*Spoilers for Lucifer Season 5B ahead*
One of the things I’ve always liked best about Lucifer is how openly it’s shown the benefits of therapy and the necessity of tackling our trauma. Every character on the show deserves an ode to the hard work they’ve done during their self-improvement journey over the course of the series, but it’s Dan Espinoza who has always been the most fascinating to me in that regard, in large part because it could have so easily gone in a different direction. Lucifer and Chloe are our main characters, it’s a given that they’re going to get an arc where they grow and change, but there are plenty of examples in other shows where a character like Dan stays very one-note. There were moments in the early episodes of Lucifer when Dan was…less than ideal, let’s say. Remember when he gaslit Chloe about Palmetto Street?! With less talented writers and without a delicate and always earnest performance from Kevin Alejandro, Dan could have easily become one of those characters. The ones who become so unlikeable that the audience becomes annoyed whenever they’re on screen, pulling time away from other characters’ stories. Instead, we got to root for him as he worked to become a better person, even when it would have been easier for him to stop trying, and simply give in to some of his darker impulses.
He was, first and foremost, always a good dad to Trixie, which is a mark in the favor of any man and the thing that kept him centered no matter what. His friendships with Amenadiel and Ella were always a source of support, and while his adventures with Maze didn’t always bring out the best in him, he always ended up learning something about himself. Finding love with Charlotte, even his improv classes, all of it has helped him along the way in his internal tug of war. We saw Dan go to Linda for therapy at the end of Season 4 to help him process Charlotte’s death, but like all true self-improvement, it’s about taking what you learn in therapy and bringing it with you out into your everyday life. The New Age “live, laugh, love” style self-help to try and move past his darkness in the first part of Season 5 was mostly played for laughs, but did genuinely seem to center him at least somewhat. It was a start.
But in a fantastic twist, it was Dan’s Best Frenemy Forever, Lucifer, who truly helped Dan finally shake off what was dragging him down and come out the other side in his struggle for redemption and tranquility within himself. The entirety of episode 512, “Daniel Espinoza: Naked and Afraid,” was a multimillion dollar prank enacted by Lucifer as payback for Dan shooting him. Our Detective Douche really goes through the wringer: multiple concussions, non-stop Murphy’s Law style disasters, car crashes, gangs, a shootout. Luci really went for it. It’s so wonderfully on brand for this show that something so outlandish ended up being meaningful. Dan had the worst day of his life but was still standing at the end of it, and sure, there are definitely easier ways for most people to have the revelation that sometimes doing the best you can in life really is enough, but most people aren’t regularly wrapped up in the shenanigans of the Devil, so… Much to his dismay, Lucifer inadvertently buoys Dan even further by revealing that that the entire plan hinged on Dan being determined to do the right thing at every turn. (The fact that these two delude themselves into thinking they’re not friends is hilarious. Who was it that Dan called when he was absolutely desperate and needed help? And Lucifer getting Dan a pudding tower for the prank afterparty at Lux? Please.) Dan later tells Chloe that “it was a pretty transformative experience for me. In a good way.” It’s a powerful feeling to be thrown into the deep end and realize that you can swim.
Sadly, Dan didn’t get to enjoy it for long, and was killed in the penultimate episode of the season as a horrific means to an end in Michael’s quest for power. Poor Dan. I had a terrible hunch going into Season 5B that he wasn’t going to make it out alive, and this is one of those times when I hate to be right. Little tidbits that possibly foreshadowed his fate were sprinkled throughout 5B’s episodes: Dan loudly proclaiming that he was definitely going to Hell, and then proceeding to sing a song called “Hell,” in “Bloody Celestial Karaoke Jam,” (yikes), and then God very briefly killing him before undoing it (double yikes). But I knew for sure he was a goner in episode 511, “Resting Devil Face,” when Chloe reassured Trixie that no matter what happens, Chloe and Dan will always be her parents and will love her no matter what. It just seemed too poignant of a statement to not be something that would break our hearts on a rewatch, knowing that Dan wasn’t long for this world.
Making his loss even worse, Amenadiel couldn’t find him in Heaven, Dan having damned himself to Hell with all the guilt he still harbored. It may just be optimism, or the stubborn refusal to believe in anything other than a happy ending, but I think Dan might still be able to nurture the best parts of himself in the the most improbable of circumstances yet again. Kevin Alejandro and showrunners Joe Henderson and Ildy Modrovich have already stated in interviews that Dan will appear in Season 6, and while that could simply be through flashbacks, the Season 5 finale potentially set up a great arc for Dan in the show’s last season, in the form of our old buddy Lee Garner — aka Mr. Said Out Bitch — of all people! When Lucifer lands in Heaven to bring Chloe’s soul back to Earth, he’s shocked to be greeted by Lee, who has done the seemingly impossible and tackled the guilt that trapped him in his Hell loop, allowing him to ascend up to the Silver City. It’s a beautiful message really, that it’s never too late to tackle your demons (metaphorically speaking of course, tackling Maze would not be a good idea) and be at peace with yourself. An ending like that for Dan’s character would strike the perfect balance of being satisfying without lessening the impact that his death had on the other characters. I’m hesitant to make such a sweeping prediction because Lucifer has always excelled at delivering the unexpected, so we’ll see when Season 6 is released. Until then, I’ll be hoping that Dan’s sometimes crazy journey of self-improvement has one last story to give.