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

In “The Angel Of San Bernardino,” Lucifer fully embraces its DevilCop roots

Illustration for article titled In “The Angel Of San Bernardino,” Lucifer fully embraces its DevilCop roots
Graphic: FOX

I’ve said it before, I’ll most likely say it again: Despite its classification as a procedural, that aspect of the show is the thing Lucifer cares least about. That’s technically a good thing, as the show’s more concerned with character development and interactions—as well as arcs and mythology—than the whole cop show part. But it’s also only “technically” a good thing because of how weak the cases-of-the-week tend to be. I’ve written before how these cases often feel like a necessary evil when it comes to the writing of the show, to the point that the series was never going to reach the procedural element heights of those shows it’s often compared to (Castle and, of course, Bones).


But that doesn’t mean it should abandon its procedural elements. First of all, Fox probably just wouldn’t allow that. Second of all, the show has already leaned into the whole “crime-fighting Devil” thing and how we shouldn’t “overthink it.” While the cases aren’t shooting anywhere near a perfect quality record, the reasoning behind the show focusing on them—and Lucifer being part of them—has always been sound. Devil punishing the wicked, you know?

So it was only a matter of time before Lucifer wrote its own love letter to the aspect of the show no one’s exactly writing love letters to. But the key to “The Angel Of San Bernardino” is that it doesn’t let this particular goal get in the way of the general story or any character development—it actually amplifies these things. And for those wondering how much this episode really sticks out from any other typical episode with a case-of-the-week, pay attention to the seemingly little things it does structurally that end up meaning a lot more. The cold open in this episode could honestly be from an episode of Castle or an early episode of Bones—before those Bones cold opens became experiments in complete absurdity, that is.

There’s also the music choice of (a cover of) “In The Air Tonight,” which leads to an homage to the Miami Vice pilot in this particular context.*

* Lucifer used a cover of the song before, in a different context. In “Quid Pro Ho,” Lucifer/Chloe were at their peak romantic potential of the series, with other characters devising a plan to manipulate that. Here, Lucifer and Chloe couldn’t be further apart in a romantic sense, and the attempt at manipulation doesn’t go as planned.

And as if there hasn’t been enough criticism of how easy Lucifer’s approach to the actual villains in the cases-of-the-week is, episode writer Jason Ning allows this episode to play into the standard procedure.


More outside-the-box, however, is Lucifer’s anti-sleep montage, which is—props to director Tara Nicole Weyr—one of the best sequences of the entire series. The montage perfectly captures that feeling of escalation that Lucifer needs to stay awake and the crashing low that this lifestyle clearly needs to reach in order to get better. (He refuses to get better though.) The ups and downs of “Turn Down For What” are absolutely perfect for this, as Lucifer resorts to cocaine, energy drinks, uppers, S&M, and underground fighting (a go-to procedural trope)… while he also attempts to get some cleaning done, build a bookshelf (I think), fight (I think) a clapping monkey toy, and something or other with a toy tricycle and a maid’s uniform. (“Semi-Charmed Life” could also fit for the purposes of this montage, but I’m not sure Lucifer’s stance on crystal meth.) Binge watching a television show is honestly the most normal—and most effective—choice he makes during this montage.


All because he doesn’t want to be manipulated by his father. Because it’s not like Lucifer is against saving people. However, to possibly do so in such a bold, angelic fashion—but unable to make a choice in the matter—is definitely not Lucifer’s jam. Which is exactly the point of this.

As if Lucifer’s week-long exercise in staying awake isn’t trippy enough, it’s actually the moment where he lands on—and becomes obsessed with—Bones that the episode cranks up the surrealism. (The most honest moment of the episode is Lucifer calling himself the Bones to Chloe’s Booth... then pretending to know a thing about forensics.) There’s something absolutely inspired about the fact that Lucifer actually hires Scott Rinker, the actor who played the killer in the Bones episode “Intern In The Incinerator,” to technically play himself here. It’s just a fascinating choice and storytelling gamble that pays off tremendously.


The rest of the episode post-montage features Lucifer in a frazzled, nearly broken state, to the point where he looks like he’s going to have a psychotic breakdown if he hasn’t already. At first, it seems like things will come to a head in the interrogation room scene with Chloe (aka the scene where Lucifer’s stubbornness re: his wings really comes back to bite him in the ass). There, Lucifer finally takes Dr. Linda’s advice and confronts something that’s been bothering him, head-on—he even tells Chloe that Pierce is “Cain. From the Bible.”—but it’s too late and too “crazy” sounding (and looking) for her. Then we get the moment where Lucifer learns Maze and Pierce are working together, with the subsequent Miami Vice homage, and Lucifer finally going after Pierce. From the montage on, Tom Ellis spends the rest of the episode looking absolutely terrible (as much as he can), even in what should be his triumphant moment in finding Pierce to deal with him. But even as he confronts Pierce, even as he overpowers him, Lucifer still looks defeated. It’s quite frankly, pretty hard to watch.

Looking at the actual “Angel of San Bernardino” concept, at first, this episode’s premise looks like Lucifer’s version of Angel (another David Boreanaz joint) season one’s (the show at its most procedural) “Somnambulist.” In that episode, Angel finds himself possibly sleep-killing—similar to the way Lucifer thinks he might be sleep-flying (and sleep-saving lives). In both of these episodes, neither man actually ends up responsible for these things, but Lucifer makes a very bold choice in having its issue be a matter of Maze gaslighting Lucifer.


