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On Lucifer, sibling rivalry takes on a new, fearful form

Illustration for article titled On iLucifer/i, sibling rivalry takes on a new, fearful form
Graphic: John P. Fleenor/Netflix
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There was a point in The Vampire Diaries where, whenever Katherine Pierce—doppelganger of series protagonist Elena Gilbert, played by Nina Dobrev—wasn’t in an episode, it was understandable to think, “I guess they couldn’t get the actress this week”... only to take a beat and think, “Oh, wait.” Dobrev’s portrayal of both characters was so distinct, that it became very easy to get lost in the performances and momentarily think of her as two different actresses. I consider it the litmus test for quality when it comes to an actor playing dual roles on a show—Tatiana Maslany had the same quality on Orphan Black, but she also played way more roles—and it’s something Tom Ellis is able to accomplish in only the second episode of this season of Lucifer. In the final scene of “Lucifer! Lucifer! Lucifer!,” we see the real Lucifer for the first time all episode, and in that moment, I felt a sense of relief in seeing him at all, as though I hadn’t been watching an entire episode of television featuring Ellis.

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As reflections end up being the key to the case-of-the-week—and returning director Sherwin Shilati plays with that throughout the episode—Michael is also revealed to be a mirror version of Lucifer. He’s left-handed, where Lucifer is right. He prefers clear liquor, where Lucifer prefers brown. The little weasel’s got a sloped shoulder thing going on, compared to Lucifer’s impeccable posture (that Michael keeps having to put on). The biggest celestial difference is in the wings—Michael’s black, to Lucifer’s white—and in the powers—Michael taps into people’s fears, Lucifer taps into desires. And with Michael, Ellis is able to finally weaponize his truly upsetting American accent. That is the ultimate shorthand when it comes to showing that Michael is the worst. (There’s probably a metaphor about the myth of American exceptionalism somewhere in all of this, but I haven’t fleshed it out.)

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So much of “Lucifer! Lucifer! Lucifer!” is about Michael’s interpretation of Lucifer—outside of the Jan Brady-esque feelings—or “Lucifer 2.0,” as he calls himself early on. Ellis plays Michael-as-Lucifer in the disingenuous way one expects a Devil character to be played, the way Father Kinley kept telling Chloe in Season Four Lucifer actually was. The “Prince of Lies” and all that jazz. The first thing “Lucifer” does upon joining the case is lie to Ella, which pings Chloe’s radar and sends us down this spiral of the “new” “Lucifer” lying (thousands of years in Hell, change, etc.) and when to trust him. Because Michael doesn’t know the Florida backstory—this episode shows Michael really has done his homework but doesn’t know every specific, recent detail—he comes up with the sick mother lie, before Chloe can bring up the (technically true) family business thing. From this point in the episode, Michael get better about letting everyone in Lucifer’s life give him the answers he needs, but the seeds have been planted.

The seeds for this episode were also planted in Season Three, actually, as “Lucifer! Lucifer! Lucifer!” is essentially a retread of the Pierce/Cain arc (save for the conclusion). Only, it’s in the span of one episode and with a subversion that comes from the writers being aware what the Lucifer audience doesn’t care for with this show. (This redux of sorts is even written by one of the showrunners, Ildy Modrovich.) First, there’s a pissed off Maze teaming with Michael to take down Lucifer—using Chloe as a pawn and collateral damage—all because Michael plays off of her insecurities about Lucifer not taking her down to Hell. Only, thinking about it for a second, had Lucifer actually gone to Maze to ask her to come back to Hell with him, even though she’d just had her heart broken by Eve, the chances of her leaving new mother Linda’s side are pretty slim. (As I mentioned in my premiere review, the offense is more that Lucifer didn’t even say goodbye to her. And in this case, he didn’t even give her the option to decide Hell or Earth.) There’s also the very idea of Chloe falling for the “better” man compared to Lucifer again, with Michael pretending to be a new and improved Lucifer. While Michael says his plan is to get Lucifer to come back, to reveal his “true colors,” like Cain, it involves getting Chloe to fall for him and then to “achy-break her little heart.” And then plans change—even to the point of screwing over Maze and knocking her out—because Michael has developed genuine feelings for the “special” person that is Chloe Decker.

