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

It’s a real series of unfortunate events in Lucifer’s “Daniel Espinoza: Naked And Afraid”

Image of D.B. Woodside and Kevin Alejandro in Netflix's Lucifer
D.B. Woodside and Kevin Alejandro star in Lucifer
Photo: John P. Fleenor/Netflix

In case you missed it, season five was originally supposed to be Lucifer’s final season. The noir episode, the musical episode, Maze trying to return things to Season One status, physical Easter Eggs, the very presence of God. Even the current status of the Lucifer/Chloe relationship—and the sidelining of Chloe as a result—falls into the realm of a final season stretch. But the crowning achievement of these “final season” choices might just be “Daniel Espinoza: Naked And Afraid.” Especially as a reminder of Dan being a crowning achievement when it comes to the way this show handles character development and actor t.

Advertisement

Written by Mike Costa and directed by Greg Beeman, “Daniel Espinoza: Naked And Afraid” is full of callbacks and references to the series’ past—in a way that works for the story at hand, not just for the, “Hey, I remember that.” of it all. Instead of coming across like the series has run out of gas in the home stretch, this episode—even before the reveal—feels like a character’s past finally coming back to haunt him. Both the Los X’s and the Russians are a strong reminder of the ecosystem in which these characters exist, but they’re also a reminder of the things Dan has gotten away with, even after redeeming himself as a person (the show redeeming him as a character). Because it’s still amazing that this or any Dan-centric plot works at all—in terms of humor, sympathy, empathy—considering how unlikable (at best) he was in the first season.

“Detective Douche” wasn’t just an affectionate nickname at the time, it was the single best way to describe him on network television. As this episode brought up “Palmetto” and the kind of corrupt coward Dan used to be, I couldn’t help but remember just how much people wanted him to die or go to prison by the end of Season One. But then came improv. And pudding. Slowly but surely, Dan has gone from the jerk whose comeuppance you long to see to the loveable punching bag of the show. At Dan’s worst, it always felt like Kevin Alejandro was far too talented to be playing such a one-note character. Since then, Alejandro has regularly proven that talent. And here, he truly outdoes himself.

“Daniel Espinoza: Naked And Afraid” is such a showcase for Alejandro, as he is called on to play an escalating sense of fatigue and frustration and pain, scene-by-scene. He’s in every scene of this episode, so it’s difficult to pick out just one thing he does. But I’d say that Dan’s manic energy in the scene with the Russian bookkeeper (before she hits him with a baseball bat) is truly something else, challenged only by his goofy earnestness during his speech at LUX, calling for peace between the gangs. The latter is especially impressive, as I even went from thinking about how dapper Dan looks in the previous scene—like a true “Joe Stone”—to thinking he looks like a kid who’s forced to wear a suit for his birthday party—like a true “Dan Espinoza.”

This episode is a wild ride. Stylistically a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez joint and narratively a Pink Panther-esque farce, “Daniel Espinoza: Naked And Afraid” manages to be simultaneously hilarious and worrying. Yes, you’re worried about all of the very real concussions Dan gets throughout, but does that make all the times he gets said concussions any less funny? Absolutely not. It’s also brilliant, not just because of the callbacks but because of the intricacy of the ultimate callback. Yes, this is the result of Lucifer’s “OPERATION PAYBACK DAN” from “Spoiler Alert.” But most importantly, the “OPERATION PAYBACK DAN” whiteboard is actually integral to the plan. The whiteboard that includes Dan’s schedule—featuring his morning routine, which we open with here—as well as ideas like “send him to Tijuana,” the calculated trajectory of his car crashing (originally, it was supposed to go off a cliff), “hates dogs,” “severed head in a box” (which also calls back to the original introduction of the Russians) and “kidnap.” Lucifer also mapped where all of the “death blows” would be on Dan, which… he did manage to avoid.

As Lucifer points out at the end, he included “so many Easter Eggs from our previous adventures” (“Did you spot them all?”) during this prank. As mentioned earlier, Los X’s and the Russians are the most obvious ones, as they were responsible for some classic Dan and Maze messarounds. (Which is why it makes a lot of sense that Maze is the only one Lucifer let in on the prank.) But there are also bits like the poison/antidote aspect (the Professor Carlisle arc in Season Two), Dan’s past love of improv, and even the titular concept of Dan waking up naked and afraid (only without a pink tracksuit or *NSYNC shirt in sight). And as elaborate and immersive as this prank is, it feels a lot like the kidnapping service from the Season Three premiere—Dan even ends up stranded in the desert, just like Lucifer.

Advertisement

Ultimately, Lucifer sees everything that happens in this episode as a lesson he’s teaching Dan for shooting him at the end of 5A. This is Dan’s punishment, in Lucifer’s mind. Dan, instead, takes it as his Homer-like odyssey, learning about himself in the process. As he even tells Lucifer, “It’s crazy, but I think I needed this. I’ve been in a really weird place for a long time. And I think I’m through it now. I can’t explain it. But you really helped me.” And the reason Dan really needed this now is because of something he says to his former buddy Luis (Wilmer Calderon) while they’re drinking:

“Because if God is like you and me, that means He’s fallible. He makes mistakes. And if God can make a mistake, what does that say about the universe? I mean, who’s even in charge? How could anything even matter anymore?”

