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Punishment is all the rage, as Lucifer channels Black Mirror

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After last week’s “Liar, Liar, Slutty Pants On Fire,” it would have been far too convenient for Lucifer to stumble across another homicide that directly involved his mother or anyone in his immediate circle. As much as it worked for that episode, “Sin-Eater” doesn’t go down that path again, but it does work to create a deep connection between the case-of-the-week and Lucifer’s current existential crisis. A serial killer whose mission is all about punishment of the wicked obviously overlaps with Lucifer’s own agenda, which makes for the perfect opportunity to delve into Lucifer’s own desires and why exactly he still punishes people when he no longer has to.

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The case-of-the-week is basically a Black Mirror plot re-purposed for Lucifer, which works because of the series’ attention to characterization. That’s not to say it doesn’t follow the most basic procedural “rule” of the most notable actor either doing it or being involved though: Chuck fans no doubt peg Vik Sahay’s (one-half of aural serial killers known as Jeffster) character Ray as the killer from the moment he walks in, and anyone who sees Robin Givens’ name in the opening credits has to assume she’s be a major player. But the motivation is simple and interesting, as Ray apparently became so overwhelmed by all of the vile things posted on Wobble that he decided to do something about it, as extreme as it is. Lucifer is a show all about a punisher character, so having a punisher in the case-of-the-week, someone he can unfortunately identify with, makes sense.

However, in the show’s need to make the case-of-the-week tie-in with Lucifer’s own inner machinations, it doesn’t always hit the mark. In fact, thinking that it does requires the audience that Tom Ellis’ performance really can sell everything. Here, the plot momentarily loses the thread when Lucifer tries to connect the role of Wobble content moderators to that of gatekeeper of Hell:

“No one chooses to be a sin-eater, Detective. No one wants to be custodian of the world’s filth. Why would they?”

In theory, it’s a good connection, as Lucifer’s entire profile of the content moderators and the culture they develop at this tech company. But as much as Lucifer depends on its extended metaphors, this one doesn’t quite land—for the simple fact that the content moderators all applied for the job, unlike Lucifer, who got his job in Hell as punishment from God. The same scene points out that the job isn’t one with long-term potential either, as people just leave when it gets too hard, and that’s not after thousands of years like in Lucifer’s case. As poignant as those words about being a sin-eater sound coming from Tom Ellis, it’s one of those moments that can easily take a person out of Lucifer for even just a second. That’s the series’ burden, in in a nutshell. The premise was wobbly early on as it had to credibly sell the concept of “Devil Cop,” but now that that’s basically accepted by anyone who watches the show, the things that don’t work (big or small) really stick.

Take, for example, Dan. Kevin Alejandro is generally always worth watching, but the Dan role is so thankless in terms of the character being the straight man of all straight men. As good of a father as he is, Dan works best when he’s able to play off—or at least play the punching bag to—the divine characters. Those are the scenes where it feels like he’s on the same show as everyone else, and you’re you’re certainly not going to find that in his one-on-one scenes with Chloe. The same can be said about Chloe to an extent, though as the female lead, she’s given more room to show more personality than Dan. Lucifer is obviously doing the best it can to get the Dan character past the season one baggage, and that continues here with him finally ripping off the band-aid on his and Chloe’s relationship. It’s honestly never been that believable that Chloe and Dan would ever get their marriage back on track, so it’s a good thing “Sin-Eater” definitively answers the nonexistent will they-won’t they question that Lucifer brings up. Lucifer is cleaning up messes and doing so while making characters look like mature adults.

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Even Lucifer finds a way to be somewhat of a mature adult this week. Because while it’s one thing for him to simply make the best of the job he’s been ordered to do (punish), it’s another for him to admit that it’s an addiction, a vice, that he refuses to give up. On the one hand, this episode and case allow Lucifer to work through his own existential issues himself and without the help of Dr. Linda (who has her hands full with her BFF Maze and a hot bartender). That’s personal progress Lucifer surprisingly doesn’t ask for praise over. But on the other hand, maybe Dr. Linda could tell Lucifer that it’s not exactly a good thing to have this addiction and refuse to give it up.

