Lucifer, S2 E12 “Love Handles”
Written by Alex Katsnelson
Directed by Karen Gaviola
“So what, Amenadiel blessed Penelope’s lady parts?”
They say sharks can detect the smell of one part blood in one million parts water. Do I detect the faint odor of blood in the water from Lucifer jumping the shark? Signs of the apocalypse draw near. First, one criteria that a show has resorted to jumping the shark is the resurrection of dead characters. Lucifer bargained with God to save Decker’s life at the end of season one. Check! Second, familiar characters start behaving completely differently so as to advance the storyline. Decker spends the first third of this episode acting like someone we’ve never seen before. Check! Third, the “will they ever get together” relationship drama reaches a fever pitch of hysterically hyped-up pseudo-crises. Check! Fourth, what looks like a big leap forward in the action of the show turns out to all just be a dream. Check! Fifth, the villain is a freaking mad scientist. Check! Add to all of this that the show asks, not only what the meaning of life is, but whether freedom of choice exists in any meaningful way. That’s a lot for a TV show to carry. Further, Lucifer finds out that God created Decker for him and especially planted her in his path. He seems oddly upset by this. Most people spend much of their lives searching for the one soulmate destined to enter their lives by The Big Matchmaker in the Sky. On a positive note, Lucifer is the one show on TV where the main character could just as easily end up humping the shark as jumping it, while holding a drink in one hand and examining existential questions about the nature of reality, so all is not lost yet.
This week’s episode examines the question of free will and the possibility that choice is an illusion by way of a premise ripped from the Saw franchise. A masked sicko demands that a popular actor disfigure himself, or a college student chosen at random will die of poison. The actor can’t bring himself to destroy his face and thereby his livelihood, and so the student dies. Next, a renowned thoracic surgeon is told to mangle her hand, or another student will die. The surgeon feels bound by her oath to do no harm. Unlike the actor, she does what the sadist commands and plunges her hand into a garbage disposal. After she emails the proof of what she has done, a vial of antidote arrives at her house, just in time to save the life of the second student.
This gruesome slasher flick plotline plays out in counterpoint to a lighthearted look at Decker’s and Lucifer’s (possibly) deepening relationship. The kiss that ended last week’s episode extends into urgent, clothes-ripping foreplay at Lucifer’s apartment above Lux. Oh no, it turns out that that was all just a dream! Decker wakes up to find Maze watching her dream about what might be with Lucifer. Maze admonishes Decker to lighten up and take a chance on something actually happening in real life, so Decker spends the first part of the show dropping inappropriate innuendos and giggling at her own inane jokes. Her behavior is so odd that Lucifer doesn’t believe that her feelings for him are real. We don’t either. Either it was poorly written or poorly acted or both, because this part of the show fell flat. In keeping with the juvenile tone of this section, Decker and Lucifer find themselves at a college party, searching for the targeted student. Lucifer does beer bongs, and Decker messes up her hair like she’s trying to win a spot in the Sexy Cop Calendar.
Ella the Fantastic Forensics Female (she’s so good at her job that arguably Lucifer and Decker are completely irrelevant) discovers that one of last week’s rich shlubby slime-balls also died from poison, similar to but not exactly like the one used for this week’s murder. That priceless cargo smuggled in and stolen last week reappears this week as the complex designer poisons that are being used to kill the college students. The trail leads to a college professor whose horrible behavior cost the life of a young student and which was caught on YouTube. It went viral and ruined his life and his career. The professor was riding with an Uber driver when there was an accident that caused the car to flip over. Rather than help the young driver escape the vehicle, the professor grabbed the briefcase containing his precious dissertation and ran off, leaving the driver to die when the car exploded.
In order to justify his actions to a world that condemns him for his behavior, the professor arranges these sick experiments in order to demonstrate that anyone in his position would’ve done the same thing and that there is no such thing as free choice. The part where he explains how it is that he has no free will and that these poor people he tortures have to go through this ordeal gets a little murky. Decker and Lucifer track him to a laboratory where he has set up yet another sadistic situation. This time, he forces a track star to amputate his own leg, or another innocent student will die of poison. The mad determinist puts on a gas mask and releases poison gas so that if Decker and Lucifer enter the lab to try and save the students, they will die from the fumes. The professor escapes. Lucifer instructs Decker to run after him while he breaks into the lab and saves the students. He tells her there’s no time to explain how he can do this without harming himself. Lucifer waits until Decker’s pursuit takes her far enough away from him that he regains his invulnerability, enters the lab, and saves the victims (however, the show never explains how the two student victims in the room are not killed by the poison gas). Decker chases the professor on foot, finally cornering him in one of the college buildings. Telling Decker that his actions prove that there is no such thing as free will, the professor slits his own throat. I still don’t see how choosing to place people in impossible situations and then taking his own life proves his point that free will doesn’t exist. Perhaps it required alternative facts to which I did not have access.
All of this clunky dramatization of a supposed philosophical conundrum coincides with Mum’s decision to tell Lucifer that God planned for Lucifer and Chloe to meet. She tries to recruit Dr. Linda to break the news to Lucifer but Dr. Linda is having none of that. She then talks Maze into revealing the secret with her. They meet Lucifer in a dive bar. While Mum and Maze argue about whether to tell him that his father manipulated him into a relationship, Lucifer notices a photograph on the wall. The photograph is one of many which shows past patrons. This particular photograph shows Amenadiel sitting with Decker’s mother back in the day. No one likes to feel manipulated into a relationship, but then again, is it such a bad thing to discover that God has one special person for you?
The episode feels a little heavy on manufactured suspense. The events unfolding seem so over-the-top, and the winter finale isn’t even until next week. Unlike in some prior episodes, the examination of the meaning of life on this episode feels chaotic and underdeveloped. A mad scientist running around and forcing people to choose between maiming themselves and killing another hardly seems like a good fit for a discussion about free will. No one made him do these terrible things. They hardly demonstrated that he was blameless in his conduct after the car accident. Rather, they demonstrate that he is amoral and unhinged.
It does no good to pretend that we humans can know the unknowable. We cannot determine whether or not life really does have meaning, and if any of the choices that we make are truly the result of our own independent will. Therefore the only way to act is to pretend that, yes, what we do matters. Rather than throw up our hands and abdicate responsibility for all the terrible things that happen, we should watch every single Faith in Humanity Restored video on YouTube, binge on Win Army compilations, and accept our many mistakes. Just because God places a person in our paths does not guarantee that we will develop feelings, or act upon them, for that person. One thing that I think must be certain, though, is that we do not need to hurt other people to justify our own existence. I just wish that more people felt the same way. And I wish that Lucifer had delivered a clearer message to that effect.