Graphic: Ray Mickshaw (FOX)

Let’s just get this out of the way now: The case-of-the-week in “Infernal Guinea Pig” is laughably underdeveloped and not integral to the actual point of this week’s episode at all. A South American cartel is the larger focus for the entire case, yet it manages to be such a small potatoes story compared to something like last week’s high school reunion. And the murderer and her motivation are also so obvious from her first scene (which isn’t atypical for the show), to the point where it’s not so much a matter of the show tipping the character’s hand early as it is a clear example of bad acting on an otherwise well-acted episode and show. That can also be blamed on how unimportant the case-of-the-week is, as it forgoes the standard, usual suspect-style casting choices in favor of the one important casting choice for Pierce’s (well, Cain’s) brother Abel. This case-of-the-week merely exists to have Chloe miss Lucifer as a partner and feel neglected by him—and slightly betrayed by Pierce—and eventually put her in harm’s way, as well as to have a reason for the existence of Bree/Abel.*

As far as Lucifer and cases-of-the-week go, this one is so far down on the list that it’s impressive, especially for such an otherwise integral episode of the third season. So the question is: Is there even a way to approach this episode and keep it as successful as it is (in other aspects) with a compelling version of the case-of-the-week? Possibly, but it would most likely require a two-part episode approach to this—which actually would have been nice—one which would have provided more color for the Bree (Lauren Lapkus) character before she becomes Abel. Then again, at the bare minimum, the episode’s temporary suggestion that Bree was in league with the cartel requires an absolute lack of knowledge about the character. There’s no other set-up, which is kind of the name of the game with “Infernal Guinea Pig”: Above all else, this episode has a lot of material that feels rushed as a whole because of episodic constraints. It has all the makings of a phenomenal Lucifer episode—from the overall acting to the character beats to the plot choices—but it has no room to allow any of it to build or breathe. By the way, in between his bizarre love triangle with Linda and Maze, Amenadiel found the time to also constantly track Lucifer.

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* While the running joke of the episode is Pierce, especially, having trouble with pronouns when it comes to Bree/Abel, I’m going to use Bree/she when it’s specifically about that character (which is rare, outside of case-of-the-week discussion) and Abel/he for the rest of it. Both are played by Lauren Lapkus, though the former is one we only see her play in the form of sleep and subsequent flatlining.

On the surface, the casting of Lapkus is one against type—until you actually look at the obvious casting choice when it comes to the Bree “character” and then the fact that Abel could easily (and probably should, moving forward) be one of Lapkus’ improv characters. Perhaps one of the titular Characters, even! On a personal level, I made my excitement about Lapkus’ casting known, and thankfully, it’s also a choice that works for the character. Lucifer had me at: “Allow me to bless you with my seed.” And it doesn’t just work in the “haha, Abel’s a girl” way, because the joke aspect of the choice for Abel’s meatsuit—with Pierce wanting it to be a joke, something he’s absolutely jazzed for—only comes before he even makes it out of Hell. It’s a smart creative choice that, in Pierce’s childish desire to see Abel in a terrible body, he doesn’t even dwell on Bree’s female body as a choice. The jokes are in Abel’s straightforwardness, a straightforwardness that greatly exists because he spends most of this time believing he’s still in Hell. (Yes, he’s still a creep after he realizes, but this creep also has a reverence for powerful women like Chloe and Charlotte that is understandable.) Lapkus plays Abel as “caveman Lucifer,” while also playing him as a broken (“trapped,” but not unable to function) man who’s just going through the motions until the inevitable killer Cain part of the loop.

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It’s also key to address that Abel—as the first soul tortured in Hell—is as aware as you possibly can be when it comes to Hell and the loop. It’s not just a vague memory of Hell, it’s a memory of every form of torture he’s endured, as the first person to get the Hell experience before they ever worked out the bugs. Knowing that, there’s something special about the moment Abel shoots Pierce, with the look of excitement and joy on his face—belief that he finally beat his perpetual torturer—which is just as quickly replaced by absolute fear once Pierce awakens, free to kill him for the umpteenth time. And the way he begs him to make it quick? It really doesn’t help Pierce’s argument as the one who has no reason to feel any guilt.

Also, remember when Pierce felt like a mature, possibly well-adjusted character? That quickly ceased to exist in his interactions with Dan, but it really deteriorated around the time of his Lux fight with Amenadiel. The maturity is pretty much all gone here, as he’s in such petty brother mode that there are even more red flags surrounding him now than there were when he was partners with a serial killer:

Lucifer: “How much do you hate your brother, on a scale of one to 10?”
Pierce: “1,000… infinity… plus one.”

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That is also after he learns that Abel is in Hell (as the “infernal guinea pig” for Torture 101), a point that doesn’t so much make him feel guilty as it pleases him to confirm that “Abel was the asshat.” When it comes to the Pierce situation, Lucifer and Amenadiel continue to trade hurtful verbal barbs in this episode. But at the center of all that is a valid argument about family dynamics, an argument that most likely won’t end with either one attempting to kill the other. Pierce, on the other hand, apparently killed his brother for being an “asshat.” Really think about that one.