Advertisement

Dan’s not just scared of going to Hell at this point—he’s hopeless. He’s given up. And the events of “Daniel Espinoza: Naked And Afraid,” as heightened as they are, are necessary for Dan to regain his hope and some clarity. Because, to quote that definitive line from Angel, “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.” Lucifer tells Dan he knew he’d never give up, because at every opportunity to do so, “I knew that your oafish optimism would keep you going.” Lucifer continues, “I suppose I realized that whenever you’re given a choice, you always at least try and do the right thing.” (As for any other predictions of Dan’s actions or him surviving every hit to the head, keep this in mind: “Crime-solving Devil, it makes sense / Don’t overthink it.”)

Dan just wants to help. And he wants to keep his loved ones safe in the process. There’s a reason he refuses to tell Chloe, Ella, Linda, and Amenadiel—who he’d consider his “good” and “righteous” friends—what’s going on here, as opposed to Lucifer and Maze—who he knows aren’t afraid to color outside the lines. After all, Dan and Maze “killed a guy together.” And Lucifer is the Devil. In fact, Dan doesn’t even go to Lucifer as a friend in this episode—as an early sign that he’s given up is that he won’t verbally spar with Lucifer at the precinct—he goes to him as the favor granter. So, that need to help, even when things truly look helpless, explains every crazy thing that happens to Dan in this episode. It’s not the universe out to get him. It’s simply:

“Because you fucking shot me, Daniel.”


Stray observations

  • Commenters, I’m curious to know when (or if) you knew something wasn’t quite right in this episode. On my initial watch, for a moment, I got worried and wondered if this was somehow Dan’s Hell loop. (Mike Costa also wrote Lucifer’s original solo epic, “Off The Record.”) But I figured out something was off (in terms of this being a goof, as you can tell instantly that Luis is not to be trusted) when Lucifer brought up that he can’t be around the Russians, because of his history with them. As far as we know, Lucifer’s history with the Russians started at the same time as Dan and Maze’s. Upon rewatch, the new giveaway moment for me also came from Lucifer, just much earlier. It’s when Dan heads to the penthouse to ask Lucifer a favor. Lucifer’s at his piano—absolutely normal—playing a classical piece that completely reads as a faux innocent, “I’m totally not doing anything” affectation.
  • As Alejandro has said in multiple interviews about this episode, Beeman had a very distinct visual language he wanted—something I’ve appreciated about Beeman’s directing since his Smallville days—and that language was that of a mini-movie, culminating in the bloodbath at the very end. You could honestly mute this episode and it would still be just as compelling of a watch because of that.
  • Unrelated to Lucifer’s influence, Dan’s apartment is decorated with Wesley Cabot movie posters. But luckily for Dan, Lucifer didn’t do the “fake new Weaponizer” prank.
  • Dan: “Well, I know you’re the Devil now. You come at me with these sort of funny, kind of clever insults, I give back. We go into a little insult dance, and that’s a Tuesday. But now everything’s changed.”
    Lucifer: “Don’t be ridiculous, Daniel. Nothing’s changed. I’m still the same person: charming, beloved. And you’re still the same person too: useless, tolerated.”
    Dan: “Hmm. Doesn’t have the same effect anymore. It’s like being teased by Genghis Khan or Darth Vader.”
    Lucifer: “I’m not some bloody villain, Daniel.” Would a bloody villain do… all of this?
  • Luis: “You never look in the box.” To be fair, Dan didn’t look in the box on purpose. Because he knows: Whenever he opens a box, it’s either a head or a bomb.
  • Despite its “bonus” episode status, Lucifer clearly sees “Boo Normal” as an integral part of the mythology. It did introduce another angelic sibling after all. Here, there are references to the episode in the form of Ella’s novel (about the forensic scientist who talks to ghosts) and both Dan’s luck when it comes to losing fugitives and his intense fear of heights.
  • It’s one scene, but one scene is really all you need when it comes to Linda helping Dan out with his “Joe Stone” cover. Of the three moments of Dan looking for outside help (from Ella, Amenadiel, and Linda), I think this scene might be my favorite.
  • The fact that the only hired “actors” in the prank were Dan’s old improv team really gets me. Lucifer just got a bunch of gang members to get super into acting. Though, in the case of Los X’s, these particular members really seemed to be all about reform (and being paid by Lucifer). Which is good, because Los X’s actually have plenty of reasons to want to kill Dan (and Maze). Unless they resolved that during their therapy session with Lucifer.
  • In terms of their “tough” looks, one of the members of the improv troupe truly just has on a rasta beanie. That was his idea of “tough.” Yes.
  • Much like the Imagine Dragons “Believer” bit in “Resting Devil Face,” Lucifer comes up with the only appropriate time to play Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” a song with an infuriating title.
Advertisement

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.