Lucifer: “A Priest Walks into a Bar” is this show’s best episode yet

I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this show in the very shaky first half of the season, because it’s really gotten good in the last few weeks. “A Priest Walks into a Bar” is Lucifer’s best episode yet. Lucifer is always at its best when it doesn’t focus too much on its cop show elements, and in this week most of that is pushed well into the background in favor of working on Lucifer’s character growth.

Spoilers ahoy!

Much of this is due to guest star Colman Domingo as Father Frank Lawrence, a Catholic priest with a complicated past. When Father Frank seeks out Lucifer for help with extracting a teenage boy from a drug ring, Lucifer is hostile, mocking the priesthood and what Lucifer perceives as either hypocrisy or stupidity. Just when Lucifer reaches the height of his pathological obnoxiousness, though, there’s a breakthrough of sorts when Lucifer realizes that Father Frank isn’t what Lucifer thought he was. The growth of their friendship over the course of the episode is excellently written and nicely acted, and it feels organic and earned without being cloying.

There are a great number of wonderful moments with Father Frank and Lucifer, including a charming piano duet, but the real importance of this relationship is the opportunity for exploring some of the theological underpinnings of the show’s premise. Fortunately, the writers did not disappoint. While some of the parallels drawn between Father Frank’s relationship with his teenage charge and Lucifer’s relationship with his father are a bit of a stretch, it’s good for Lucifer to see unconditional love and faith at work, and Father Frank’s life and tragic death have certainly given Lucifer something to think about as we move into the final few episodes of the season.

Lucifer’s arrested development might be a central aspect of his characterization, and I think it’s unlikely that this is a major turning point for him, but it’s good to see him open up a little and, between Lucifer’s short conversation with Dr. Martin at the start of the episode and his experience befriending Father Frank, it seems like there is some real progress made this week. The narrative reward for this, of course, is a deepening of Lucifer’s friendship with Chloe, and the episode ends with the pair having a sweet moment of connection when Chloe shows up to comfort her friend after Father Frank’s death. It’s a little frustrating to see Chloe’s attention being set up so clearly as a sort of “reward” for Lucifer’s good behavior, but if a central story being told on the show is about Lucifer’s journey to earning Chloe’s trust and love (whether platonic or romantic), I suppose this is a necessary step.

After a couple of weeks very focused on Chloe’s concerns, this episode leaves her largely in the background, both literally and figuratively. In many scenes, she exists as an observer of Lucifer, around whose growth this episode revolves, but to the show’s credit this serves more to put the viewer in Chloe’s point of view than to cut her from the action. It’s an interesting tactic that straddles a weird line between marginalizing the show’s most significant female character by removing her from being a direct agent in the story action and making her the character with whom we the audience are most intended to identify by putting her in a position of objective witness to something mythological.

That said, the evolving remains of the Palmetto storyline take a decided back seat this week, and even Chloe’s thawing feelings towards Dan are pushed off to be dealt with in the future. The biggest news on this front, to be honest, is the further confirmation from a conversation between Dan and Malcolm that Dan is indeed a dirty cop who only shot Malcolm to protect Chloe—an excuse that likely isn’t going to make Chloe more inclined to forgiveness when this all inevitably comes out sometime in the next two or three weeks. We also learn what Amenadiel is up to with resurrecting Malcolm, but the ideas introduced there are still waiting to be further developed, again in the next two or three weeks.

With just four episodes left in the season, things seem to be on track for some major developments in time for a dramatic finale. The show has managed in the last few episodes to achieve a solid foundation on which to build the rest of its story, but I still haven’t forgotten that less than a month ago I was ready to quit it altogether. Here’s hoping that Lucifer can stick its landing. If it does, I think it will definitely have earned a second season.

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