She’s a hard-nosed cop and a single mother, and he’s the prince of darkness on vacation from Hell: together, they fight crime. That’s basically the plot of the new Fox TV show Lucifer. The show is loosely based on the Lucifer from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, which is one of the reasons I was so excited for it. Lucifer immediately hooked me with excellent music and an interesting portrayal of the devil, but that didn’t stop me from noticing all of the problematic shit in that has me praying (ironically, I guess) that this show doesn’t end up being another Supernatural. Hey, at least one of the main characters is a woman; that’s a step up.
Our show begins by establishing the devil’s abilities to draw out people’s hidden desires by having him easily get out of a speeding ticket while heading toward the club he owns. Lucifer pulls out the police officer’s hidden desires and convinces him to take a bribe and treat himself because he “deserves it”. After deceiving the cop, Lucifer head to the club he works at along with Mazikeen—or Maz—a demon that Lucifer seems particularly close with. Lucifer is interrupted by Amenadiel (played by D.B. Woodside, whom many of you may remember as Robin Wood from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who yells at the devil for leaving his post in Hell and demands that he returns there. Amenadiel brings up one of the more interesting plot points in the show, asking Lucifer where he thinks all those lost souls and demons go now that he’s left Hell.
This fits with the Sandman comics, because when Lucifer decided to quit Hell he actually kicked everyone out of Hell before he left. Those souls and demons torment the living until Dream is able to find a new ruler for Hell, after which they all return. However, so far, other than Amenadiel’s words, there is no indication that any of those beings are on Earth causing trouble in the show.
We eventually meet a celebrity named Delilah, whose career Lucifer had previously helped start. She comes to Lucifer worried that she sold her soul to him, but Lucifer tells her she didn’t sell her soul, he just started her career and that any of the other mistakes she made is on her. He says she does owe him a favor, though, but the favor he wants from her is just for her to pull herself together and get her life in order. Up until this point Lucifer has largely been presented as a destructive, self-entitled, charming little prick, which in my opinion perfectly fits Lucifer, but it isn’t until after we meet Delilah that he gains complexity. Think Iron Man with a much meaner streak and a little more daddy issues and that’s basically this portrayal of Lucifer. After leaving the club with Lucifer, Delilah is gunned down. Lucifer gets shot in the crossfire but gets up in time to talk to the shooter, who got into a car wreck immediately after. He discovers the shooter was paid by someone to kill Delilah, but the shooter dies before he can tell Lucifer who.
Eventually a police officer named Chloe Dancer comes to investigate Delilah’s death. Her ex-husband and fellow police officer tries to show up and steal the case from her, claiming that the case is drug related and basically an open and shut case. Chloe disagrees and rightly tells her ex to back off. She goes to investigate Lucifer, whom she finds suspicious because he somehow survived the attack. Chloe doesn’t put up with any of Lucifer’s creepy questions or comments, and Lucifer’s interested in Chloe since she isn’t impressed with him. Lucifer eventually becomes convinced that the police won’t do much to avenge his friend and begins to track down the killer himself. The two of them run into each other again following the same lead and Chloe eventually reluctantly agrees to let Lucifer help after some information he obtained ended up panning out. They end up discovering that the killer was actually Delilah’s manager, whom she almost married and humiliated by leaving him at the altar. A show down occurs which ends with the manager dead and Chloe shot and seemingly dying, but Lucifer manages to save her and bring her to the hospital, claiming it’s because she is too interesting to let die since she is for some reason not affected by Lucifer’s angelic abilities. Lucifer returns to his club and has a final confrontation with Amenadiel, in which they both threaten each other before going their separate ways. The episode ends with Lucifer heading to see Delilah’s old therapist who he makes a deal to have sex with in exchange for therapy, which is hilarious. At least to me.
There were certain things I adored about this episode. I really enjoyed the chemistry between our two main characters—Chloe and Lucifer—and I loved the addition of Chloe’s daughter, who takes a shine to Lucifer after he threatens her school bully. I like Lucifer’s characterization a lot. He actually does seem to have a heart and care for people, but ultimately chooses to be selfish or remains in denial about what he wants, which causes him to be destructive. For example, when he meets Chloe’s daughter Trixie, he seems to immediately take a liking to her to the point of threatening the girl who is bullying her. But minutes later he tells Chloe he thinks kids are disgusting and doesn’t understand why humans want to procreate. When he sees Trixie again at the hospital, he acts like he is uncomfortable being around her when he seemed fine with her before at her school talking to her, helping her, and defending her. It really is a pretty excellent characterization: he seems to want to do the right thing, and does seem to like people, but he’s consistently sabotaging himself or remaining in denial about his feelings. It’s especially interesting to me that Lucifer ignores his own desires and chooses to be self-destructive, while he also has the ability to bring out those desires in others. I do, however, have some complaints.
