Lucifer: “Manly Whatnots” is a string of missed opportunities

We’re now four episodes into Lucifer, and this show just can’t seem to manage anything better than mediocrity. Sure, it’s entertaining, but I can’t help but feel as if every episode so far has missed opportunities for adding some real depth and nuance to the characters and substance to the show. The ridiculously titled “Manly Whatnots” is the most frustrating episode yet on this score.

The case of the week involves the disappearance and supposed murder of a young woman who has gotten involved with a pickup artist guru, which is a great way to get Lucifer involved with a pickup artist guru, which ought to have made for an amazing and thematically resonant episode. Unfortunately, rather than exploring the issues of consent, coercion, abuse, rape and/or stalking this setup perfectly lends itself to, the show decides to play pretty much the whole thing for laughs and only examine a couple of these themes in the shallowest possible fashion. It’s honestly kind of unbelievable just how much the show missed the boat with this one when it should have been an easy slam dunk to tie things together and provide Lucifer with some interesting things to think about regarding his behavior towards Chloe (which is atrocious this week, by the way).

Lucifer’s denseness (the character’s and the show’s, frankly) is incredibly disappointing, and both character and show seem incapable of taking themselves very seriously. Here, the show even goes out of its way to identify the parallels between what Lucifer does and pickup guru Carver’s cult of toxic masculinity and misogynistic exploitation, only to pull all punches at the end of the episode and entirely sidestep any critical examination of Lucifer’s behavior. This might have worked better if the case itself were compelling enough to carry the episode, but there’s really not much going on here and the mystery, well, isn’t much of one.

Furthermore, the reveal of what really happened to Lindsay goes from groan-worthy to cringe-inducing as Lucifer turns on her when he learns about her revenge scheme against Carver, who it turns out was sexually predatory towards Lindsay several years before, wrote about it in his book, and didn’t even remember her name or face, which is why she was able to successfully trick him now. On the one hand, this could be intended to show that Lucifer has a very real character flaw—he believes himself to be the ultimate arbiter of justice and meting out appropriate punishments, but he’s not infallible. Here, even though I tend to agree with him that Carver probably doesn’t deserve to be actually murdered, his fury at Lindsay—who Carver violated and left deeply hurt and damaged by the experience—seems disproportionate. However, this show isn’t that subtle and doesn’t seem capable of handling that sort of nuance. Rather, Lucifer’s anger at Lindsay is portrayed as righteous and works to further elevate him in the narrative as a voice of reason and as the arbiter of justice he seems to see himself as.

It’s a missed opportunity at best and a piece of gross sexism at worst, since Lucifer’s character is established at Lindsay’s expense and to Carver’s benefit—even though Lindsay was treated poorly by the misogynistic Carver and Carver’s reformation is recent, conditional, and selective. He says that he’s fallen in love with Lindsay, but he literally can’t remember her name or face in spite of having taken her virginity. And he continues to profit off of selling his particular brand of aggressive rape culture to other men. So, yeah, sure, he doesn’t deserve to die, but Lindsay and her brother don’t seem to have intended to kill him. They just wanted to extort a ransom from him and break his heart, probably. In any case, the whole saga could have been a much more interesting critique of toxic masculinity and a compelling examination of this facet of Lucifer’s human-ish persona. Instead, it turns into a sort of mealy mouthed morality play that doesn’t have much to say about anything at all.

There are some strides made this week with Chloe’s continued disbelief of Lucifer’s claims about being the Lord of Hell. She’s not quite bought his story yet, but the best scenes of the night were regarding this story, and we learn that perhaps part of the reason Chloe isn’t susceptible to Lucifer’s “charms” is because she doesn’t actually believe in Hell at all, even if she’s not a complete atheist. In another scene, Chloe gets to see the terrible scars on Lucifer’s back where his wings were cut off, and it’s clear that this challenges her understanding, but it’s still not enough to convince her. Unfortunately, Lucifer’s final plan to prove his imperviousness by having her shoot him doesn’t turn out the way he hopes, but we’ll have to wait til next week to find out what happens next.

It’s nice to see the show relying somewhat less on Tom Ellis’s pretty face to carry the whole thing, but even as his charm begins to feel strained and the good humor seems increasingly forced, the writers haven’t managed to inject the show with anything more substantial. This episode totally squanders a promising concept without even scratching the surface of its potential, and with nearly a third of the season gone this doesn’t give me much hope for improvement in the coming weeks.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Who else is totally shipping Maze and Amenadiel after this episode?
  • I’m not sure if Lucifer presenting himself nude to Chloe is just a completely gross act of sexual harassment or if it’s redeemed by the fact that Lucifer is never actually sexually menacing. Also, this is the first time in the show that they’ve managed to have anything even resembling sexual tension between these two characters.
  • Lucifer is a total dick to Dr. Martin this week, and it’s not funny or endearing in any way.

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