Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

In its penultimate episode, Lucifer asks, “Is This Really How It’s Going To End?!”

Tom Ellis
Tom Ellis
Graphic: John P. Fleenor/Netflix

As the penultimate episode of this season—and originally, the penultimate episode of the entire series—“Is This Really How It’s Going To End?!” sets things up just right for an epic finale and an even greater status quo shift. The odds are stacked against our heroes, they’ve lost one of their own, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Much like in the penultimate episode of the first half of Lucifer season five, “Our Mojo,” there’s a huge tonal shift in this episode that changes everything. The difference is, here, that tonal shift comes from something much more personal to the characters and the audience: Dan’s death.

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Prior to the shift though, “Is This Really How It’s Going To End?!” is an episode with a final case so boring (until it’s not) and tedious that Lucifer can’t help but complain throughout about how boring and tedious it is. Not in the usual way either, because he doesn’t even find a single case detail to latch on to for his typical personal projections. (The closest he comes is when he tries to get the psychic to read him and help him with his family problems.) Watching the episode, there’s the sense that if this is the official end of the “crime-solving Devil” aspect of the show, then it’s strangely a fitting one at that; it’s the weakest part of the show going out as such, with a whimper. That is, until the case becomes celestial and puts a member of the team in mortal danger. Neither is boring at all.

Then there’s the runner of Lucifer attempting to convince his angelic siblings to support him in the upcoming God election. The episode opens with Lucifer failing to get the one sibling you’d think would be the most willing to join him—Jophiel (Miles Burris), an absolute bro of an angel—on his side and then continues down an increasingly more futile path. As the story progresses, the humor of the situation consistently decreases, even before Lucifer has a real sense of just how bad things are going to be when it comes to challenging Michael for the spot of God. The Saraqael (Ginifer King) scene starts off by being played for laughs, but it ends with Lucifer fumbling when it comes to answering Sara’s simple question of why he wants to be God so badly. (“Um, well, you know, because… Who wouldn’t want it?” Oof.) Then there’s the Zadkiel scene, which is when things get more serious. Luckily, at that point, Lucifer has an answer to the question: He’s doing it all for love.

We learned in “Nothing Lasts Forever” that proving he’s worthy of being God is very important to Lucifer. But more specifically, he wants to be God so that he can finally be worthy of Chloe. However, that realization plays a lot differently after the tonal shift of the episode. Which is exactly why Chloe calls Lucifer out for it. One might expect a catharsis of sorts or some kind of emotional milestone set when Lucifer tells Chloe why he wants to be God, that he’s doing it to finally be worthy of her. And that is technically what we get, in terms of Chloe saying something that’s been a long time coming, after five seasons (and especially in 5B):

“So you’re telling me that Trixie is in there right now crying herself to sleep, and the real reason that she’s gonna grow up without a father is because you still don’t know how I feel about you? How is that even possible? If that’s the case, Lucifer... Then your brothers and your sisters are right. You shouldn’t be God.”

Which brings me to that tonal shift of the episode, Dan’s kidnapping and subsequent death at the hands of a messianic mercenary (Rob Benedict).

The last time there was a Lucifer character who became so overwhelmed and consumed by thoughts of their afterlife and the punishment they’d have to endure, it was Charlotte Richards. Charlotte spent so much of the third season afraid of returning to Hell, doing everything she possibly could to avoid going back. And it ultimately paid off, as Amenadiel even transported her soul directly to Heaven. So there’s a bittersweet type of symmetry in the fact that her soulmate, Dan Espinoza, would go through a similar sort of journey in the aftermath of learning the truth about the celestial.

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After “Daniel Espinoza: Naked And Afraid,” it looked like Dan had finally found a healthy amount of clarity. Maybe he hadn’t completely gotten over his guilt, but he was definitely on a good path moving forward. In “Nothing Lasts Forever,” he takes the possibility of Lucifer becoming the new God in stride, not fear of what it would mean for the Devil to control the universe. And here, he’s trying to help Ella find love, he’s being a good dad to Trixie, he’s helping Chloe out on her final case. Even the one non-supportive thing he does in this episode (his reaction to Amenadiel telling him he wants to cop) is just a temporary lapse.

And yet he still ends up in Hell, even though all of those moments—up to his dying breath—are as heroic as an ordinary human can be. Because even a sliver of human guilt is enough to send you to Hell, even if it’s far in the back of your mind.

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In multiple post-mortem interviews about this season and episode, Kevin Alejandro has talked about how he actually pitched the idea of Dan’s death to showrunners Joe Henderson and Ildy Modrovich before they started writing season five. (Again, it was meant to be the final season.) But it was his reasoning behind it that’s really stuck with me. From his episode port-mortem with TV Line:

“[T]hat at this point in our story, in this journey that we’ve all been through together, the audience is just now starting to understand who Dan is. And there’s even a few of them that are actually starting to like him. ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if we ripped him away from them before they got a chance to fully fall in love?’ Because that happens in life.”

