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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

In the exceptional “It Never Ends Well For The Chicken,” it’s storytime at Lucifer’s penthouse

Illustration for article titled In the exceptional “It Never Ends Well For The Chicken,” it’s storytime at iLucifer/i’s penthouse
Graphic: John P. Fleenor/Netflix
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Without question, “It Never Ends Well For The Chicken” is an impressive episode of Lucifer. But it’s even more impressive coming right after “¡Diablo!,” a gimmick episode that didn’t quite go all-in on its particular gimmick. Not only does “It Never Ends Well For The Chicken” go all-in—with Lucifer fully immersing itself when it comes to the entire 1946, film noir gimmick—it does so while keeping the gimmick thematically applicable to multiple current storylines and providing forward momentum for the season. And not only do the present-day scenes not take away from the flow of the 1946 scenes and that story’s structure, the fact that the episode goes with that extra beat to wrap things up in the present—after even including “The End” once Lucifer finishes telling the 1946 story—makes “It Never Ends Well For The Chicken” far more than just a “gimmick” episode of Lucifer. It’s one of the most exceptional episodes of the entire series.

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While Lucifer’s “storytime at the penthouse” tale for Trixie has all the makings of being a series of neverending in-jokes and laughs about particular casting choices—with gender-swapping at play for a couple of characters—the thing about “It Never Ends Well For The Chicken” is that it is played completely straight. (Yes, there are in-jokes, but the episode’s not littered with them, unlike in smaller scale gimmick episodes like “City of Angels?” and “Once Upon A Time.”) Up until the final moments, Aiyana White’s script is Lucifer’s (successful) take on The Princess Bride, only with Lucifer’s reality in 1946 New York City as the fairytale backdrop. And in playing things straight, not only does the script make a faithful film noir within the confines of a Lucifer episode: The cast does, the director (Viet Nguyen) does, every little aspect of this episode does.

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Lucifer doesn’t just slap a black & white filter on a normal episode of the show and call it day. Which is why everything from the lighting and use of the shadows to the sound design to set design (the most subtle part of it all) to the wardrobes in this episode is so specific and even pitch-perfect. Things like flashing business lights beaming through an office’s window, while the room’s lighting casts the window blinds’ shadow on Lucifer. Things like the way the light frames the characters’ eyes. Things like the transitions between scenes—the wipes and fades—and the freeze-frame at the end of the story. Even “little” touches like the driving scene—which is a staple of the Lucifer case-of-the-week formula, so it needs (and gets) the appropriate 1940s version. This is simply a gorgeous episode of Lucifer, channeling its cast’s Old Hollywood aesthetics in both expected and unexpected ways—to the point that they even brings back Tricia Helfer, because why would they want to miss out on that opportunity?

With the 1946 setting, this episode obviously plays up Tom Ellis’ natural Cary Grant quality, but it’s the roles of everyone else around him that are most interesting. Private investigator Jack Monroe becomes inhabited by Lauren German, who plays the role with a gruffness—and physicality, as even her manspreading is next level—that doesn’t once dip into comedic territory. Instead, despite playing an unestablished character, Jack’s story gets just the amount of attention and care one would expect from a Chloe story. And as it thematically links up with where Chloe is in the season right now, it does the work for the series in a way another typical case-of-the-week would, or perhaps better.

On the other side of that gender swap coin in Aimee Garcia as mob boss Tommy Stompanato. It’s easy to laugh at first at the choice for the facial hair, even though it makes sense a mob boss of this genre era would, as German’s interpretation of a male character doesn’t call for it, . The same goes for its the initial larger-than-life introduction of the character, one of the episode’s many instances of stunning silhouette work. But Garcia commits to the bit in a way where the laughter stops as soon as Stompanato starts threatening Lucifer and Jack.. And the reveal of Tricia Helfer (credited among the main cast once again) as Jack’s wife Shirley then leads to an interesting dynamic between Helfer and German that both actresses quickly sell, functioning as the love story of this picture. D.B. Woodside’s fast-talking, chicken-sacrificing Melvin the Magnificent is the character most different from an actor’s typical Lucifer role; while Rachael Harris’ Gertie the bartender is, naturally, an inverted version of Dr. Linda. But it’s Kevin Alejandro as Willy the Sausage Prince who honestly steals the show, as every line delivery (“My stomach!” after being shot in the foot) and bit of physical comedy (attempting to sit down in a suit of armor) that comes from him is more deliciously over-the-top than the next. It’s also just nice to watch Alejandro let loose in a role and not have to think about Dan’s underlying sadness, if only for an episode.

