This post contains spoilers for Lucifer Season 6.
From off-handedly naming one of Lucifer’s siblings Hanjobadiel, weaponizing Radiohead’s “Creep” into one of the most iconic and heartbreakingly sexy musical moments, and most recently, removing the penis from a cartoon version of Lucifer Morningstar, it’s plenty clear that Lucifer co-showrunner Joe Henderson has had a fun time making the series’ 93 episodes. “If he’s in a cartoon that’s not R-rated, of course, he’s a smoothie,” Henderson told Thrillist. “He’s the King of Hell and yet, he’s lost his twig and berries.”
It was only a matter of time (and a surprise final season renewal from Netflix) before Henderson and the Lucifer team cooked up something truly outlandish. Though the series has made thematic episodes in the past (see: the musical and noir episodes of Season 5), the Season 6 episode “Yabba Dabba Do Me”-in which Lucifer and Chloe become trapped in an unstable hell loop that transports them into a hijinks-filled cartoon and spits them out in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s-is something that Henderson refers to as simultaneously the “lightest and darkest” episode he’s ever written.
In the dark undercurrent, Lucifer is trying to learn empathy by going into the mind of Jimmy Barnes, the pilot’s villain, who killed his friend Delilah and almost succeeded in killing Chloe. The episode also foreshadows the series’ conclusion, which–spoiler-finds Chloe joining Lucifer in the afterlife to help wayward souls find healing and redemption for their former sins and guilt. The juxtaposition proves that just as quickly as Henderson can crack a joke, he can also handle a more somber reflection about the heart, darkness, and the messy nuance of humanity.
Henderson spoke to Thrillist about the opportunities that come from working during the apex of COVID protocols, the inspiration for an animated episode, reviving a villain all the way back from the pilot, and foreshadowing the dynamic partnership of Hell’s hottest crime-solving duo.
Thrillist: Which came first, the title of the episode or exploring the cartoon narrative?
Joe Henderson: Exploring the cartoon narrative. At one point [the writers’ room] were all talking about the story and I think I was just like, “You have to call it ‘Yabba Dabba Do Me.’ That’s got to be the title.” And then we just knew we had to find a place for that joke. But we were just like, “That is a great line, that will totally define an episode.”
How did this idea for an animated episode come about?
Genuinely, the animation came from COVID limitations. We realized we wanted to figure out any way we could to save shooting days. Another reason is, I have always wanted to do animation. But it’s a lot of work to do something completely different and new within a show, especially a show that knows what it is. But that’s also the perfect time to do something new.
Part of what happened was we couldn’t get John Pankow [Jimmy Barnes’ actor] because it was COVID and he was overseas somewhere. So we asked ourselves, What do we do? Because this episode was sort of built around bringing him back, and we were going to [focus] on a younger version of him anyways, so we animated him and then cast someone younger. There was a version, for a little bit, where it was Malcolm from Season 1. Kevin Rankin, one of my favourite actors to work with, was also a huge, iconic part of Season 1, but he was busy as well. But as we started exploring it, we realized going back to the pilot had the most resonance.
You worked with the Harley Quinn animated show team for this-can you talk about that creative collaboration?
Jennifer Coyle, who does Harley Quinn, is just wildly talented and amazing. Nathan Hope [the director] and I gave notes, but honestly, Jennifer just took it away and ran with it. We were lucky Harley Quinn was in between seasons. The team had such infectious energy when we told them that they could play with the hand of our style. As they went, they started fusing these sort of Looney Tune aspects into the episode. Like the devil horns in his hair, tiny Devils circling his head when he gets knocked out, or the sound effects of his butt wiggling if he walks a certain way. That was all them creating this awesome hybrid that was so expressive and vibrant.