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Honestly, I think Alejandro is both underselling the Dan character and himself as an actor with this reasoning. As I wrote in my review of “Daniel Espinoza: Naked And Afraid,” Dan’s trajectory as a character is kind of miraculous, speaking just in terms of audience reaction. The first season made it feel like it would be impossible for the character to work in a way as anything but a foil and a pain in the audience’s asses. But then season two came around. Then it was surprising just how loveable Dan could be. But now? It’s far from a surprise. “It shouldn’t work” is something I thought a lot in the transition from season one to season two for the Dan character—keeping in mind that he was a corrupt cop who essentially got away it, an issue that Dan himself has brought up as the show has gone on. But since then, I’ve regularly praised both the writing for the character (and his development) and Alejandro’s performance. Which is why I believe the audience wasn’t just starting to like Dan at this point—they already loved him. Much like all the characters who go on to mourn him here.

Alejandro doesn’t really do anything fancy in this episode, as that’s what “Daniel Espinoza: Naked And Afraid” was for. But in the aftermath of Dan’s death, Alejandro’s work as a supporting cast member over the years informs what we see from the rest of the cast. They may not be bouncing off of him like they would when Dan was alive, but they’re able to channel what they did have with him for scenes like the one in the hospital waiting room or the one where Lucifer and Maze go get their revenge. The former is absolutely gutting (especially with Lesley-Ann Brandt and Scarlett Estevez’s performances), while the latter taps into a visceral rage. These are two very different scenes, but the emotion that Modrovich captures in her directorial debut is palpable.

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Dan’s death obviously matters on a grounded, human level, but ultimately, it’s also the first act of a celestial war. A war between a potential God who sees no value in human life (Michael) and a potential God who has only found value because of human life (Lucifer). And by the end of the episode, Lucifer is even more driven to become God—not just because he wants to prove he’s worthy but because he wants to fix a world and system that he believes is fundamentally broken.

Not bad for the “DevilCop” show.


Stray observations

  • Sorry for the delay on this one: I did not have internet to start the day. But at least that gave me more time to think about how sad Dan’s death was, so... Great.
  • If I remember correctly, there was a question of if there’d be repercussions for Amenadiel placing his necklace on Caleb Mayfield’s dead body back in “Super Bad Boyfriend” (which was also written by Jason Ning). We have our answer now.
  • Jophiel: “Yeah, Michael’s kind of a dick. He’s a massive dick. But he keeps the trains running, you know? He…”
    Lucifer: “Are you seriously telling me that Michael has got your vote because— Because he’s ‘the Devil you know?’ Do you have any idea how ironically infuriating that is?”
  • Lucifer (re: Odetta the Psychic): “My Dad did give some humans the gift, you know. Maybe this is one of the real ones.” I would like to know more about that.
  • Chloe?: “Where were you last night at 8 p.m.?”
    Odetta the Psychic: “Giving a reading to a programming exec... at FOX.”
    Lucifer: “Oh, good luck with that.” Hehe.
  • Dan: “You wanna be a cop?”
    Amenadiel: “Won’t it be great? I mean, we can even work together one day.”
    Dan: “Oh, yeah, yeah, an angel and a detective solving crimes, makes total sense.” Don’t overthink it.
  • I don’t know who Michael Voltaggio is, but based on the fact that he’s the “bad boy” of Top Chef, I feel like I now know everything I need to know about Saraqael.
  • Maze: “The whole soul thing, it isn’t for me. I’m the one who grew it, so I’m just gonna let it slowly suffocate and die. Like I did with Chad.”
    Linda: “Who’s Chad?”
    Maze: “Doesn’t matter.”
  • Aimee Garcia and Tom Ellis singing “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye” is probably my favorite musical number of the season, and they just had a whole musical episode.
  • Apparently, Scott Porter (who plays Dan’s former partner, Carol Corbett) announced back in September that he was joining the series for seasons five and six. So... Hello, Carol.
  • I’m curious to see if Lucifer will dig deeper into the fact that most of Lucifer’s “when I’m God” rhetoric boils down to creating a utopia. No war, no famine, no pain, no suffering. All good, all the time. Nothing difficult ever. Honestly, it’s kind of an immature way of seeing things. I have no doubt that Michael’s vision for what the world will look like when he’s God will be a bad one, but Lucifer’s vision... doesn’t even have centaurs.
  • I’ve seen criticism of Chloe’s decision to leave the police department, calling it her jumping the gun, but I actually liked it. But that’s also because I looked at the choice from a place of the show attempting to pull back on the copaganda to close things out. That, plus the decision to kill Dan (while he’s being an actual good cop), and Lucifer even saying, “The system is not only broken. It’s unjust.” But then you have the new cop character, Carol. And the fact that Lucifer’s not talking about the criminal justice system but instead the celestial one—and the universe as a whole. (Even though those words are very specific.) And Amenadiel deciding to become a cop. That one, I really don’t get (like Winston on New Girl), and I’d be curious to know if D.B. Woodside has spoken about it. I’d always imagined that if Amenadiel got a human job, he’d try to become a real therapist or counselor.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.