And last, but certainly not least, is Lesley-Ann Brandt as Lilith (aka Lily Rose). This story is about her and her friendship with Lucifer, after all. Lesley-Ann Brandt has cited both Eartha Kitt and Grace Jones as inspirations for her portrayal of Maze, and with this episode, she gets to channel the former even more. But Brandt isn’t just doing some cheap knockoff of Kitt here as Lilith. Instead, she’s just revealing even more of her versatility, in a way she can’t quite do with Maze. There’s a regalness to Lilith that’s somewhat similar to Mom, only without the full disdain and disregard for humanity. (It’s more amusement, really. Like when she tells the story of the Aztecs dropping her in the volcano.) You buy that Brandt is the Lilith that Lucifer has constantly brougt up. You buy that she’s thousands of years old and had to deal with a terrible marriage to Adam. (That guy is 0-2 on Lucifer.) You buy that she’s been having fun all this time, but much like Lucifer at the start of the series, you can also see why she’d want to try something else, something new. And of course, you buy her friendship with Lucifer. It’s not the same as what he has or had with Maze—it’s just something specifically Lilith and Lucifer. A point that makes the moment where he says he wears her ring because it reminds him of her quite touching. Especially since this is really the first time Lucifer has gone into Lucifer’s opinion of Lilith.

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While this is a big episode for everyone in the cast, this is an especially big episode for Brandt. Like Ellis has been doing this season, she plays two major characters here. And she also has two musical numbers (available on the official series soundtrack), after dipping her toes into that water last season with “Wonderwall.” Brandt’s versatility is something that can’t be understated, especially considering how one-note a character like Maze could be—and seemed like, in Season One—in less capable hands. The material she’s been given throughout the series requires a lot of nuance, as she’s playing a character’s subtle and difficult growth in the face of the type of issues that she—as a demon—isn’t even supposed to be having. Maze has no soul and yet, she has all these feelings she has no idea how to comprehend, which Brandt has to find a way to play and make it make sense. (And even in weaker stories, Brandt is always a series standout.)

It’s fascinating to watch Brandt play Lilith in this episode, after years of mentions to the character from others’ perspectives. Especially when she and Lucifer eventually talk about her demon children, with Lilith defending her parenting decisions as her creating them to be “perfect” and “unbreakable,” unable to feel cast out or abandoned the way she did with Adam and God in the Garden of Eden. Unfortunately, her choice is also the root of Maze’s abandonment issues. As far as Lilith’s demon children go, just by being the one with the most humanity and growth in that sense, Maze is actually imperfect and broken.

Trixie: “My mom says dealing with your problems is the only way to get past them. I bet Jack and Shirley talked the whole bus ride and fixed everything.”

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It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s also a very childlike one. When Trixie says it to Lucifer, he doesn’t burst her bubble that it doesn’t tend to work out that way. If it did, things would have been better after his conversation with Chloe at the end of “¡Diablo!.” And things also would have turned out differently at the end of this episode for Maze.

As we see from the 1946 story, Lilith makes the choice to experience life and love and connection the way humans do… and she ends up a bitter old woman for it (played by L. Scott Caldwell in the present). As she flippantly tells Maze, who tracked her all the way to Reno, NV in the present: “I gave something a shot. It didn’t work out.” (And based on the stubbornness we saw from her in 1946, despite things not working out, she never went back to Lucifer to regain her immortality.) It’s just as jarring for the audience to see this version for Lilith as it is for Maze; actually, possibly more so, as we at least got to see a glimpse of hopeful, optimistic, still full of life Lilith. Maze doesn’t even have that side of Lilith to latch onto.