For character design, they hit Chloe straight out of the park; the only note we had was to add the bullet necklace because we wanted a lovely shout-out to that piece of jewelry we and the fans love so much. With Lucifer, we went through a lot of passes because that was the really tricky one, we wanted it both to be a cartoon but also look like Tom [Ellis]. The butt chin was something that I asked them for because I knew I wanted to write a bunch of butt chin jokes. And they were designing this before we’d even written the episode, so I’m telling them, “It’s going to be Lucifer, it’s going to be Chloe, but I want to be able to make fun of how Lucifer looks cause he’s going to be insecure about it.”
Also, Tom is quite possibly one of the most attractive people to have ever existed, so it was fun to give his animated version a giant butt for a chin. By the way, there were many different versions of the butt chin, and I let Tom choose and he chose the most butt. He gets the joke and the fun of it. He was so delighted. Tom and Lauren [German] had so much fun recording it and seeing themselves in cartoon form.
Was there any talk about Harley Quinn showing up here, similar to the Lucifer crossover event for Constantine?
Honestly, I wish I had thought of it. Watching it back, I’m like, “Why didn’t I ask them if we could put her in the audience?” I love that show. It would have been a lovely little piece of crossover, but I didn’t think about it until it was too late. I was too obsessed with trying to get myself to be [a cartoon], but then I didn’t want to ask for too much from them because they were already going above and beyond.
For an episode with such a lighthearted title name, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. What was your most challenging scene to write for this episode?
The last scene with young Jimmy because this episode is both the lightest and darkest episode I’ve ever written. I made that very intentional because I wanted to lower the audience’s defenses as to what was to come [in the end]. I like writing this big poppy, fun, early stuff, and then all of a sudden you’re like, “Wait, what is happening?” I like it when our show sideswipes people and, hopefully, in an organic way where it feels earned because an episode where our heroes turn into cartoons shouldn’t necessarily end with a child trapped in Hell finding a small amount of comfort with a demon in his mother’s form. Also, if I’m going to do an animated episode, it almost felt so light that I need to counterbalance it with even more emotional truth and honesty.
There was much more to the conversation between Lucifer and Jimmy. It was like an extra half page of dialogue of Lucifer talking to Jimmy and empathizing with him. The morning of shooting, Tom called me up and he’s like, “I’d like to trim this part,” and I was like, “Tom, but that’s the empathy.” And he’s like, “I get that. But I feel like we can sell this in the moment. I feel like I can sell this just by sitting down next to him.” And I tweaked a couple of lines that sort of set that part up. And he was right. I had written a speech; Tom made a moment.
Chloe walks past Lucifer’s hell loop from Season 2 and almost enters. What would be the implications for Chloe if given her own hell loop?
I would say if she had died in Season 5 between Episodes 15 and 16, her hell loop would be failing to save Dan over and over again. Because that is the guilt, the whole goal structure of Episodes 15 and 16 of Season 5 is Michael making her feel guilty about something. And I do think that is the guilt she would have carried with her and not processed. And that’s sort of the point of the show too, which is even the best of us can feel guilty about something to a point where they torture themselves. And so now [in Season 6] it’s the duty of Lucifer and Chloe to help those people get past it, to make hell not torture, but progress.
Jimmy Barnes has a lot going on between his perception and characterization of Lucifer, while hiding his deep-rooted mommy issues. Why do you think it was important to portray things that way? Why build an episode around the pilot?
Much of the Lucifer storyline is sort of peeling back the layers of an onion and understanding even the worst of us. Jimmy Barnes had killed someone to make money and then tried to kill Chloe to cover it up. We went with someone who seems kind of irredeemable, like a selfish piece of shit, and to us, the really interesting challenge was to take a character who was just pretty cut and dry, a bad guy, and reveal his pain. And most importantly to show that we’re not forgiving the action, but we are explaining it.
We’re not saying, “It’s OK that you murdered people because your mom left you,” but we are saying, “Now I understand where that pain comes from.” And that’s a starting point for growth. There were versions early on, actually, where we had Jimmy on the couch at the end. Which would establish the fact that he’d been working on [himself]. But one of the things we ultimately realized is we feel like Lucifer had already worked on him.
Is that really the DeLorean in that scene?
