was, I did laugh at Lucifer’s Freudian fears of thinking his mother had possessed Amy as she straddled him, and when he squirmed after saying Maze and his mother could be “strange bedfellows.” I cringe thinking these jokes will persist all season, however.
- Maze just happens to keep a taser and feathers around to torture people? Of course she does.
- IMDB lists the Mother’s name as “Charlotte,” which, as far as I know, is not a biblical name. Is that really her name? Or will this be the equivalent of how you can’t say God’s name because it exceeds human minds? Because, really, there are only so many jokes I can make about the Mother being the same name as a character from Servamp without the gag getting stale.
- Was there a deeper significance to Lucifer singing “All Along the Watchtower”? The lyrics that he himself sings in this episode’s conclusion are about “fate,” a “thief,” and the people inside and outside the castle. I don’t remember Lucifer singing the lyrics at the beginning, about escaping, which would fit thematically with the images shown (Maze and Lucifer trying to escape their fates, the Mother escaping Hell, Amenadiel wanting an opportunity to avoid an inevitable loss of his abilities). Heck, the episode’s title could’ve have been “All Along” or something alluding to that song’s title–anything but what was overall a dull title that takes a well-worn phrase like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and just tosses in “Lucifer” for a name-drop.