Lucifer titling an episode “Liar, Liar, Slutty Dress On Fire” immediately suggests an absolutely entertaining 40-plus minutes of television. The episode itself then exceeds such a suggestion, as it ends up being a near perfect blend of the show’s campy sense of humor and the emotionally-driven mythology that made it work as surprisingly well as it did in its first season. Not only is “Liar, Liar, Slutty Dress On Fire” an exceptionally funny episode of the series, it does the almost impossible in making an equally compelling case-of-the-week to go along with the episode’s emotional and mythological storytelling. It takes Lucifer’s mother’s “flesh sack” being an integral part of the case to do so, but all’s fair in Lucifer and trying to make the procedural element of the show work.
After the season premiere’s jewelry heist shenanigans, this week’s episode opens with the equally amusing introduction of Lucifer’s mother when she was hopping from body to body before settling into a Tricia Helfer-based one. It’s one of those little Lucifer things that doesn’t necessarily live up under any scrutiny—why would Momma Morningstar hop from a dead man in Hollywood to a dead thug in gangland and then back to civilization in the body of the perfect woman?—but is such ridiculous fun that you have no problem accepting it. Because Lucifer’s entire premise relies on being ridiculous fun that you just accept, and the show nails it when it goes with that flow.
“It’s too late. You abandoned me, mom. You just stood there and watched as I was cast out. Thrown into Hell. Vilified for all eternity. There aren’t enough cheesy noodles in the universe to fix all that, I’m afraid.”
Which brings us to the very concept of Tricia Helfer as Momma Morningstar (also known as “Charlotte”) in the first place, a woman who very obviously could not be Tom Ellis’ mother in real life. The episode even has the appropriate amount of weird, quasi-incestual humor you’d expect out of the situation.
The glimpse of Helfer at the end of the premiere is nothing compared to her work in this episode, which, much like this episode as a whole, far exceeds expectations. I now say this with the utmost respect and praise: Between Lucifer now and Battlestar Galactica, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Tricia Helfer isn’t a real human being. Here, specifically, her line delivery as “Charlotte” reads consistently with the knowledge that the character lacks the benefit of having been able to regularly observe human behavior like Lucifer, Amenadiel, and Maze have. Her unfamiliarity and inability to connect with the human experience is far different from Maze or even Lucifer’s own humanity blindspots.
The episode also offers a pleasant disconnect from the way that Lucifer builds his mother up, even though there are obvious traces of the scheming, cold woman he constantly claims she is. ”Charlotte” clearly has ulterior motives, as evidenced by the look she gives her heavenly ex-husband at the end of the episode (a “Luci loves me the most” look, at the very least), but she’s still taking notes from television a la Smart House on what motherhood means. So despite Lucifer and Maze’s worries, “Charlotte”’s first stop after escaping capture is the grocery store, simply to buy all the cheese a corporate credit card can buy to make her son love her again with the help of “cheesy noodles.” The end scene revelation that she was the one who suggested Lucifer’s banishment to Hell to prevent the “deeply angry” God from destroying—not just punishing—his son throws a wrench in Lucifer’s resentment plans.
And while “Charlotte” obviously creates a disturbance in the force, her existence can also be contrasted with the how other dynamics of the show have been built over a season. While “Everything’s Coming Up Lucifer” did its best as a season premiere in terms of functioning as an introduction and a soft reboot of the series, it’s here that the show gets to reap the benefits of that messy work. The rapport between Chloe, Dan, Lucifer, and Ella in the lab scenes is a low-key highlight of the episode, as these scenes suddenly feel lived-in (and understandably so) in a way that makes Lucifer’s rockier moments worth it. Dan and Lucifer’s antagonistic relationship at this point is at its most friendly here, to the point where, while real family may continue to disappoint Lucifer (including Amenadiel, simply because he can’t/won’t respond to his calls), his work family are always there for him. Even when he finds them annoying. And as much as there’s a complicated past and present for Dan and Chloe, the best thing the show has done for them at this point is get rid of all the Palmetto stuff and move forward here. New girl Ella absolutely fits here in these scenes as well, which is quite the rebound from last week’s introduction. As ridiculously fast as the season premiere was when it came to resolving issues, “Liar, Liar, Slutty Dress On Fire” makes it clear just how necessary such an approach was to get to this superior point in the story.
