First of all, let us praise the second season renewal for Lucifer, as well as regular coverage for the rest of the first season. Amen.
Coming right after said renewal, Lucifer goes ahead with an episode that just might cross the line from “ridiculously trying to make Lucifer sympathetic” to “possibly sacrilegious” with its episode title: “St. Lucifer.” Now, while there are obviously arguments to make about Lucifer being sympathetic—look no further than fellow genre show Supernatural, even when it still shows how downright villainous he is—the idea of calling him a “saint” even in a tongue-in-cheek manner just feels like a call for pitchforks. Then again, that’s so Lucifer, now isn’t it?
But “St. Lucifer” is also the best episode of the series so far—that doesn’t dive deep into the campy well that is Chloe’s actress past—so the episode can be called whatever it wants. Being the “best” episode of Lucifer isn’t necessarily the highest praise of anything yet, but a great deal of that classification comes from the fact that this is the first episode of the show where the case-of-the-week isn’t an absolute hindrance to the flow of the episode. That’s almost like saying a participation award is the same as winning the big game, but in a procedural, no matter what the premise, there is a general expectation that something interesting or memorable comes out of the cases-of-the-week. Lucifer’s had a lot of trouble with that.
Despite it not being a life-changing show or even one I’ve watched in years, I remember far too many NCIS cases-of-the-week just from USA reruns alone. And Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show that is coming up on 18 seasons, is essentially the Friends of television procedurals; you can communicate with anyone about the series just by calling episodes “The One Where…” or “The One With…” These are both obviously long-running series, but even in their infancy, neither of them would be in the same boat as Lucifer when it comes to their procedural bread and butter.
It’s Lucifer’s greatest weakness, and it’s even better explained in comparison to another contemporary procedural series: Castle. The best thing about early Castle was the series’ approach to cases-of-the-week from the very moment the episodes began. The more gruesome the murders, the better. The more ornate the crime scenes, the more fascinating the cases. And the humor was just as dark. Lucifer has yet to get that down, despite the fact that it is a show about the devil, not some rich author. When the cop show with a rich author is more risque and compelling than the cop show with the devil, there’s something wrong. On the plus side, episodes like this one and “Lucifer, Stay. Good Devil.” (an episode dedicated to Chloe’s past) do try their best to rectify this, even if they’re not fully there yet. But a show like Lucifer really needs to step up its cases-of-the-week tenfold to truly justify its procedural status.
The murder investigation of basketball player Tim Dunlear in this episode itself isn’t anything special, but it’s at least fun and interesting enough to justify its presence on a show that’s finding its way (like it or not). There’s a gay secret lover, a homeless actor, a lawyer who is actually a decent person, and an embezzling wife! It’s all very simple, but it’s so much more compelling than… Well it’s not exactly easy to remember many of the show’s other cases-of-the-week, now is it?
By the way, that “like it or not” is definitely the key when it comes to the show’s story about Lucifer’s vulnerability. Lucifer has justifiably been mocked for its approach to Lucifer and his daddy issues, as well as the fact that Lucifer is solving crimes (which is really transparent in terms of television “needing” everything to be a procedural), but that’s the route the series has decided to go. This week’s episode decides to just go all in when it comes the latter. The reveal that Chloe is literally responsible for Lucifer’s vulnerability confirms the general assumption that Lucifer isn’t so much devolving—or evolving, depending on who you ask—as he is becoming a product of this relationship with the good detective. The reason for that still remains to be answered, but at least this creative choice finally creates a legitimate reason why Chloe won’t just believe that Lucifer is the devil by this point: Lucifer can’t prove that he’s the devil when he’s near her and physically vulnerable, even with his “hypnotism eye voodoo thing.” It does that while also eliminating the “fear” of Lucifer ending up getting himself hurt outside of scenes with her. And in the case of those scenes, it’s finally easier to admit that television’s Lucifer is not a weenie.
Because, let’s be real: A lot of the problem with Lucifer is how hard it is to take the character seriously, especially when Chloe is going on about missing “the old Lucifer.” He comes across like a weenie whose name just so happens to be Lucifer Morningstar. The physical invulnerability makes things more interesting, just because he’s Lucifer. No one wants a weenie Lucifer.
This is part of the problem with the show still not really knowing what it is. Lucifer was developed by Tom Kapinos, the man responsible for seven seasons of Californication—a series all about self-involved, self-destructive, and self-obsessed protagonist and his decadent lifestyle as he pretended to be a good person. That all should fit Lucifer like a glove, but Lucifer comes with the added baggage of being a network series (and one that’s not at the genre mecca of The CW) with that particular premise. And while it may be slightly unfair to blame Kapinos (who only developed the show) for what Lucifer actually is on a weekly basis, the showrunner Joe Henderson’s (who, for what’s it’s worth, wrote the heavenly campy “Lucifer, Stay. Good Devil.”) own style from his past work on USA series has yet to really come through here. There’s a hint of darkness to be found in the show like the kind in Graceland and a kindred spirit nature in the form of White Collar, but Lucifer remains a step below its “characters welcome” brethren for now. It’s neither dark enough nor slick enough nor even funny enough. A season two renewal is absolutely the best way for the show to truly figure out its tone.