The difference is, Chloe is suspicious the whole time, and by the halfway mark—after she walks in on “Lucifer” and Maze—she’s in control of this story. It’s something I didn’t quite catch onto until rewatch, but Chloe is clearly playing Michael and Maze from the moment she and “Lucifer” go to see Anders Brody (Stephen Schneider, reprising his role from “O, Ye Of Little Faith, Father”). When she tells “Lucifer” she finally understands how Hell must have changed him, that’s the moment Michael decides the better option is to be with this woman who accepts “him.” When she talks to Maze at the precinct, she genuinely understands that she’s hurting, but that doesn’t mean she’s not going to twist the knife a little—for Maze working with this impostor—by saying “Lucifer” only hooked up with her because he was “desperate.” In telling Maze she’s going to “bone” “Lucifer,” the intent to get Maze to be a little messenger, though things don’t turn out how Chloe expected on that front. Then Chloe does a little seduction at the suddenly-sexily-lit kitchen area of the precinct, and it’s clear she’s got Michael hooked. Once at the penthouse, with both the balcony and the bullet necklace beats, by this point, the audience needs Chloe to realize something’s off, not aware that she’s long-realized it. In fact, she realized it in the premiere, as soon as they kissed. But she did her due diligence as a detective.

Plus, admittedly, she wanted to believe he was Lucifer.

For all that good work, Chloe is then hit with a bomb that everyone in the know learned three seasons ago: God made Chloe for Lucifer. Well, he put her in Lucifer’s path, whatever that truly means. Michael interprets that for Chloe as God making a “plaything” for Lucifer. And while Chloe tells him she doesn’t believe him—as this is after she’s gone on about how what she and Lucifer has is “special”—once she’s alone, it’s clear she’s having a crisis over this reveal. In terms of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s for the Lucifer and Chloe romance, Miracle Baby Chloe Decker was the one major secret left. While Lucifer has gotten to process that, now, it’s Chloe’s turn.

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The case-of-the-week brings up an interesting concept about isolation testing one’s psychological strength and changing a person, which is then used to attempt to apply logic to “Lucifer” and could actually be used to examine Lucifer’s state. Only, the latter isn’t able to happen because of his absence in this episode, and with the case, it doesn’t actually end up mattering. That’s a rarity for Lucifer, where the theme established in the case-of-the-week actually means nothing, but just like “Lucifer 2.0,” it ends up being a sham, in terms of motive for the homicide. There’s an interesting, albeit expected (not just because of casting) story if Coby Bell’s Sam did end up being the killer because of how he changed, but instead, it’s a story of misplaced jealousy and misinformation. Lucifer has gone to that well before, but it’s baffling that after hearing Mandy confess to killing an innocent woman simply because “I thought you didn’t love me anymore.,” Sam isn’t horrified and instead assures her he’ll continue to love her, even in prison. Maybe his “change” involved accepting something as troubling as that.

If we’re doing the one-to-one comparison, then Chloe relates to this woman and her changed love; only Chloe isn’t running the risk of doing something as ill-advised as Mandy at any time. Nor is there any suggestion of Mandy trying to fix Sam, the way Chloe does with “Lucifer” early on. The case-of-the-week aspect has never been Lucifer’s strong suit, but the themes derived from them tend to hit, and this one just doesn’t.

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And in all of this discussion of change, Michael claims the reason he’s come to Earth is to prove that selfish Lucifer hasn’t changed one bit. Apparently, up in Heaven, all of the angels are praising Lucifer for going back to Hell, voluntarily, and how he’s grown. Even buzzkill Remiel is impressed. As Michael tells Maze, he’s “pissed” because Lucifer is getting all this praise for “doing what he’s supposed to do without whining about it.” (“Since when do we congratulate a convict for serving a sentence,” he asks. Because—as the hashtag says—Michael is a dick.) Maze gets that he’s jealous, and she’s just met him, so it especially hits a nerve when Amenadiel eventually calls him out for his jealousy of Lucifer.

