For Americans, Thanksgiving dinner is rapidly approaching, and for some, it will be a welcome delight, one that they may not have been able to participate in last year because of the pandemic. For others, it will be…not quite so delightful. Dynamics are easy to fall back into, especially when everyone is trapped together in close quarters around the table. It depends on the family in question whether sitting through tense silence or risking conversation is more painful. It may be so bad that a big family meal seems like a version of Hell, which brings us to our topic today: one of my favorite scenes in Lucifer Season 5, the titular meal in the aptly named episode “Family Dinner.”
Sniping siblings, old resentments bubbling to the surface, parental disappointment, the awkward in-law — this scene has it all. At the end of the previous episode, God has finally come to Earth, and now he wants to have a meal with sons Lucifer, Michael, and Amenadiel. What a lovely thing for all of them to do together! Sure, the reason he made an appearance at all is that his children were quite literally at each other’s throats, but surely things will stay drama free this time, right? There is a small hint that God may know exactly what’s ahead when he ropes Linda, the greatest therapist in the known universe, into staying for dinner when she was so clearly trying to make her escape.
This is a scene in three acts, and at almost fifteen minutes long, it’s a rarity. A show allowing the same group of characters to stay put in one location and just talk uninterrupted for that long isn’t something we get to see a lot, and the Lucifer writers balanced everything perfectly here. Helpful is the fact that this scene is a culmination of sorts — the need for a session of family group therapy has been a long time coming. The first few minutes lull us into an almost false sense of security with humor, beginning with Lucifer loudly and dramatically dragging his chair as far away from his treacherous brother Michael as he can get it. Poor Linda stumbles through what is equal parts the worst and the best saying of grace ever, getting so thrown off by God actually sitting at her table that she thanks him for everything from life itself to napkins.
There’s a wonderful trifecta of slow circular camera movement, fun score, and delightful character beats as everyone fills their plates: Amenadiel glares as he grabs a minuscule piece of chicken, and Michael passive-aggressively bypasses Lucifer’s outstretched hand and passes a platter straight to Linda. The cringeworthy tension in Lucifer’s “Family Dinner” is real. Maybe this will just be one of those evenings that everyone suffers through and then goes their separate ways as quickly as possible, vowing never to do it again. If that were the case, the scene could have ended here, leaving the audience to infer that the rest of the evening was more of the same. But then Lucifer decides if he’s in for a penny, he’s in for a pound, starts to prod, and the entire scene pivots to something much more serious.
He’s still using his playful little Devil voice. Still, Lucifer lays into Michael about the mess he’s caused and the damage he’s done (impersonating him, trying to ruin his life, kidnapping Chloe — Michael is the worst), all in the hopes that in the chaos Michael will be able to swoop in and become his father’s right hand man when God intervenes. Michael allows himself to be goaded into the argument, and everything quickly goes sour. Now on a roll, Lucifer drags Amenadiel down into the mud too, using Amenadiel’s self-actualized trauma of losing his wings as an example of how harmful God’s “mysterious ways” have been to his children. There is barely controlled devastated fury in Lucifer’s voice as he asks his father why he’s never been a more hands-on father who guides his children by explaining things to them and has instead thrown them into the deep end and watched them flounder.
God remains infuriatingly aloof, simply stating that he had a good reason, a classic “because I said so” style Dad response. This middle part of the scene is absolute chaos, with Lucifer aching for a fight and tossing out whatever he can think of to see what sticks, and it’s Michael’s comment that Lucifer should have nothing to complain about that causes the tone of everything to shift yet again. Who wouldn’t be thrilled to rule their own kingdom bestowed upon them by Dad, Michael bitterly wonders. Lucifer (who we know despised his time in Hell) goes ballistic, and this blow up finally causes their father to snap and creating spontaneous thunder certainly helps get the point across, which means it’s finally time for Linda to stop being an unwilling interloper and start doing what she does best.
She explains that the specifics may be more than a little unique because of who they are, but this kind of dysfunction can be found at dinner tables the world over. Lucifer, Michael, and Amenadiel are, at their core, just children who want to feel their father’s love and are crushed by its seeming absence. God absorbs the gentle but significant blow that Amenadiel would never want to be the kind of father that God has been, as well as Lucifer’s accusation that “if all the apples are bad, maybe it’s the tree that’s the problem.” He wouldn’t be the first parent whose intentions, in this case, to “empower” his children were misinterpreted as something else.
The most striking moment for me in the entire scene is Tom Ellis’ performance right here, as Lucifer asks his father, “Do you love us?” softly and with fear in his eyes, like a scared little boy. That’s a painful question to be asked as a father, and it can’t help that Amenadiel and Michael also look over for confirmation, but God does not nail his answer. “If I have to tell you, then I really have failed” is not the resounding “Yes” that Lucifer wanted to hear, and he’s equal parts heartbroken and angry. With the parting shot that his father is incapable of love at all, he walks out, leaving an uncomfortably table in his wake. Not even Linda’s offer of more wine can salvage the night.
The dramatic dinner table scene is a media staple for a reason — many of us have been there. Ripping open old wounds like this is painful and not at all pretty. But this is Lucifer, a show that has never shied away from the gains to be made from the hard work of therapy. If there is a silver lining on this gloomy cloud of a family dinner, it’s that it acts as a necessary step for Lucifer and his father to tackle their issues. They’re not anywhere close to being reconciled yet, but this at least gets the ball rolling by getting things out in the open. Even Amenadiel is able to get something from this terrible evening. There was a time when he would have never been able to criticize his father to his face. (Michael of course learned nothing.) It would be wonderful if blow-ups like this always led to families working through their issues and growing closer together, but since that’s not the way life always pans out, fingers crossed that the worst any of us has to endure is a dinner where someone thanks God for napkins when they say grace.