After all her acting out in the Amenadiel/Linda situation (and with Lucifer’s refusal to take her back to Hell), Maze’s behavior in this episode is finally rather indefensible. “She’s a fricken demon.” doesn’t count as defense. She actively betrays Lucifer—which is a big no-no for her—and takes a sick amount of pleasure in both that and potentially causing Chloe emotional pain. She even wears fake wings just to pull all this off. And for what? For Lucifer to send her back to Hell? He’s not going to give her what she wants, not like this. And what about when she pretends to want to reconcile with Chloe? Maze doesn’t appear to be coming from a place of hurt or even anger anymore: It all seems just like pure, unadulterated hatred.

To be clear, I acknowledge that Pierce has warped her mind and convinced her that all the doubt she had when it came to these people was real. Maze is filling a role she believes everyone truly sees her as. But she’s got to take responsibility for these actions eventually.


And as hard as it is to watch, Lesley-Ann Brandt’s performance as she reveals her (and Pierce’s) evil plan to Lucifer is amazingly chilling. Maze is of course written as a character who can kick ass, but she’s so rarely—arguably never—written as a character whose joy in the darker things is actually disturbing. There’s usually a lot of “oh, Maze” from characters when it comes to her behavior; but there is no “oh, Maze” in her scene with Lucifer, at least not in the standard lovable rogue way. It’s always been a pretty agreed upon position that Lucifer is mostly a crappy friend to Maze. But this is many steps too far, especially when you take into account that Chloe (and especially Trixie, as a result) did nothing wrong for Maze to take so much pleasure (that’s the demon, I guess) in her potential suffering.

To wrap this up: This episode would’ve been an A if not for the general confusion stemming from the Chloe/Pierce relationship. As good as this episode is about making these characters’ feelings work, there’s the question of how much time has passed between “Orange Is The New Maze” and now, to even put “I love you” on the table. (The very concept of time is only even addressed when Chloe informs Lucifer he’s been MIA for a week.) As Chloe says, this is her first relationship post-divorce. Arguably, it’s her rebound. And she’s just now getting around to telling Trixie about him. After a month? Maybe? There’s also the matter of filling in the blanks better about why Pierce thinks getting Chloe to say she loves him is the key. “Let Pinhead Sing!” gave Pierce the light bulb moment to pursue Chloe for this purpose, but his specific reasoning—and how he got Maze to think he was onto something—is disappointingly unclear here.


Even without those answers, it is kind of darkly funny to realize that the true key to losing the mark of Cain was (presumably) to finally feel some guilt, to show some remorse of any kind. After all this time. To finally come from a selfless place, something I’ve regularly mentioned Pierce just don’t do. Until now.*

* Despite being good at it, Pierce’s cop status is shown to be mostly about climbing the ladder, gaining access, having the ability to transfer at the drop of a hat, and even just having a challenge in his eternal life. A selfless desire to save people or even rid the world of evil has never once come up when it comes to his profession. The time he took a bullet for Chloe... was a suicide attempt.


Stray observations

  • The real best part of this episode is the fact that Chloe/Pierce apparently only have sex with all their clothes on. They’re both Never Nudes, apparently.
  • Chloe: “Hey, Ella—what’s up?”
    Ella: “You tell me what’s up, playa.” Chloe gives Ella a “not in front of Lucifer” look, but the more important reaction is Lucifer’s. He knows Chloe/Pierce are an item, but he doesn’t know they’re having sex all over the place. Tom Ellis plays Lucifer’s reaction to this exchange (and “You have DNA on your shirt.”) like he knows he should know something’s up… but he’s not really sure, Because the Detective would never have sex at work (and he’s not going to consider the possibility).
  • Lucifer: “I don’t understand why humans waste so much time resisting their desires.” Pot, kettle, etc. Also, this line makes me realize—because desire is literally part of his being—Lucifer can’t fully understand the concept of becoming destructively dependent on these vices. For example, I’m pretty sure Lucifer could do the aforementioned crystal meth and be fine; that’s not the case for an actual human.
  • Lucifer and Amenadiel’s pacing when they think Lucifer is the Angel of San Bernardino: It’s just a very familial thing for the characters to do, as much as they go on about being polar opposites.
  • Charlotte (to Ella): “And you: You’re pretty great, actually.”
    Ella: “Uh, thanks?”
  • Dan calls Amenadiel to talk to Charlotte, because he still believes Amenadiel is her stepson. Oh, Daniel.
  • Charlotte: “The second I thought I had a free pass—excuse not to be good—I relapsed into my old ways. Into who I really am. There’s no hope for me, Amenadiel. I can’t change. I’m going to Hell.” Amenadiel is wrong to fear that divinity is“too big for [a human] to handle” in this case. (In fact, the actual celestial beings are worse about it.) He should be worried about how much of a work in progress Charlotte is. Perhaps she is his test.
  • This is the second episode we see Lucifer with a flicker of his Devil eyes, lasting longer this time. Both times have been during moments of righteous—deeply emotional—rage and desire for punishment. They’ve also been in front of fires, making it easier for characters like Ella’s brother and the killer here to think it’s just a trick of the light.

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.