But the episode doesn’t pretend that this obvious trust and familiarity means Lucifer is any less Lucifer. Lucifer can be just as black and white as the macaroni and cheese commercial that his mom watches, and that’s still the case here. It’s what causes him to point blank call Chloe “a bad mother,” simply for not buying into Trixie’s manipulation over a new doll. (And boy is Trixie’s morbid handiwork on her old doll especially adorable.) Chloe is right to say that Lucifer is “projecting,” as that’s essentially the case for every episode, and the show is also right not to dwell on the fact that Chloe says she’ll talk to him about his mom if he ever actually wants to open up. But while he may be able to eventually open up on the metaphorical level of things, this is a more difficult situation than usual. As much as I criticize the show for its tactics in keeping the whole truth from characters like Chloe and Dr. Linda, here, there’s finally a very solid reason for Lucifer to keep things quiet on the “Charlotte” front. As he tells his mother that trying to explain anything other than the presumed truth would be “too much for the detective to handle,” he’s absolutely right. Because while getting her to buy the Lucifer backstory is one thing, getting her believe that this “Charlotte” woman is Lucifer’s mother (especially in her vulnerable human body) is another thing completely. Such acknowledgment also puts “Charlotte” on to the fact that her son cares for at least one human, which is probably the second most dangerous thing she—who makes her complete disinterest in humanity known here—could possibly know about her son.
The most dangerous thing she could know is of course how Lucifer is vulnerable when he’s around Chloe.
“Liar, Liar, Slutty Dress On Fire” is the type of episode that proves Lucifer’s worth more as a solid reimagining of religious stories than just a bit of an adaptation of a comic book. In all of the parent/child issues of the episode, I haven’t even scratched the surface on the Amenadiel/Dr. Linda aspect, which is just as heartbreaking and entertaining for as little screentime as it gets this week. As we learn here, Amenadiel’s powers aren’t just on the fritz—his wings are practically disintegrating. Now that’s the type of thing that needs a mother’s attention.
- Say what you will about her marriage, but nothing in this episode implies that the real Charlotte was a bad mother, which opens up a whole can of worms. It’s really the one loose thread in this episode, as the police obviously had to confirm Charlotte’s status as alive. So now she’s not only leaving her family without a trace, she’s ditching her successful law firm. The best case scenario is that Charlotte’s husband finds a way to become a person again and get help in raising their children. The worst case scenario involves their children being scarred for life because their mom just disappeared (and could easily be bumped into again).
- Chloe: “Are you praying, or…”
Lucifer: “Yes. Usually works. Must’ve gone for a wank or something.” As usual, Tom Ellis’ delivery makes a good line great.
- Dr. Linda: “It’s called ‘karma’. You might want to research that.” This is such a great call out moment… only to be “ruined” by the door getting stuck on the mat. This episode really brings the humor.
- Lucifer: “When exactly did you surrender you manhood?”
Mr. Richards: “Excuse me?” This exchange works because of how Lucifer immediately makes it clear his line of questioning isn’t some alpha male thing—in fact, he respects and appreciates stay-at-home dads, given all of the issues he has with his own father. It’s all about how this man has clearly “given up” (so many different pairs of Crocs!) and how, as great as it is that he hasn’t abandoned his children… He still has a “Dave Matthews tribute tank” in his closet.
- Lucifer: “I mean, how far can a celestial being trapped in a feeble human body for the first time get?”
Maze: “Well, let’s see: She’s stupid hot, wearing my clothes, and she’s got a corporate credit card.”
- Yes, he was a big bad drug kingpin, but I have to admit: Victor was kind of great. The actor (Daniel Edward Mora) was clearly having the time of his life, from his time out of the tanning bed to the world’s worst interrogation.
- This week, Lucifer gets out of Lucifer actually smoking by having him stress out and prepare to have a cigarette… only to be taken out of it by his mother’s emotional revelation about Hell. Amazing.