All I know is [production] was like, “Hey, we can get a DeLorean”? And we were like, “Yes!” Here’s a great sense of shooting in COVID: Initially, the idea was to go back to the’ 80s but we didn’t have a DeLorean or all of the excessively ’80s things. But what ended up happening was we realized that we couldn’t get a crowd because of COVID protocols. What we decided to do is figure out how to turn this problem into an opportunity. We asked ourselves, What if it really is the ’80s because it’s a hell loop? And we turned that into the feature.
Then, all of a sudden, we could have a DeLorean, break-dancers, and jazzercisers running past and we can cluster them [separately] so that they could all work safely and also add to the surrealism. What you now end up with is a better sequence because it’s more specific to the show and the device, but something we wouldn’t have done if not for COVID. Once we really embraced that idea of OK, we’re going through a hell loop, we’re going to travel through a bunch of times, we’ll use the mixture of COVID limitations, and cast availability and mixed them with my desire to do animation… viola, you’ve got the greatest problem turned into an opportunity that I’ve had in a long time.
What gave you the audacity to go with a no genitals policy for animated Lucifer and Chloe? This is not the full-frontal fans have been asking for.
Lucifer is not in control and hates the fact that’s he’s a cartoon. He hates that there’s apple cider in his flask. And of course, if he’s in a cartoon that is not R-rated; he’s a “smoothie.” I just love the idea of him having to be out of control in a world where he’s normally so much in control. He is King of Hell. And yet here, he’s lost his twig and berries.
It’s funny because we were like, “Can we actually even do this? Could we even show it?” And I’m like, “I feel very comfortable that the lack of genitalia will get through.” But then, I was also like, “Well, that means it’s the same for Chloe.” Lauren is such a blue-humor person. There was no way I wasn’t letting Chloe see where hers is. Because I knew Lauren would love that and probably wonder anyway. So that was me actually putting a little bit of Lauren into Chloe because that’s just fun and I knew it was a joke she would love. She’s a detective detecting whether or not her parts are there.
And you have that big reveal at the end of the episode with Rory revealing that she’s Lucifer’s daughter. As a dad yourself, what was it like parsing through all that emotion, as so much of this season deals with Lucifer’s own fear of being a parent?
So much of our show is us putting our own hearts into these things. And so much of Rory’s journey in Season 6 is all of us channeling our issues with our parents or fears of being parents. A lot of our writers either were parents or became parents on our show. And the perspective of Season 6 is becoming your own parent and doing things differently or falling into the same traps. And I think we’re all still navigating.
My kids are 6 and 3, so they are younger and I haven’t destroyed them completely. But every single thing you do as a parent is like, “Is this the thing? Is this the moment?” Like, how do I make sure that I’m there for them? And how do I make sure I don’t make mistakes my parents made or how do I make sure that I repeat the successes they had? That’s what we tried to infuse during the whole thing. And that’s the fun of TV-we get to actually process these things and hopefully in doing so become better parents.
Talk to me about finally dragging Chloe to hell with Lucifer while she was still alive. How long have you all been wanting to do that?
You know, it’s funny because earlier on, we weren’t going to do it. We wanted that moment where she came to see Lucifer at the very end [of episode 10] to be special. We were like, “OK, this is the first time ever Chloe is going down there to be with the man she loves.” And when we talked about Season 6, we realized it’s all the more interesting if she’s been there, she knows what it is, and she knows what she’s getting herself into, good and bad, and going in eyes open.
That really changed things when we realized that having her go down there before [she dies] was an empowering arc of her knowing full well what her choice was. And then once we realized that, we were like, “Oh my God, how have we never done this before? How much fun would it be for Chloe to see the throne?” Maybe less fun and more heartbreaking, but also to be able to hit that iconography of the hallway that Lucifer has walked alone for so long with someone finally next to him. And also part of it was coming up with a reason why Chloe could go down there. As our show’s rules state, humans don’t go down there, so having the ability to use Amenadiel’s necklace helped us.
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Destiny Jackson is a contributor to Thrillist.