Then there’s the reverse Meet Joe Black ending (saving the vehicular manslaughter for the finish instead of the intro), which, now that I think about it: Abel really is a Joe Black type character. He’s a lecherous Joe Black, but if the woman’s shoe fits... The ending provides hope—both for Pierce and for Lucifer’s storytelling possibilities—in just a matter of seconds before ripping it away, again, in a matter of seconds. As Pierce says his brother’s return to the living (sort of) provides him “hope” (in breaking the curse) for the first time in a long time, there’s the moment where Abel relives his “I’m walking here!” taxi moment from earlier in the episode. Lucifer’s amused by how brazen he is, and Pierce is annoyed; there’s an opportunity now for Pierce to be his brother’s keeper, making sure to do everything he can to keep Abel alive this time around. But before that possibility can even be explored, Abel’s hit by an ambulance, supposedly nothing left of him—or Pierce’s hope—but one of Bree’s shoes. Pierce’s reaction immediately ends the episode, leaving absolutely no room for the audience to breathe after he screams out “no.”’

Earlier in the episode, Amenadiel reminds Lucifer that it’s “dangerous” to anger Father, and this is arguably the result of that warning. One of God’s cosmic paybacks, if you will, especially as it hurts Pierce—someone He has absolutely no problem punishing—even more. At the same time, it’s also the result of that pesky “free will” thing, as Abel has the free will to not jaywalk. Yet despite his supposed adaptability, he refuses to adapt there. It’s also worth noting that while Pierce and Abel have their “even-steven” moment at the end, none of it actually turns Pierce into a character who feels remorse for what he did to his brother or guilt for what his brother went through in Hell. This episode makes it clear that Pierce still sees nothing wrong in what he did—even after he witnesses his brother plead with him, in real life, to make his death quick this time—and he only works as hard to keep Abel alive this time as a way to eventually end his own life.

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Lucifer breaks up with Pierce at the end of the episode because of the Chloe of it all, but I’d argue he’d already realized he’d made a huge mistake when Pierce explains just how fine he is with killing his brother in the first place. Regardless of what he learns about Abel and Hell, Pierce still sees it all through the lens of him just being “the guy who won the fight.” The episode allows for plenty of sympathy on Abel’s end, but those opportunities where the same can be granted to Pierce, he does nothing to earn them. Also, Lucifer appears to officially be done comparing himself to Pierce here; after all, they have wildly different opinions on brother-murdering, and while Lucifer blames himself for something that could have happened, Pierce blames himself for nothing.

The most unexpected emotional beat in the episode, however, is Charlotte’s reveal about her memory of Hell. Despite this episode featuring a lot of talk about Hell loops, Charlotte’s description is a shock to the system. Whenever the character talks about her issues, there’s always a sense that she only has a vague understanding—if any—about what she experienced. But here we learn she has a very vivid memory of what Hell was like for her, which only varied in the form of which one of her former clients shot her family members. “I just smile, while my family is killed. I don’t move a muscle. Because I’m the reason that it’s happening. I’m the reason that he’s free. And then I wake up…” And then she does it all over again. While brotherly issues are on full display this week, alongside Maze’s continued frustration with all things Amenadiel/Linda (Aminda? Linenadiel??) and Chloe’s feelings of neglect, Charlotte’s therapy session with Linda is almost an afterthought after the initial scene. Until this moment. So let’s just appreciate for a moment how many shockingly heartbreaking scenes Tricia Helfer has been an integral part of since season two, especially since neither version of the Charlotte Richards character is tailor-made to be the emotional core of this series.

And just to be clear: None of this heavy stuff negates the fact that this episode begins with Lucifer storytelling via confusingly-drawn Cain and Abel stick figures. Like I said, this episode covers a lot.

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Stray observations

  • Charlotte only sleeps four hours a day and considers that a waste of four hours. I feel her.
  • As this episode talks about characters remembering their Hell loops, let’s not forget how Reese remained blissfully ignorant during “Off The Record.” As I wrote in that review, truly was the type of person to never learn from his mistakes, despite being given plenty of “outs” (or at least opportunities to possibly change things) during the loop.
  • Abel: “Does ‘no’ not mean ‘no’ anymore?” Abel is apparently woke. He also doesn’t go into a gay panic, he just makes it clear that men aren’t his “thing.”
  • As for why Abel’s in Hell though (other than the “asshat” thing), Maze even says all he really cares about is boobs and food. If we’re going Seven Deadly Sins, that knocks down two of them as reasons for Abel’s situation. Based on Pierce’s argument though, there’s also the possible guilt that Abel has for not killing his brother first. God should really look into the two dick brothers he made.
  • Maze: “Decker’s right—you’re cute.” Maze casually drops obviously privileged girls night information, doesn’t she? Also, Maze mocking the way Pierce walks early on and Lucifer agreeing? Beautiful.
  • Pierce (sarcastic): “Thanks for the heads up.”
    Maze: “You said you wanted to die. Make up your mind, cupcake.” These two.
  • Maze may not have unresolved issues about her past romantic relationship with Amenadiel, but it kind of sounds like Amenadiel does.
  • Chloe (re: 2 Deep 2 Plunge): “I get it. It’s funny.” It’s not, but Chloe almost blew up just before this moment, so I’ll allow it.
  • Lucifer needs to really help Charlotte, anyway he can. It’s been unfair since her return and actual introduction that she’s had to live with all of these questions, but to know in even more detail just what she’s going through, this isn’t exactly something dinner with Dan or drinks with Ella can fix.
  • What are the chances Abel’s soul is not going back to Hell? God would, the little prankster...

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