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So, as Maze tries to express her feelings to her mother and Lilith just gives her nothing, it’s a closing reminder from this episode that, while it’s a nice fairytale to imagine that maybe this interaction will go well and that simply talking it out will fix everything for Maze, it’s not the reality at all. Because despite the way Lucifer told the story to Trixie, this is all really more of a tragedy. (Well, probably not in Michael’s mind.)


Stray observations

  • As I mentioned in my premiere review, Scarlett Estevez’s aging is one of those things that really doesn’t work with the relatively short time span this whole story apparently takes place in. So at first, I actually found it hard to buy that Trixie is still young enough to want storytime like she does here. (No wonder Lucifer offered to take her to the bar.) The fact that this ends up being a secret Trixie and Maze messaround solves that problem.
  • When Lucifer suggested he and Lilith rob a bank, I kind of wished the episode would’ve instead become a Bonnie & Clyde riff. Maybe next season.
  • Lucifer: “The Devil solving crime. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” CUT TO: that beautiful brassy Lucifer theme and black & white title card. ¡Lieutenant Diablo!, you’ve been upstaged.
  • If you watch with subtitles, you get amazing cues for the score. “[dramatic 1940s music plays]” “[suspenseful music crescendos]” True.
  • I just have to ask: Was Aimee Garcia doing a Marlon Brando impression?
  • Jack: “So, when you find out the best thing that ever happened to you started with a lie, well, it’s like building a house on quicksand: Sooner or later, it all falls apart.” Within the story, Lucifer seems struck by this, as though present-day Lucifer has popped in, with a realization about how Chloe must be feeling right now. Of course, then he says he “got lost in a daydream,” because if present-day Lucifer has issues learning lessons, then 1946 Lucifer is a real lost cause.
  • Lucifer: “Quite a unique fellow, aren’t you?”
    Willy: “Hmm.”
    Lucifer: “There’s a word to describe you, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s like a shower, but French. Oh, I’m sure it’ll come to me.” Hehe.
  • Lilith: “All this time you’ve spent on Earth, have you ever connected with a human?”
    Lucifer: “I’ve connected with thousands of humans.”
    Lilith: “ [...] I’m talking about an emotional connection.”
    Lucifer: “Oh, absolutely not. It would take a little miracle for me to want something like that, and I’m fairly certain my father’s not handing those out anymore.” Obviously, we know that ends up not being true. But this exchange, coupled with one of Lilith’s last lines to Lucifer (“Gertie was right. It’s knowing there’s an end—that’s what makes the rest of it count.”) makes me wonder: Was God’s rationale for putting Chloe in Lucifer’s path the idea that Lucifer would become vulnerable around her? Thus making his life end up have some richer meaning?
  • Lilith: “Thousands of years, Lucifer, and that ring has always been with me. It reminds me of who I am, why I have done the things I’ve done.”
    Lucifer: “You mean, why you sent your children to Hell?”
    Lilith: “I gave you an army!”
    Lucifer: “An army I never asked for. And… one I didn’t know I needed at the time. But… without them, I would have spent an eternity alone, and for that, I shall be forever in your debt.” With the exception of Maze, Lucifer doesn’t seem to care for his demons at all. This moment reveals just how much the demons meant to him before he made human connections.
  • Lucifer: “Forget it, Trix. It’s Chinatown.”
    Trixie: “It’s what?”
    Lucifer: “Nevermind.”
  • Lucifer: “Would you like me to bring your children up to say goodbye?”
    Lilith: “And undo everything they’ve learned in Hell? Never. My children are perfect. They can’t be banished, because they have no home. Can’t be abandoned, because they have no family.”
    Lucifer: “They’ll never be cast out of the proverbial garden.”
  • Lilith’s immortality is in Lucifer’s ring, which one can assume might be important in the future. Because now that ring actually holds the key to immortality, no bogus ceremony of Anubis needed.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.

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