Tom Ellis regularly gets his much-deserved praise for the way he sells the ridiculousness of Lucifer and everything around him, but it’s this season’s family story at the center of everything that truly deserves some regular praise, even in its infancy. Because it’s really, really difficult to sell a mother-children relationship when the actors are all clearly similar in age (D.B. Woodside is actually older than Tricia Helfer), and the Morningstar Trio all absolutely nail it. The way Amenadiel reacts once he realizes the “new” woman in Lucifer’s life is actually their mother—apologetic yet terrified as his mother questions the kind of son he is—carries so much weight. Because for all of the “jokes” last season about Lucifer and Amenadiel being brothers, not only are they brothers—they’re brothers who had to bear an enormous amount of heartbreak in their family and have just now reached a point of reconciliation. And Tricia Helfer is just so good in this role, as she’s able to pull off everything from the new human aspect of the character to godly superiority to, her absolute best, guilt-tripping mother at the drop of a hat. She sells it all, and it works even better than it has any right to.

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Because she’s playing God’s ex-wife, and that should barely work.

“Liar Liar Slutty Dress On Fire” mined the character for the awkwardness of a goddess turned human, and while “Sin-Eater” still keeps a bit of that unfamiliarity around, “Charlotte” is able to figure out the whole hot chick schtick pretty quickly, which opens up new possibilities. But it’s in the final moments of the episode—which also show a not-so-fun part of being a woman—where Lucifer acknowledges that it won’t simply rely on that type of fish out of water status for any longer than it has to. The reveal to the audience (and to “Charlotte,” who for all of her obvious machinations, is still in the dark for a lot of things) that “Charlotte” isn’t as “human” as she and her sons believe keeps the ball rolling. Then again, she’s a mother who doesn’t understand her child’s chosen profession, and even when she tries to, it’s still not for her and she thinks it shouldn’t be for him either. That’s so human it hurts.

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“Sin-Eater” is a solid episode of Lucifer that maintains this season’s upward mobility and evolution into a fascinating supernatural family drama. After last week’s terrific episode, this one isn’t too far behind it. It answers questions that really needed to be answers and moves the pieces of this familial game of chess forward, ever so slightly. No cheesy noodles this time around, but there’s always next week.

Stray observations

  • Character Note: All the press releases and synopses credit Tricia Helfer as Charlotte (instead of Mom or anything like that), so I’ll just make it clear that I’ll keep going with “Charlotte” when discussing her as Lucifer and Amenadiel’s mother and Charlotte when actually discussing the woman she body-jacked.
  • Speaking of Charlotte, kudos to the series for addressing that particular elephant in the room after last week’s episode. In a different time or even possibly last season (if the show were to make a firm stance on its procedural nature), Lucifer could have easily ignored the obvious potential plot hole and had the woman’s family disappear into the case-of-the-week void. Even better is that this family and job that haven’t been forgotten are now officially “Charlotte’s” punishment for Lucifer. Again, “Liar, Liar, Slutty Pants On Fire” was a really funny episode.
  • Point: This week’s Trixie reveal is basically the same as last week’s Trixie reveal, though last week’s interrogation was a better use of the same technique. Counterpoint: This week’s Trixie reveal has her wearing Chloe’s sunglasses during the scene, and they’re just too adorably big for her face.
  • It’s funny, in a sad way, that Maze’s perfect plan to get rid of “Charlotte” ends up backfiring without her knowledge. Now she has to worry about both brothers. Even though “Charlotte” obviously hasn’t done anything evil—she makes devilish smirks at the heavens and insults humanity, but that’s not exactly “evil”—yet.
  • Lucifer: “Goodness gracious, great balls of fire…I mean, I’ve heard of hotpants, but this really brings new meaning to the term firecrotch…Weekend at Burn-ie’s.”
    Ella (loving this): “His burning bush?”
    Lucifer: “Ah, very good. That was actually me, by the way, so don’t tell anyone.”
    Chloe: “You guys— Dead body. Can we please take this seriously?”
  • This episode actually lacks Chloe’s usual chastising of Lucifer for breaking the rules. She even welcomes his unconventional approach when it comes time to save Leila Simms (Givens). So sure, she doesn’t approve of his jokes about a dead body, but that’s just a matter of tact.
  • Lucifer: “How did you even find your way here?”
    “Charlotte”: “Well it wasn’t difficult. I simply smiled at a male human and asked him to take me.”
  • As I mentioned the Dan/Chloe relationship, I’d also like to point out how the Lucifer/Chloe relationship appears to have gotten away from any obligatory male/female team-up romantic implications, at least for the time being. The concept of both Lucifer and Chloe being deeply fascinated by each other is a good one, but the idea of them ever being a couple feels… Like it would be network-mandated, honestly.
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