Luckily, there are flashes in this episode of things truly working for Lucifer moving forward. “St. Lucifer” manages to be the quippiest (in a good way) episode of the season so far, and apparently that’s an important ingredient that’s been missing for most of the show outside of Lucifer himself. It’s also an episode that allows the show to just bask in how weird it is for once, in scenes like the one where Lucifer is effortless with the socialites while Chloe is absolutely terrible (and then there’s a musical number!), Maze and Amenadiel’s conversation turning into car sex (set to “It’s Not Unusual”!), and what is quite possibly the best, most surreal scene of the episode, Dan’s failed attempt to rescue Lucifer. Strangely enough, that last one is also the most cordial Lucifer/Dan scene of the season, and it’s punctuated with Dan complimenting Lucifer’s looks. Looks like there’s hope for those two crazy kids, after all.
It also helps that the episode manages to strike a balance between its urge to make Lucifer a hero/anti-hero and the fact that he’s, well, Lucifer. The “Saint Lucifer” aspect of it all is 99% played as Lucifer’s own selfish needs coming into the forefront, and each moment of his do-gooding is so much better than almost every moment of his daddy issues or his other obsessive points during cases. Sure, the series hinges on the idea that Lucifer plays BeelzeCop because he wants to punish the wicked, but that is already getting to a point of stretching the storyline rubber band far too wide. This episode, on the other hand, is fully about Lucifer’s selfish desire to feel the “rush” (not to be confused with Rush) of being a good person. It may blow up the premise, but it’s refreshing to see Lucifer just skip out on even trying to solve the case for any reason.
Plus, it helps that this episode has the non-Lucifer characters get their individual jobs done by themselves. Too often, procedurals (or, even broader, workplace series) want to make sure their main lead always comes across as the guy, the one who ends up solving the case and saving the day, while trying to pretend that the other characters are actually important to the process. But it’s Chloe who solves the murder of Tim Dunlear (while Lucifer merely trips into that answer after the fact); it’s Dan who saves himself from Malcolm; it’s Maze who gets Amenadiel on her side. These characters’ lives may currently revolve around Lucifer, but they’re still very much the ones in charge of their own stories. That’s a strength Lucifer could very well build on in the future.
It also helps that the series’ cast has never been the problem with Lucifer. In fact, part of what makes Lucifer’s weakness at times (even with the belief that it’s never going to be Breaking Bad) so obvious is that the cast is so solid and full of chemistry that the audience can basically see them elevate the material by sheer force of will and charisma. Tom Ellis is basically doing the Lord’s work with his portrayal of Lucifer at times, while Lesley-Ann Brandt’s Maze has always been on a better show than Lucifer, and the show is only now getting close to catch up to her. Lucifer has even made it clear by this point how well the characters work when it comes to atypical pairings, so it really is time for the rest of the show to catch up. “St. Lucifer” is as good a start as any—especially if the show truly wants to get past that “the so-stupid-it’s-almost brilliant” branding.
- You wouldn’t think it, given the subject matter, but Lucifer is a show that has proven that the power of positivity works. How else would the show have been renewed for a second season and gotten regular TV Club coverage? Basically, it’s only a matter of time before Heartbeat gets the same treatment. You’re all welcome.
- Lucifer (with a solid Chloe impression): “IT’S TOO HOT IN THIS FIVE-STAR HELL HOLE!”
- Thank you, Lucifer, for realizing that television needs more Party Of Five references.
- As a season on Haven proved, Dorian Messick can thrive in less than ideal creative environments with the greatest of ease, so I his appearance as Will Flemming delightful. Hopefully he shows up again. Also, I miss Southland.
- The throwaway “I love you!” with all of the drunk socialite ladies is the “You’re everywhere and nowhere, Dawson” moment of the season. In layman’s terms, it’s the best part of the season.
- Lucifer: “The devil usually has impeccable gaydar.” In an episode of solid quips, this one, not so much.
- Chloe: “The greater good would be parking your ego and helping catch the bad guy. The old Lucifer would’ve known that. I miss him, by the way. At least he had my back.” A lot of things work in this episode, but Chloe’s “old Lucifer” speech just gets more absurd the more I think about it. Especially when I change the lyrics to “I Love Kanye” for it.
- So Lucifer didn’t actually need to give his Pentecostal coin to Malcolm. Whoops! But the look on Lucifer’s face as he gives Malcom the coin says it all: He has total “what the fuck did I just do?” face.
- Speaking of faces, the fact that Malcolm—who explains in this episode that Hell is very unique to each person—is not affected by Lucifer’s full-on devil mode because he’s been to Hell is a very nice touch.
- I found Lucifer’s “bloody hell” over Vanessa Dunlear (Christina Chang) pulling a gun on him to be very Spike-esque, and that’s the highest praise I can give a character I just spent quite a bit of time calling a weenie.
- Things this episode doesn’t have, which is a step in the right direction: Any focus on the “love” triangle between Lucifer/Chloe/Dan, the words “Palmetto Street,” and Trixie. “Palmetto Street” has become a drinking game for me, and while Trixie isn’t the biggest problem facing Lucifer, children just slow everything down! She can show up for scenes with Maze though, given their good friendship.