Monthly Archives: April 2018

Lucifer and The Good Place

You know how I feel about a good story, regardless of format.

Lucifer and The Good Place are both good stories while being very different.  The Good Place is light-hearted and humorous, with relatable characters who seem simple on the surface.  Contrarily, Lucifer is a murder mystery show, darker by definition, with characters who transcend the natural plane.  But, at their core, both shows contemplate questions humanity has been wrestling with since our inception, questions about the nature of good and evil, what it means to be human, and what happens when we die.  And, one of the most important: whether or not a person can be redeemed.  Or change.

In both shows, the answer is yes, with one huge “but.”  The road to redemption isn’t easy.

Eleanor Shellstrop, the main character of The Good Place, grew up with parents so wrapped up in drugs, alcohol, and themselves that they neglected her entirely.  Selfishness and self-reliance were not just coping mechanisms but survival tactics.

Tahani’s parents were emotionally abusive.  No matter what she did, it wasn’t enough to please them.  No wonder she became obsessed with how she appeared to others, constantly seeking the approval and validation they never gave her.

The show doesn’t say anything about Chidi’s early home life, but it makes it pretty clear that he suffers from anxiety.  He combats it by following a moral code so strict and nitpicking that it often prevents him from living at all.

And Michael?  He is literally a demon.  It is his very nature to be evil.

In order to become good people, they have to do two things.  They have to let go of what is outside their control and decide for themselves to be good.  Eleanor seeks Chidi out and asks for help, something she couldn’t do with her parents.  Tahani literally passes her test (and I don’t care what the judge says, she did pass her test) once she confronts her family and is able to recognize that she doesn’t need their approval.  Chidi fails his, but a few minutes later, he is able to do what he couldn’t at first and make his own choice by recognizing that his anxiety can factor into his decisions without overtaking them entirely.  And Michael becomes part of Team Cockroach and literally goes against his fellow demons while figuratively fighting his personal one.  He chooses to become “human” instead of staying a demon, but he does it with and for the four humans he cares about.

And that’s the other trick: they have to do it together.

Chidi teaches the others how to think in terms of ethics and morality, but Eleanor teaches him to live in the moment and consider how those morals look in day-to-day life.  She teaches Tahani to examine her motivations while Tahani teaches them both how to care for others and think of their true impact.  Michael takes this all in and teaches them, through example, that they can still change.  Anyone can.

Lucifer explores the same concept with higher stakes: the Devil himself.  Who is more trapped by external factors than him, the Lord of Hell himself, constantly blamed for all of humanity’s short-comings?  He leaves Hell to shed the image and to quit playing a role.  Once on Earth, he begins to examine his feelings and motivations with his therapist, Linda.  Plus, he finds himself physically and figuratively mortal with Chloe, proving its the humanity in others that helps us find our own.

Lucifer’s problem is that there is always that last obstacle he can’t overcome: his determination not to play into his father’s plan.  Every time he thinks his father is manipulating him, even a little, he immediately does the exact opposite of the “right” thing.  He ignores what other people want or need and focuses on rebelling to prove he’s his own man.

As both a writer and someone who has studied the art of storytelling, I have a theory the show won’t end until Lucifer has truly redeemed himself, until he’s proven he can be both good and his own being.  Since that’s the core of the story, they’ll drag it out until the end.  So what are we learning in the meantime?

Besides the fact that redemption is possible no matter who you are, it suggests redemption is possible no matter how many times you fuck it up at first.

The Good Place says the same thing.  These people get better once the scales have stopped weighing and “that’s not supposed to be possible” according to Michael.  And in Lucifer, he takes one step forward and ten thousand back…but he always gets that chance to take one more step forward.

Fiction is so important because it allows us to consider other perspectives but also because it can encourage and inspire us in ways we would never imagine.  These stories give me hope: no matter what you’ve done, it is never too late to do the right thing, to learn from others, to define yourself.  It is a new moment.  Live like it.

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