While Tom Ellis is excellent as Lucifer, Gaiman’s Lucifer is meant to be inspired by David Bowie. And while I’m fine with the character not looking like Bowie, Bowie isn’t straight, and it bothered me that Lucifer so far has only drawn out sexual desires in women and never any men. It’s just the first episode, but so far they are painting Lucifer as pretty heterosexual and even seem to be implying an eventual relationship between him and Chloe. Lucifer is an angel. Angels are genderless, so I would assume things like sexuality would be more fluid to them. I’m aware that showing Lucifer engaged in any homosexual sex or relationships could be portrayed in a homophobic fashion, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. When the devil uses his powers it’s never implied that heterosexuality is wrong, just that some women’s sexual desires are brought to the surface. If queer men reacted the same way to Lucifer, it wouldn’t mean that homosexuality was a sin, just that Lucifer’s abilities naturally stir up their desires.
I also don’t entirely know how to feel about Chloe’s backstory. I love her as a no-nonsense cop who is a divorced single parent, but it’s eventually revealed that she once tried to be an actor before being a cop and went topless in some badly written comedy movie. Chloe is clearly ashamed of this and tries to keep it under wraps, despite Lucifer feeling like he recognizes her from somewhere. When it’s revealed her knows her because he watched that movie, it’s kind of thrown out just to humiliate Chloe and actually adds very little to her backstory. I think it would have been more interesting if Chloe hadn’t been ashamed of the movie, but just decided to be a cop instead. It would have put a sex-positive spin on things and added more complexity to her character. Instead this so-called “shameful” secret was just revealed without it bringing much, if anything, to the table.
Both Maz and Amenadiel bring some inclusivity by adding more people of color to the cast, but Maz was barely in this episode and Amenadiel was not given much personality or screen time. He is largely shown as single-minded, vengeful, and militaristic, which is pretty much how Supernatural portrayed all their angels of color, and anything that reminds me of Supernatural is bad. I want Amenadiel to be just as complex and interesting as Chloe or Lucifer, not just some wrathful hammer of God. That’s just boring. There was some racism thrown into the show too, sadly. Lucifer confronts one of Delilah’s lovers, a rapper named 2Vile, and declares that he hates hip hop while doing so. 2Vile, I think rightly, accuses him of not liking Black people, and the devil insists that isn’t the case because Black people created music like the blues which appeals to him. Yeah, this sounds like every racist white person who insists that Black people used to write good music and that hip hop is terrible and too violent. On top of this it makes no sense that at least some hip hop wouldn’t appeal to the devil. It’s a huge genre; if you really hate all hip hop then yeah, you actually are most likely racist. Add to this that 2Vile and all his friends are portrayed as gun toting drug addicted “thugs” and we have a racist stereotype for the ages.
And finally there is the show’s theology, which I obviously care about a lot. I enjoyed the notion that Lucifer brings out desires but doesn’t actually cause anyone to sin, but that’s kind of downplayed by the idea that Chloe so far is the only one who can resist him. He claims that it’s harder for him to draw out the desires of complex people, but what does that mean? Is that people who have stronger wills and a more clearly defined morality or philosophy? He should be able to get people to reveal their desires and acknowledge them but other than Chloe we haven’t seen him fail to get anyone to act on them. If he doesn’t cause people to sin, shouldn’t some people be able to resist that temptation? Or are we really claiming humanity is that weak? Then there was the ending where Amenadiel insists once again that Lucifer needs to return to Hell because there has to be balance. Um, no, there doesn’t. If we are following Christian theology, which the show seems to be leaning toward, then there is no need for a devil. God eventually wants everyone with him. Hell and the devil technically don’t need to exist. It was only created because of the devil’s choice to leave God. The devil and Hell are not an equal power to God and Heaven.
There were other things I liked, though. I loved that a priest automatically recognized the devil for what he was even if he couldn’t personally stop him. I also enjoyed the implication that God cares about Lucifer. When Amenadiel threatens to slit Lucifer’s throat at the beginning of the episode, Lucifer just calmly tells him to do it if he wants to see their father really upset. This implies that God does want Lucifer around, which I find awesome and I hope the writers expand on that more. In much of the mythology surrounding Lucifer it’s stated that before his fall, the devil was God’s favorite. So God still caring about Lucifer and wanting him around is fitting and much more interesting than the bland paternalistic God we usually get on TV.
So overall, I found the show entertaining, but deeply problematic in certain areas. I’ll probably keep watching it because I’m a sucker for shows that heavily utilize religious themes and characters. I am worried this will be just another Supernatural and end up being terrible—but I mean, Lucifer is going to therapy, I can’t pass that up! For now, I’ll continue watching the show. If you are looking for something entertaining to watch this might be the show for you, but you may have to turn off your intersectional feminist brain to enjoy it.
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I’m mostly disappointed in Mazikeen being pretty. Her character arc in the comics revolved around how she’d been made pretty, and hated it to the point of going on a rampage to recover her half-rotten face. Maybe that’ll happen as the show goes on?
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