Today’s topic came about from conversations I’ve been having with Lady Geek Girl. We both love Lucifer, the TV show which follows the devil’s shenanigans in L.A. and which just returned for its second season. I enjoy the show because I’m a sucker for procedural shows and I have a lack of immunity towards charming jerks. But today I want to talk about one matter that both intrigues me and worries me—how the portrayal of Lucifer’s masculinity relates to the fact that being near one specific woman makes Lucifer, who otherwise cannot be harmed by humans, physically vulnerable. What intrigues me is how Lucifer deals with the emotions this causes, but the potential messages of toxic masculinity and misogyny are quite disconcerting.
Some mild spoilers for the show below.
I want to preface this by pointing out that, technically, Lucifer isn’t a man, because angels (including the devil) are genderless. However, when the creators of the show gave Lucifer a human form and established him in L.A., they also gave him a very much masculine presentation, as well (like most angels in media these days). So I think it’s fair to say that Lucifer is probably viewed as a male character by both the creators and the audience.
In many ways, Lucifer conforms to the society-imposed gender norms for men which dictate that feelings are not for them and that men aren’t supposed to care for others. Following this is the idea that having feelings and emotions, which may cause you to reconsider your aggressive decisions, makes you weak and unmanly. This is the context Lucifer exists in. When we meet him, he’s just your usual womanizer and a jerk who sees women pretty much only as sexual objects, disregards rules and laws, yet somehow still helps the police. Lucifer gets away with everything only because he knows how to charm people and looks like an attractive white man. Enter Chloe, a woman who is immune to his charms and who makes Lucifer vulnerable, physically and emotionally. This physical vulnerability distresses him, of course, and it makes sense that he tries to learn more about it. But what’s interesting is that he doesn’t ignore the emotional side of it either, going as far as getting a therapist who gets him to deal with his emotions. This character arc has the potential to make Lucifer a very interesting and even subversive male character.
I say “potential” because this is a great idea in theory: normalizing therapy and showing that men can and should talk about and learn to accept their feelings is important. Unfortunately, the show also introduces a physical manifestation of Lucifer’s emotional vulnerability—when Chloe is nearby, Lucifer loses his superpowers and can be physically hurt; the reason why is one of the mysteries in the show. In addition, the powers of another angel, Amenadiel, have started fading as well, and although we don’t know why yet either, it coincides with Maze breaking up with him. The idea that caring for people, especially for women in a romantic way, makes you weak is deeply ingrained in the portrayal of traditional (and I daresay, toxic) masculinity. This was explored, for instance, in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. using the juxtaposition of Ward and Fitz. Ward, on the toxic masculinity side, views caring for people as a weakness, represses it, and becomes the bad guy, whereas Fitz cares openly and freely and becomes the more heroic of the two. While at present, Lucifer seems to only care about Chloe and isn’t even that open about it, aside from his discussions with his therapist; a nice progression of his character development would be to add other people to the list—people who are not romantic interests—and have him do more to demonstrate that he cares. (Of course, keeping in character, this would be a slow process and would include a lot of jerky remarks from Lucifer trying to keep up his image as a party boy devil.)
However, there is another, more misogynistic, side to the “caring for women makes you weak” narrative. It’s the idea that women can make men weak or steal their power away, which shifts the focus from the man in question to the woman, blaming her and making her the villain of the story. There is even an example of this in the Bible in the story of Samson and Delilah: Delilah cut Samson’s hair, thus taking away his strength and allowing his enemies to capture him. It teaches men to mistrust and guard themselves from women. I really hope that Amenadiel’s fading powers turn out to be caused by something else and the creators of the show don’t start a disturbing trend of male angels losing their powers due to their love for women.
So, as it is, Lucifer’s narrative is in a bit of a pickle. Lucifer (and possibly Amenadiel) is losing his power because of a woman. We don’t know why it’s happening: is it because the male characters are having feelings or is it something the women are doing, albeit likely unintentionally? If the writers are not careful, the show may easily reinforce the toxic masculinity narrative in the first case or the misogynistic story in the latter case. One way out of this would be if Lucifer eventually confessed his feelings to Chloe and that made him invulnerable in her presence, which would send the message that having feelings and being open about them does indeed make you stronger. And Amenadiel’s loss of powers could easily be due to all the bad deeds he committed while on earth, as Dr. Linda suggests in the latest episode.
On first glance, Lucifer may appear as the archetypal male jerk with a questionable heart of gold: smart, suave, focused on partying and sex, but still managing to stay on the side of good. But he is more than that, and not only because he’s the devil. His character arc involving therapy and learning to embrace his vulnerabilities could add a touch of softer masculinity. However, the fact that his vulnerabilities are caused by a woman and have a physical manifestation is a cause of concern as it supports ideas of toxic masculinity and could also easily become misogynistic. As the reason for the vulnerability hasn’t been revealed yet, we have too little information to draw a conclusion. I hope (almost against hope) that the creators will come up with a narrative that doesn’t perpetuate any harmful ideas.