Though he denies it, that jealousy is understandable, when you consider that Lucifer got the cool desire power and Michael got fear, a power sure to repel people. Which is why he’s so taken by what he thinks is Chloe’s genuine desire for him. It’s fascinating to see the fear power in action, as just one passing mention of what someone’s “afraid” of ramps them up. When Michael drops it on Amenadiel, after he lies about how “he” left Hell, he says it like a caring brother (“You’re afraid for baby Charlie, right?”), so he doesn’t ping any warning signs. And Amenadiel doesn’t even notice something’s wrong with him until after Linda confronts him for having Charlie strapped to his chest at LUX for 16 hours. Then there’s the way Michael clearly weaponizes his power against Linda—after already deciding to change his plan, so just to be a dick—to get to her fear of being a bad mother. (A fear that opens up a whole new avenue at the end of the episode, with the picture of a 1994 Linda holding a baby.) In telling Chloe the “truth” about being put on Earth for Lucifer, he also taps into her fear about things with Lucifer not being real or special, while revealing he doesn’t have to say “afraid” or “fear” to make this thing work.

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It’s also Amenadiel bringing up Michael’s jealousy that, ultimately, keeps him hanging around, despite the jig being up. As Amenadiel tells him, Lucifer will “always end up winning.” Michael takes that as a challenge. And Amenadiel takes that as a reason to bring Lucifer back from Hell.


Stray observations

  • I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: Tom Ellis didn’t need to be naked in this episode. Sure, if someone were to walk into the penthouse without warning, as they are wont to do, they wouldn’t be surprised to see Lucifer naked… But that doesn’t explain why Michael would practice his Lucifer impression naked.
  • “Lucifer’s” example for lying being a good thing is to be nice to Dan, telling him he likes his amethyst bracelet. (Poor Dan is cleansing his chakra.) Of course, because of that, Dan—understandably and correctly—thinks something is up.
  • Dr. Linda (after another person misses the point): You two are perfect for each other.”
    Chloe (after snorting): “Maybe.” Lauren German really does it all in this episode, from her comic timing as Chloe tries to get the old Lucifer to come out and play, to her hope when “Lucifer” saves her from becoming roadkill, to her reaction to seeing “Lucifer” with Maze, to her playing it close to the vest and pivoting accordingly for the rest of the episode.
  • Kind of like the way he adapts to just listening to people and following their lead after the sick mom lie, Michael tries to act more Lucifer-like on the job after Chloe is confused as to why he’s doing actual police work (during one of Lucifer’s patented interrogation montages) and not eating Dan’s pudding. That leads to the Where’s Waldo? joke and him breaking and entering to wrap up the case.
  • Chloe: “At least hit on her.”
    “Lucifer”: “Why would I do that? She might be a murderer.” A very good question, Michael.
  • On the one hand, a Sharon Osbourne cameo in the year 2020? Even if it had happened in past seasons, it would’ve seemed kind of passée. On the other hand, Lauren German doing an Ozzy Osbourne impression while saying “Sharon” is 100% worth it. It just feels like the Devil/Ozzy Osbourne of it all is something that would’ve worked in Season One, so maybe I can’t knock them for doing it when they finally had the chance to.
  • Mandy: “One of the main reasons why we’re running these simulations is to test the psychological strength of our travelers. It’s difficult to be isolated with strangers for so long, away from your family, friends, everyone you love.” This line really hits differently in a pandemic than it would have before.
  • The car chase doesn’t quite do it for me, though the touch to make sure there are cars on the road as obstacles is a nice one. However, the moment Michael flies Chloe over the car, making sure to cover her face so she’s not tipped off by the wings, does work. It’s a moment that really hits on why Lucifer put Sherwin Shilati—who has directed some of the most beautiful, impressive episodes of the series—behind the camera for this episode.
  • “Lucifer”: “Tell me: What is it that you… truly fear?” I mean, this is also a big honking sign that something is afoot.
  • Ella is sleeping on the job and having sex dreams about Aragorn. Good for her.
  • Michael: “Lucifer’s life sucks anyway. The only thing worse is the traffic.” It was at this moment, I said to my screen, “What a dweeb.” Congratulations, Tom Ellis.
  • It’s impressive (and refreshing) Lucifer doesn’t draw out the Michael reveal at all, for anyone. It also makes sense that would be the case, as it’s been the centerpiece of promotion for this season. I brought up the Michael thing at the end of my premiere review because it’s just been so entwined in the presentation of this season, to the point where it was originally (and this is after the trailer had dropped) part of the “Do Not Reveal” list from Netflix for Lucifer coverage… until, seemingly, they realized they’d already done the revealing, quite publicly and intentionally. Had that particular DNR stayed, I wouldn’t have mentioned Michael at all until this review.
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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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